Syrah in Pinot Noir

Was pouring at an event yesterday where the owner of the Sonoma County winery pouring next to us was proudly, and quite loudly, proclaiming they put 5% syrah in their 2012 pinot noir. That was a first for me. I remember lots of discussion a couple years ago about this topic generally, including some brash and false allegations about certain wineries employing this practice. So was wondering if folks are noticing this lately as a possible trend or if this was an outlier.

Some Winemakers will top off barrels with whatever they have available in bulk, e.g. cabernet in syrah or syrah in pinot noir. I don’t think it is all that uncommon as the blended amount has no real effect on the end product but bragging about 5% Syrah as a blend with PN? Whatever floats your boat I guess.

We’ve never actually done it in a released wine, but we’ve tried it internally to see what the effect is, and one thing we are sure of is that, if you are going to do it, you should really choose the Syrah very, very carefully.
We pretty much decided that unless the Pinot & Syrah are grown in the same vineyard, that it’s unlikely to be a useful combination.

What winery was it John…if they were openly/proudly declaring it, don’t see any reason not to disclose the name.

Seems like a terrible practice to me (except for sub $20 pinots, where it might make sense).

Seems to me like the desire to do it reflects a poor understand and lack of respect for the grape. Blending in something to rescue a problem wine or round out plonk is something different, but still Syrah can be quite distinct. so even a small amount can really stick out. Something like Grenache or Zin would probably be a better choice.

I don’t know anyone who would top Pinot with anything other than Pinot.

IIRC in the “old days” weak Burgundies would be blended with heavier wine to give them some oomph. Syrah was, I think, sometimes used.

Of course you never know what people may do with their wines, but I’ve never run across a mid- to high-end Pinot that I knew or even suspected had Syrah blended in. It’s no secret that a number of lower-end Pinots are blended with other varieties, and I’ve had other wines that blended Pinot with other varieties that were not labeled as Pinots, but as proprietary blends. And I’ve had a couple of winemakers tell me that if they did ever feel that blending a little something into a Pinot would improve the wine, then Syrah would be about their last choice since its effect on the finished wine would be more obvious than other varieties.

John, was the Syrah addition obvious to you when you tasted that Pinot yesterday? And was is a wine that would be thought of as a higher-end Pinot?

I’ve not seen any syrah-pinot blending at the facilities I’ve been at. And for god sake why in 2012?!? I could see someone dying with 2011 Freestone Pinot that came in at 18 looking for some help but damn.

Everyone seems to be trying to do something to distinguish their wine…

Meiomi notoriously does this, but when I was tasting at a winery in Sonoma and the pourer said that one of my favorite producers has been doing this for years, I was a bit shocked.

What does the law say about disclosing the amount of syrah? If it’s 51% pinot noir can they just call it pinot noir? I’m asking about U.S. law.

U.S. law requires minimum 75 percent for varietal labeling and 85 percent for AVA labeling.
Oregon has stricter labeling laws for most varietal labeling, requiring 90 percent to be named variety and 95 percent for AVA labeling. There are exceptions for Rhone and Bordeaux varietals allowing them to adhere to the Federal rules.

There is a movement afoot in the Willamette Valley to require 100 percent for varietal labeling (with allowance for, e.g., the rogue pinot gris vine that is planted among the pinot noir).

In the past in the Willamette Valley it wasn’t uncommon for lower end pinots noir or a small producer with a high elevation site that struggled for ripeness to blend a splash of Syrah, Marechal Foch, Gamay or Grenache in the wine in cool vintages.

I see blends including small percentages. Like 1%, 3% of Petite Verdot or cab franc etc. clearly it makes enough of a difference.
Is syrah so mild/generic that 5% has no real effect on the end product of a Pinot?

Mad respect for Oregon’s accountability! :slight_smile:

This gives me another excuse to cite this piece from yon olden days:

“Red Burgundy Wines - California Wines”:

"Red Burgundy is always referred to simply as ‘Burgundy:’ It is the name used to describe the red table wines from Burgundy in France and those wines from other countries which possess the same over-all characteristics. They are usually fuller in body, and of a deeper red color than clarets.

"There is a present tendency in the U.S.A. to call any generic red table wine burgundy. If this custom were to become general, 'burgundy, in American wine parlance, would take the place once held by the term ‘claret.’

“California burgundies of the generic order are so labeled. The finest varietal is Pinot Noir. Very fine also are Gamay Beaujolais and Gamay. Some so-called Red Pinots have a charm of their own. Use and Service Traditionally served with turkey and other domestic fowl and with all wild fowl, venison, and game. Also with red meats and roasts.


Pinot noir is the famous grape which yields the finest of the Red Burgundies of France and the ‘Blanc de noirs’ wines from which most of the unblended French Champagnes are produced.

In California, where it is best suited to the cooler areas of the northern coastal counties, Pinot noir* produces what are by far the finest wines of the red burgundy class in the country. They can be superb in aroma and flavor, harmonious, soft, smooth, and velvety. Some are darker in color and body than others, depending on the vineyard of origin. They vary much in quality, depending on the percentage of Pinot noir grapes in the wine.

*Pinot Noir is the correct spelling for the mine and Pinot noir for the grape of the same name. This principle applies to all wines and vines where the second word is an adjective.

Napa, Santa Clara, and Sonoma counties originate the best. Pinot noir, however, is a vine very difficult to cultivate and the wine itself as difficult to produce properly. The vine is only sparsely grown and is as sparse a yielder. Availability of the true Pinot Noir is therefore limited. The wine is bound to be expensive and there is many a so-called Pinot Noir which is in reality produced from dark Pinot grapes other than the true Pinot noir.

If the highest-quality California red burgundy is desired, Pinot Noir is the wine to purchase. It matures well and will sometimes throw off a deposit in the bottle. Such wines can also be acquired for laying-down purposes. They should be decanted or poured carefully from the bottle nestling in a wine cradle.

GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS (Ga-may Bo-zho-lay) and GAMAY:

The Gamay is the grape that made the Beaujolais wines of France famous and is responsible for their gay character and fruitiness. It was at one time outlawed in France as it threatened to displace the Pinot on account of its greater productivity, but yielded wines of less high quality and character. This, however, was in the fourteenth century. In Beaujolais and elsewhere today the Gamay is looked upon as a noble vine.

In California the Gamay produces a light-colored, lively and fruity wine with a delicate flavor, notably in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties. It is labeled either as Gamay Beaujolais or as Gamay.

There are many varieties of the Gamay grape and vine. In Napa County a variety is grown which yields a wine similar in character to that of Gamay Beaujolais. This Napa wine is always labeled simply as Gamay.

It may be noted that Gamay, like Beaujolais in France, is often served at cellar temperature.

Red Pinot

A burgundy-type wine produced from dark Pinot grapes other than Pinot noir, such as Pinot St. George, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Pernand. The best known are derived from the Pinot St. George grape and exert their own distinctive charm. They are soft, fruity, heavy-bodied, and fragrant at their best and some notably fine ones are produced in the Napa Valley.

It is important with wines of this name to ascertain the exact variety of grapes from which they have been produced and which should be indicated on the labeling.

Black Pinot

The term has been used as the translation of Pinot Noir to indicate that particular wine, but this leads to confusion. The modern tendency is to designate thereby a burgundy-type wine made from dark Pinot grapes other than Pinot noir. Some very good Black Pinot was produced at one time in Southern Alameda County from the Pinot Meunier grape.

Pinot Rouge

Another term used to indicate a red burgundy-type wine produced from dark grapes with a Pinot name other than Pinot noir.

GENERIC: California Burgundy

The generic table wine labeled ‘California Burgundy’ is medium to deep red in color, dry, and full-bodied.

It is produced from a large number of grape varieties, the best of which include various Pinots, Gamays, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Refosco. California burgundy is often derived from the same grapes as claret, the lighter-bodied wines being labeled with the latter name and the heavier-bodied with the former.

Burgundy is the most popular of the California generic red table wines and most producers bottle an inexpensive standard-quality burgundy wine.

Note: So-called ‘Sweet Burgundy’ is a contradiction in terms, as burgundy should always be dry. It is obvious that such a wine should never have been produced at all, or, at best, labeled ‘Sweet Red Table Wine.’”

“Red Table Wines - California Wines”

“Red Italian Wines - California Wines”

“Other Red Table Wines - California Wines”

The information in that old piece is astonishingly bad. Amusing though.

If you think that’s bad, you ought to check out my prized copy of Better Homes & Gardens’ Favorite American Wines and How to Enjoy Them (1979). :stuck_out_tongue:

Penner-Ash has made a “Rubeo” bottling for quite some time that’s a 70/30 blend of PN and Syrah.

But, they’re being open about it. How is it? Does the Syrah show or merely support? Where’s the Syrah from?

Waxwing did a 50/50 blend after Scott tried a bench test with a couple barrels he was declassifying. Bennett Valley Syrah and Corralitos (SCM) Pinot. Both components showed and complemented each other well. Quite good, with a 2nd tier price. He just did it again, but haven’t tasted that one.

I only tried it once in a restaurant over a year ago, but my memory is that it presented as little more than a spoofy pinot (though I should qualify that by saying I find pretty much all Penner-Ash bottlings spoofy). I don’t recall anything about the source of the fruit, but their “Oregon Syrah” bottling uses fruit from Columbia Valley and Rogue Valley AVAs.

Makes me feel bad for that poor, disrespected Syrah. neener
It seems weird to me too but I also feel that if it made a perceived better wine, then do it and own it. Not hide behind labeling laws.