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Expensive wine 45: Terlato Vineyards Syrah Block #9 2007

block9Shortly after I started the blog, I was invited to attend a huge, big-deal wine event featuring five of California’s best-known expensive red blends, including Dominus and Opus One. The wines were all terrific, if terribly expensive and kind of same-tasting, and I had a surprisingly good time.

The irony in this – because, given that it involves the Wine Curmudgeon, there is always irony – is that none of the five were my favorite that day. The wine I liked the best was a $30 syrah from Terlato Family Vineyards, which sponsored the event. It was very little like the red blends, earthy and distinctive.

Since then, I have always appreciated Terlato’s syrah, and the Block #9 ($48, sample) did nothing to change my mind. It combines a New World focus on fruit with the Terlato earthiness that takes syrah in a direction it doesn’t go often enough.

Look for beautiful fruit, with a peppery aroma and blueberry notes that last through the entire wine. The finish isn't quite as long or what one would expect from a wine at this price; in this, it’s still young and the finish should flesh out over time.

This is Christmas beef wine, ready to drink now, or a gift for someone who wants to put it down for another couple of years. Availability may be limited, which is about the only bad thing I can say about it.

Wine review: Cline Cellars Cool Climate Syrah 2010

image from www.clinecellars.comYears ago, when the Wine Curmudgeon was only a little crank, Cline Cellars made nifty cheap red and white blends called Cotes d'Oakley, a play on the French Cotes du Rhone wines. Sadly, Cotes d'Oakley went the way of too many inexpensive wines, and it's not available today.

And, frankly, Cline wasn't the same winery without it. Its wines went more upscale in price and style, becoming very post-modern — lots of fruit and lots of alcohol, and closer to $20 than $10. Or, as one comment on CellarTracker, the unofficial wine inventory software of the blog, said of the winery's 2009 syrah: "I may be wrong, but it is getting worse. Medicinal, industrial, uninspired effort."

Which is why I was intrigued when I recently received several samples from Cline, including the cool climate syrah ($18, sample). Cool climate is a wine term that implies a less alcoholic, less fruity wine, since grapes grown in a cooler region aren't supposed to get as ripe. (Whether this is true or not, given modern winemaking techniques, is a post for another day). In other words, this wasn't supposed to be a post-modern California wine.

And it isn't. Though the cool climate is not inexpensive, it is very well done. There is lots of dark fruit (plum?) and black pepper, and it's missing the sweetish, over the top fruit common to most Australian and California shirazes (syrah and shiraz being the same grape). And it's just 13 1/2 percent alcohol, which is about one point less than most shiraz-style wines.

The cool climate is not quite up to the level of the Randall Grahm syrah, which pioneered this more traditional style, but given the previously noted indifference with which so much syrah at this price is made, it's certainly worth drinking. Pair this with lighter red meat or smoked or roasted chicken.

Wine review: Mandolin Syrah 2009

image from www.mandolinwines.com

This is a good news and bad news wine. The good news is that it’s a tremendous value, another Mandolin wine that is much better than its price. The bad news? Availability, of course. It’s not sold in the Dallas area, and its Texas distributor is small with limited capabilities. And, given the way the wine world works, if that happens in a market as important as this one, that means the Mandolin is likely to be difficult to find elsewhere.

Which is wrong. The syrah ($10, sample) is a wine that deserves to be in lots and lots of stores. It’s impressive — balanced and varietally correct, with just enough berry fruit to be fruity but not to be annoying. In this, there is acid to balance the fruit, which almost never happens with this style of wine, as well as a touch of oak and even some tannins, both of which provide even more balance.

Which, again, are two items that are rarely done well in wine from this part of California that costs $10. There is either way too much oak, to cover up a flaw or to give it a fake-y chocolate taste, or no tannins, to make the wine “smooth” and to appeal to people who don’t like red wine. In fact, one reason why I don’t drink much of this kind of wine is that it doesn’t taste like wine, but something designed by a focus group.

Serve this wine on its own or with a weekend or holiday meal featuring beef or roast chicken (and yes, even for the holiday that must not be named). Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2013 $10 Hall of Fame.

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