Syrah/Tempranillo/Non-Bordeaux Varietals

Value Picks for February 2009

2005 Grochau Cellars Syrah Rogue Valley • $21 (150 cases)

John Grochau switched from the restaurant business to winemaking in 2002. His appreciation for the spectrum of wine has led him to craft several types under his GC label. Taking its lead from the Rhone Valley’s vaunted Hermitage appellation, here is proof positive of the Rogue Valley’s potential as a great Syrah-growing region. Density and intensity define its initial impression while leather and smoke wrap a heady perfume around loads of fruit accented by bold, yet unobtrusive tannins.

2006 Mystic Wines Syrah Columbia Valley • $21 (350 cases)

It’s usually taken for granted that Columbia Valley wines are from Washington, but Mystic Wines, located in the eastern Eola Hills, makes a point to state prominently “Columbia Valley Oregon” on the label of this exceptional Syrah. Owner/winemaker Rick Mafit crafts big reds in small quantities, and this example exhibits both the big and the subtle in an enticingly spicy package. Dusty perfumed aromas tickle the nose. Concentrated flavors of black pepper, licorice and cumin please the palate. And the sum total lingers long.

2006 Hyperion Syrah Oregon • $22 (75 cases)

This complex wine is one of the numerous outstanding examples from talented winemaker Michael Beckley, whose Quercus Winery markets under the Hyperion, Harmonia and Theia labels. Unfolding layers of roses, licorice, pepper, chocolate and juicy blackberries tantalize, treat and persist from aroma to palate to finish. Soft tannins and firm acidity balance the total impression. This is among the very last releases from Beckley, who is leaving the wine business. So grab some while you can.

2006 Abacela Tempranillo Umpqua Cuvée • $20 (1,500 cases)

In Oregon, the names Earl Jones and Tempranillo will always be interconnected. The Umpqua Valley winemaker championed the potential of this famed Spanish grape, pioneered its planting and has vinified some of the finest examples to date. Having already earned considerable praise and garnered numerous awards for his Tempranillos, this may just be another one to add to the list, but that’s the way the blind tasting chips fall. Jones’s 2006 is a middle-weight winner that begins with bright fruit and polished tannins, then finishes long and tasty.

2007 Coelho Inovação Red Table Wine, California 200 • $21 (101 cases)

Putting a distinctively Portuguese accent on Oregon winemaking would seem to be Dave Coelho’s mission. Not to mention the fact that it’s an innovative bit of marketing. Speaking of innovative, Coelho calls this wine Inovação, or “innovation,” and it took a fair amount of just that to bring the blend into being. He wanted to make a red table wine exclusively using Iberian-origin grapes. The only place he could find them was in Northern California, so he made arrangements with growers there, drove down during harvest, and brought the grapes back. The result is nicely balanced, youthfully approachable, purple black and engorged with fresh, round grapey flavors. The blend is 42 percent Touriga, 17 percent each Souza and Alveralhão, 16 percent Tinto Cão and 8 percent Tempranillo.

NV Abacela Vintner’s Blend No. 9 Red Table Wine Southern Oregon • $16 (1,927 cases)

Recommending two wines from one producer in a single month doesn’t happen very often but that’s how it turned out this time when the tasting panel’s preferences were tallied and the wines unveiled. Though he doesn’t list them on the label, Earl Jones states that 14 different varieties went into this blend. He must have coaxed the best out of all of them because our panel described this as a “total” wine with harmonious elements throughout. Appealing aroma, smooth and well-balanced with hints of all the hot button flavors—cocoa, oak vanillin, cherry, leather, spice. After further investigation, we found that the fruit was sourced from six different vineyards and Wine Spectator gave it 87 points. So much for putdowns of non-vintage and the kitchen sink. ◊

The Oregon Wine Press tasting panel has selected the above wines based on overall quality and value within their respective categories. To the best of our knowledge, they are currently available in the retail marketplace, but a call to the winery or your favorite wine merchant will best determine where they may be purchased. The above wines have met the following criteria: Produced by an Oregon winery; retail price below $30 per 750 ml bottle for Pinot Noir, or $25 for other varietals currently available to consumers. Wine evaluations were conducted using a single-blind method and a 20-point ranking system for appearance, aroma, taste, balance and finish.

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