Syrah or Zinfandel?

June 3, 2008 at 10:37 pm

One of the things that I’ve really tried to step up in my personal wine education is my ability to guess a blinded wine’s provenance or origin. What is the grape, what is the region and if I’m super-lucky, what is the actual wine?

Professional Friends of WineIn this case, led by Lisa and Joe, the gOenophiles’ intrepid vinous adventurers decided to try and tackle one of the most difficult cases of guessing a blinded wine’s varietal…New World Syrah/Shiraz vs. Zinfandel.

On their faces, Syrah (or Shiraz as it’s known to the Aussies) and Zinfandel should be quite easy to pick out. Syrah tends to have blue and black fruit, huge tannin and, in colder climates or with a more Old World (read France) style, a distinct gaminess that matches flavors found in well, game, like venison or pheasant. Zinfandel has a lot of red fruit, a certain flavor of bramble (not to be confused with a wine that is green or made with fruit that wasn’t quite ripe) and almost always, a lack of significant tannin.

On the other hand, both can have a huge amount of black pepper in the nose and in the finish (especially “old vine” Zin). Current Zin styles and the New World style of Syrah (wines from the US, Australia, Latin America and New Zealand) will have incredibly ripe fruit combined with big alcohol (+15%). They can also have residual sugar, leaving a slight sweetness to the wine, when combined with the alcohol and über-ripe or jammy fruit, can work together to mask a wine’s place of origin and varietal characteristics, its terroir. Sometimes the combination of that ripe fruit and residual sugar can make the wine smell like a ruby port, with dried and candied fruit aromas.

Hocus PocusSo…with all that in mind, how did my developing palate do? Unfortunately, no better than chance. I chose 4/8 varietals correctly and I chose only one wine correctly, the rather good Hocus Pocus, although I’ve tried 4 of them over the last year. Regardless, I had a fantastic time yet again. Indeed, despite the lack of bawdy and wonderfully unacceptable humor due to the absence of Gruver, the bigger than life persona of our group. My favorite wine for the night was the d’Arenberg, of whom I’m beginning to believe the hype. It was quite the restrained monster.

Feel free to check out the reviews of all of the wines that we tasted on Friday, listed below. If you’d like to list all of the wines in your own WL, they are tagged with “gOenoZinSyr“. For a listing of all of the wines that I’ve tasted during gOenophiles tastings, click on the tag “gOenophiles“. Enjoy!

Orin Swift The Prisoner 2005

d’Arenberg McLaren Vale d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache 2005

Torbreck Barossa Valley Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2006

Black Sheep Finds Hocus Pocus Syrah 2006

Turley California Old Vine Zinfandel 2005

Ridge Sullivan Vineyard Zinfandel 2005

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2005

Artezin Mendocino-Amador-Sonoma Zinfandel 2005

Ward Kadel - @drXeNo is the founder of Vinopanion wine blog, the West Coast Ambassador & Staff Blogger for WineLog.net and Le Wine Buff for Bordeaux.com (CIVB). He will try any and all wines and tends to write about the parts of his life that include wine...like virtually all of it! He and his wife grew up in Napa and Sonoma and they still live in the Napa Valley. View Ward's WineLog and check out the wines he's recommended with his WKBadges. Follow him on Twitter and Like Vinopanion on Facebook. Contact him: "Ward at WineLog.net". Ward happily accepts samples but does not guarantee a review, positive or negative.

One Response to “Syrah or Zinfandel?”

  1. […] full bodied and structured. There was no obvious markers to trigger a reflex…we ran into what drXeno called “one of the most difficult cases of guessing a blinded wine’s varietal…New […]

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