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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Scherrer Winery

One of my favorite things about the French wine industry is the use of controlled designations of origin. Not only does the AOP/AOC system guarantee the source of the grapes, but also the grape cultivars themselves. When you buy a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin you know it is made from Pinot noir. When you buy a bottle of Sancerre you know it is Sauvignon blanc. This system is great for providing a plethora of information to a savvy customer by only using a geographic on a label. This system is also great for stifling producer creativity. You will never find a bottle of Bordeaux made with Syrah. Ah, Château Palmer's Historical XIX Century Wine is an exception to that rule, you say! Yes, but this blend of Bordeaux and Syrah from the northern Rhône Valley is labeled as Vin de Table Français, or lowly French Table Wine. Though it occasionally happens, French wine producers produce wine from restricted cultivars, or by restricted methods, and then label the wine with the less prestigious Vin de Table Français designation. 



In the U.S., we have a system of appellation of origin, but the only thing guaranteed is that at least 85% of the grapes originated within the identified AVA. There are no restrictions on yield or cultivar usage. A producer can plant any cultivar they deem worthy and label them with an AVA. Sure, certain regions can be known for specific varieties, but just because you see Napa Valley on a label does not mean it is Cabernet Sauvignon. As surprising as it is, varieties such as Charbono, Ribolla Gialla and Verdelho are produced in Napa. This lack of required grapes makes it hard for many regions to have a specific identity. Emergent regions like Colorado, Idaho and Virginia can struggle with this. Even established premium regions can have something of an identity crisis. West of Napa over the Mayacamas Mountains is Sonoma. There are a handful of AVAs in Sonoma County, and one of the best known is probably the Russian River Valley. I'd wager if you ask ten random wine consumers what type of wine is produced there, eight would say Pinot Noir and two would say Chardonnay. Maybe one smarty-pants would mention Zinfandel. However, I'm pretty sure no one would come up with Syrah.

Scherrer 2007 'Sasha' Syrah
Now Syrah is not an obscure cultivar like a few I mentioned above and a lot of Sonoma Syrah is produced, but Sonoma doesn't scream Syrah to the average consumer. And that is what I love about the American system. If Russian River Valley was the only identifying characteristic on this bottle of wine, I'd guess I were about to drink a Pinot Noir. And while the Scherrer Winery 2007 'Sasha' Syrah (13.8% abv, Purchased $32) is feminine and reminiscent of its Burgundian cousin, this wine is anything but Pinot noir. I bought this after attending the open house at Scherrer a few years ago. I'm a big fan of their Zinfandels. This Russian River Valley Syrah is exceptionally aromatic. I put it in a decanter for an hour and it started to fill the room with fruit and floral aromas. When tasted, blueberry, lemon, white pepper and flavors reminiscent of a grilled flank steak with chimichurri sauce come to life. Though this wine masquerades as a delicate Syrah, it has the structure and acidity to last for years to come. What a beautiful wine.

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