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Runnin’ To The Mailbox For Ventana Syrah

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the February 2nd, 2007

ventana_syrah.jpgWhenever I go into a wine shop I often pass by the California, Washington and Oregon sections just because I am always on the lookout for some old school obscure grape that I have never heard of before. I always figured that the states would have to wait. And more often than not…or should I say so far I have not found that in the U.S. Also every time I talk about a wine it is usually available at one or two of the local NYC wine shops. This post is about a California producer that is not readily available in the city but can be accessed online. As a recent birthday present my wife’s parents bought me a six-month membership to the California Wine Club. Every month I will receive a bottle of red and a bottle of white (can’t help thinking of that song when I say that) from a boutique producer from the golden state.
It’s pretty exciting. I have never been in a wine club before. I don’t know about you but when I was a kid the anticipation of getting something cool in the mail was down right unbearable. I would read comic books and in the back were catalogs of meaningless junk toys that I thought were priceless must haves. I would save up my allowance and order a booklet on how to throw your voice and everyday would run to check the mailbox to learn such a prank. I would have visions of leaving my voice in the mailbox to freak out the mailman or in girl’s lunch boxes. And does anyone remember those weird sea monkeys? Freaky stuff man. Looking back on it those sea monkeys were creepier than the infamous clown in the corner of all of our bedrooms (what’s up with clowns man).
Anyway, that anticipation crept up in me when I received the card announcing that I should be receiving my first package soon. When it arrived I was that boy again but this time I didn’t run up a long suburban driveway into the house but up a five-flight walk up to my one bedroom East Village apartment (sorry, “junior” one bedroom). I ripped open the box with Christmas day fervor and pulled out the cool styrofoam dual bottle encasement to find the first two bottles of my California Wine Club experience.
The producer’s name is Ventana and is located in Monterey, California. Along with the wine came a pamphlet with information on the history of the winery and its owners. Doug and LuAnn Meador founded Ventana in the 1970’s. It goes on to talk about how Doug, after a tour in Vietnam and graduating from Washington state with a degree in mathematics and econometrics (which the dictionary tells me is a branch of mathematics concerned with the use of mathematical methods in describing economic systems…. I am still a bit confused) he had had enough with fighting and studying so him and his wife bought some land and dove into viticulture. Wine makers always make it sound so damn easy don’t they?
I did some research and it seems that Monterey has eight appellations. From north to south there is Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone, Arroyo Seco, San Bernabe, San Lucas, San Antonio valley and Hames Valley. Ventana is located in The Arroyo Seco appellation. This area is well known mostly for its chardonnay which takes up forty percent of the area’s acreage but also plants the Bordeaux grapes cabernet sauvignon and merlot as well as, of course, zinfandel. Interestingly enough the red in the package this month was a syrah. I looked around and there was no mention of this grape in great detail having any impact on the area. I found one or two other producers that grow it but their prized wines are the ones mentioned above. No matter to me. I was about to pop a bottle of boutique Monterey syrah.
So last weekend My wife and I, syrah in hand journeyed to the upper west side to visit some close friends for a night of good company, good conversation and as it turns out, great wine. The night was not a focused wine tasting but being the wine geek that I am as the bottles were being opened and as the conversation flowed I was also thinking about the wine. Couldn’t help it. As we arrived Dave and Alex welcomed us with a glass of American bubbly. I don’t have any info on it but I will say that this was my first sparkling from the states and it was great. It was earthy and lean with not too much residual sugar and the bubbles were comfortably smooth. It even began to open a bit and some nice citrus came out and intertwined the fruit of the wine. I do remember that it was a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay (reminiscent of the champagne region). When it was time for the reds we started off with a South African blend to cleanse the palate. It was an inky, dark full-bodied wine with major fruit concentration and a good tannin structure that went well with the spread of cheeses our hosts had provided.
After the pinotage blend it was time for the 2003 Ventana syrah. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. There is always an anxiety involved with bringing a bottle to a friends pad. You are responsible for the offering whether it is good or bad. And even though your friends probably won’t hold it against you, the feeling is inevitable. So pop went the cork and off we went into Monterey wine country (via Ventana). Speaking of cork there was no print advertising the winery on it. Talk about boutique. We poured the wine and I was immediately into it. The color was dark and inky yet well balanced. It didn’t look like a dark syrupy shiraz from Australia and it didn’t have the clear vibrancy of a Rhone. It was right in the middle. The wine coated the walls of the glass with elegance and showed its thirteen percent alcohol with pride. We chatted and I swirled. The nose when tight had a good concentration of fruit and on the same level there was the oak. And it was American oak. But it was a good American-oak-nose. I am not sure if it was new oak or not but I do know that the pamphlet that accompanied the wines said they use Minnesota oak. I just realized I don’t know enough about American oak. I need to look more into this for the next California wine club entry.
Since the alcohol level was reasonable the burn off was quick and steady. On the palate the signature syrah spice came at me at a smooth pace. It seemed to be really comfortable all wrapped up in the fruit. It did need some time to open up so I sat the glass down and came back to the real world where our friends and my wife were in the middle of having a laugh. When I came back to the wine it had done its duty. The nose had opened a lot and brought on some smokiness. The fruit on the nose opened as well, saying goodbye to the prominent oak, which, in turn, headed to the background but was still lingering and saying hello to dark cherries and cranberries. This combination was excellent and running through it was a nice pepperiness just letting you know its there to cut through the depth of the wine. The palate was very balanced. I was expecting a fruit bomb (not sure why) but what we got was a smooth, full-bodied red wine that just coasted along leaving a lingering finish that was pronounced yet not overwhelming. I thought about food for this wine and of course lamb or pork chops came to mind but then again I was enjoying this syrah just sipping away.
Well, the Ventana syrah was gone too soon and it was time for another bottle. I saw that Alex and Dave had a 2003 Guigal Cote du Rhone and suggested that we compare it with the 2003 Cali wine. They were happy to do so and it was a great comparison. The body of the Rhone was a bit smoother and color was more vibrant and less opaque. The nose had that Rhone white pepper you sometimes get and it just lay happily on top of subtle mushrooms and earth. The palate was soooo comfortable and inviting and as the wine opened it just got better and better. Our palates were fully prepped for this wine and I could taste all the subtle differences. It was a fun comparison. I liked both wines. I love that syrah says, bring it on. Wherever it is grown it takes on a different identity while staying true to its core characteristics. In the Rhone it is smooth and smoky, In Australia it is a big bomb of a wine with spice and oak, In Sicily it teeters in between Australia and The Rhone with muscle and spice and smoothness in the background, shy at first but willing come out after some breathing. And in Washington…well I haven’t tasted many of them but the ones I have tasted are almost cab franc like. All this depends on the producer of course.
And then there is Monterey. As I mentioned in the beginning of this lengthy post I did a search and cannot find it in New York. It might be sold in BevMo on the west coast. But if you are like me and reside on the east coast this wine is available through their website and It still fits within the East Village Wine Geek price range; eighteen bucks. I think a case might be $126. My first membership bottle was a success and I can’t wait top pop Ventana’s chardonnay this weekend with some good friends. Speaking of good friends. Thank you Alex and Dave for the hospitality. There is nothing like a relaxed New York City night with good friends and good wine. This city is amazing. And thank you Dean and Marylyn for the wonderful gift. I can’t wait for the next package. Cheers!

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