The rewards and frustrations of home winemaking

2011 Syrah Tasting and the Case of the Stinky Syrah

My Hands-on Winemaking Class got together last night for a potluck dinner to taste the fruits of our labors. We put French oak cubes in the wines about 2 months ago, so now is a good time to give them all a taste to see if there is enough oak, or if it needs more.

We started with Batch #1 of the 2011 Fallbrook Syrah, which was fermented with ICV-D80 yeast. This wine has a slight acetone aroma, though not too bad, with nice aromas of spice, roasted plums, sage, and tobacco. It is a lovely ruby-garnet in color, very opaque and dark. We all agreed this wine is loaded with oak already, with lots of spice, smoke, and very acidic/tart on the tongue. It’s also a little gritty, it definitely needs a racking and more time to clear.

Batch #2 was next, this batch was fermented with Pasteur Red yeast and we kept the free run and press run separate. We tasted the free run first, happily it did not have the acetone aroma like batch #1. This wine has more fruity aromas with light spice and smoke, cherry and tobacco. It is more purple in color than batch #1, with mouthwatering, smooth, buttery flavors of ripe red fruits balanced nicely with rich tannins. This wine is not as tart as batch #1, in fact it has a slightly sweet finish. We then tasted the press run, which we expected to be harsh in comparison but is surprisingly smooth and buttery as well. It was definitely more tannic than the free run, with a sort of sweet/sour agrodolce flavor and a little more acidity than the free run. We also got the classic floral rose and violet flavors often associated with syrah on the finish with this wine.

On to Batch #3, fermented with ICV-D254. No acetone with this batch either, lots of dust, leather, and dark red fruits on the nose. This wine is a lovely ruby-garnet, very smooth and clear already. Nice grippy tannins on the tongue, with well balanced, smooth flavors of fruit, spice, and oak.

We then tasted Batch #4, fermented with CLOS yeast strain. This batch has been the most disappointing, it just lacks anything special. No acetone, good mouthfeel and very drinkable but just kind of bland and boring, lacking depth. This wine went well with food, and would probably benefit from blending with another varietal.

I also needed to check the 2010 vintage for oak anyway, so we gave it a taste. This is the Stinky Syrah — LOTS of acetone! Although we all poured from a single bottle, a few people did not have any acetone aromas. The acetone was overwhelming where it was present, in those glasses it was absent we could detect licorice and spice, definitely potential for a great wine. But, something needs to be done to address the acetone problem — I will splash rack it out of the barrel into the empty barrel I have and dose up the sulfite, hopefully that will fix it as it has in the past.

Finally, we tasted the original vintage, 2009. This year was the third leaf for the vineyard, but was hit by a heat wave just prior to harvest. As a result, the berries were very concentrated — the ones that survived, anyway. This wine has changed a lot over the years, which gives me hope for the problems with the 2010 vintage. This wine is now splendid, with aromas of black tea and stewed prunes, a lovely garnet in color. Smooth, slightly sweet flavors of raisins and light spice are nicely balanced with light tannins and a long finish. Unfortunately I only have 9 more bottles left, but I’m going to sacrifice one to send in to the Winemaker Magazine competition this year, I definitely think it will get a gold!

Overall, everyone loved the 2011 vintage wines. It was a toss-up whether the free run batch #2 or batch #3 was the favorite, but everyone agreed that the 2009 vintage is amazing. We will rack all of the 2011 batches and add more oak to some: Batch #1 does not need any more oak; Batch #2 free run will get a little Hungarian oak, while the press run will get a blend of French and American oak; Batch #3 will get a little bit of French oak chips; and Batch #4 will get American oak to hopefully give it some oomph. We’ll get together again in about 4 – 6 weeks to see how they’re doing!

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