Meridian Syrah Paso Robles 1998
by W. Blake Gray
Winemakers are part farmer, part artist and part business person. But like all corporate employees, winemakers at giant companies don't always spend as much time as they'd like on the artistic side.
|The syrah's medium body and long flavor make it food friendly. Try it with meat or fowl dishes.|
|The length and complexity bode well for aging this wine, but the body may fade away. If you put it in the cellar, take it out within two years.|
|Paso Robles avoided the bad weather that made 1998 disastrous for many California winemakers.|
So they have pet projects in which they put extra energy even though it's not going to be their biggest selling wine.
Pet projects can be good bargains, especially from companies known for cheaper wines. This Meridian syrah is a good example.
Meridian makes its money on large-production chardonnays in the $10 to $15 price range, but like all big wineries, it grows a variety of other grapes. One of its vineyards in Paso Robles was planted with syrah in 1973, years before most American wineries became interested in that grape.
Meridian founding winemaker Chuck Ortman became curious about an extraction method called "delestage" that's commonly used in Australia, which has become the syrah (shiraz) capital of the world. So he dispatched a winemaker to study it, and decided to try it with the smaller syrah crop. To give the wine the best chance possible, he also aged it in French oak barrels for 14 months.
The results are gratifying. After the aroma of leather and Indian spices, the long, slowly unfolding taste of black-cherry fruit comes as a surprise. Syrah's characteristic pepperiness stays in the background, giving this medium-bodied wine a northern Rhone feel. It's made for length, not pop. And, perhaps, just a bit more art than commerce.
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