After our knife skills class we stuck around for the free monthly wine tasting. The instructor, John Fuente, was amazing; he has incredible depth of knowledge about wine, a good sense of humor and down-to-earth attitude toward wine, and a great teaching style.
We tasted four wines: a 100% Sangiovese from Tuscany that had undergone carbonic maceration, so we got to learn all about the controversy around using carbonic maceration; a Syrah/Carignane blend from Corbieres in France, a Fox Hollow Shiraz from California, and The Chopping Block’s wine of the month: Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Syrah 2002. Edna Valley is one of the long-standing wineries in the Central Coast of California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. They are best known for their chardonnay, but they also make very good pinot noir and syrah, as well as pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, and vigonier.
We learned a lot in the course of this tasting (in addition to the carbonic maceration thing). On the nose of the Edna Valley syrah were prominent caramel/toasted sugar and vanilla notes. As John pointed out, caramel and vanilla on the nose mean new oak, and probably new French oak at that. Sure ’nuff, when you look at the winemaker’s notes it says
Aged 10 Months 85% French Oak 15% American Oak 32% New Oak
The French/American oak difference is that French oak has smaller grain, so there is more wood surface area in contact with the wine. The toasty/caramely notes come from the toasting and charring of the interior of the barrel before the wine is put into it to age. As an aside, note that bourbon manufacturing follows the same charring and aging process.
The fruit was there on the nose, but very subtle. Pronounced blackberry.
Then the taste … and again my reaction was wumph. The taste was lush, full of the dark blackberry and plum fruit flavors. The caramel and vanilla from the nose were much more subdued in the flavor, but they were there. There was some tannin there (and indeed this wine can cellar for another 3 years or so), but it was subtle. The first adjective that came to mind was velvety; the wine actually gave me a sensation of texture in the mouth.
At $24/bottle this is not a weeknight quaff, but I’d say for an occasional treat this wine is good value for money. The vineyard recommends pairing it with rack of lamb, which makes me hungry just thinking about it.