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Syrah tasting / Syrah dining: an enchanted evening in Santa Rosa

Andy Jacob | Mar 19, 200307:49 AM

Recently, Melanie Wong generously provided for tasting six bottles of Syrah, which she expertly led the group of 10 through. The theme of the tasting was Global Syrahs with wines from different countries to show the influence of different climates and winemaking traditions on the expression of a single grape variety. The group consisted of eight lucky donors who were high bidders at the Sonoma Odyssey auction held by the Wine Library Associates of Sonoma County supporting the Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg (link below). Melanie and I made 10. I served as the logistician.

We were fortunate to secure the Syrah Bistro in Santa Rosa ( for our tasting and hors d’ouvres and ultimate dinner at Josh Silver’s wonderful restaurant. 14 bottles of wine were consumed by the group (over 6 hours) and, fortunately, Josh waived the corkage.

Onto the wines enjoyed during the tasting:

1996 Rene Rostaing “La Landonne” Cote Rotie (Rhone Valley, France) “An excellent wine with a hint of Smoky Bacon” Cote Rotie can be fermented with up to 20% Viogner (I learned from Melanie that the addition of Viogner actually makes the wine darker, which is counter-intuitive). While Cote Rotie can be co-fermented with Viognier, this particular wine was not. On the Cote Rotie - this was a better wine than one would expect from a difficult vintage, yet it was still the least favorite of the flight. At Melanie's end of the table, this was considered the most improved by the addition of food.

1995 Dehlinger Estate Russian River Valley Syrah (Sonoma County) “Plush, silky with integrated French Oak” This was one of two of the initial tasting to knock my socks off. The Dehlinger was the most popular in the first tasting round when tasted alone before food.

1995 Geyser Peak “Reserve” Sonoma County Shiraz
“Faint pickle, dry tannins, not as plush in fruit, American Oak.” Geyser Peak had donated 3 bottles of wine for our tasting event.

1991 Jaboulet “La Chapelle Hermitage (Rhone Valley, France) “Smoky, earthy, color of Brick, 100% Syrah”

1989 Penfolds “Grange Hermitage” Shiraz (Australia)
“Oak fermented, oak aged with American Oak – velvety mouth feel, should be aged 15 years” This one, also knocked my socks off.

2001 Luca Syrah (Argentina) “Young, fruity, tannin – reductive, needs lots of oxygen due to phenolics.

The format of the tasting was such that Melanie wanted the group to taste the wines without food first, this would help establish which wines would “knock your socks off.”: Later, adding Josh Silver’s wonderful hors d’ouvres to the tasting, we were able to determine which wines would “sneak up and seduce you” with the food pairing.

The hors d'oeuvres that Josh provided for the tasting were marinated olives presented in a giant martini glass, fantastic beef tartare with truffle oil and a bit of spicy heat that even the non-red meat eaters in the group couldn't resist, sliced smoked duck breast, and three platters of cheeses representing the dozen on the extensive list of fromages plus one bonus selection with membrillo, fresh fruits and lavender honey.

A synopsis of the tasting - Melanie’s knowledge is awesome, Josh’s culinary skills are excellent. Having Riedel stemware (100 stems - and the use of which was donated by Riedel) for the event was fantastic. Though 2 in the tasting group had initially declined to join us for the planned dinner at Syrah after the tasting, they quickly reconsidered. The dinner followed and there were 8 more bottles of wine to be enjoyed.

The dinner wines:

1998 Delas Freres “Boucher” Condrieu (Rhone Valley, France) “The nose showed more fruit and acid” complemented crab nicely

1995 Clavel “La Copa Santa” Coteau du Languedoc (France) “Sacred Cup – from terrain of Giant Boulders, 10-15% Mourvedre, more new-world in style”

1995 Tim Adams Clare Valley Shiraz (Australia)
“Southern Australia, high elevation, mint to chocolate, accompanied Tuna nicely”

1995 Edmunds St. John “Durrell” Sonoma Valley Syrah
“one of the 1st plantings in new areas – raspberry, cherry notes” With this wine we did an experiment with the lemon wedges to demonstrate how to moderate tannins and umami - the 5th taste (after sweet, salty, sour and bitter, long championed locally by Tim Hanni (Master of Wine)) by balancing them with acidity. (Learn more about Umami at

1996 Geyser Peak “Winemaker’s Selection” Alexander Valley Cabernet/Shiraz “Notes of tobacco and leather, green bell pepper from Oak” Here, Melanie indicated that the green bell pepper notes are also a characteristic of cabernet sauvignon.

1997 Geyser Peak “Reserve” Sonoma County Shiraz
“nice fruit - blackberry, tannins)

1997 Unti Dry Creek Syrah (Sonoma County)
“notes of bacon fat”

2001 Fairview “Goat-Rotie” (South Africa) “Barnyard aromas until you aerate. Syrah, Mouvedre, Viogner – notes of bacon fat”

And onto the dinner that accompanied these excellent wines - we opted for the tasting menu at $55/person (5 courses).

For the dinner hors d’ouvres, Josh served Crab cakes on a bed of greens with water cress, whole-grain mustard vinagrette and served with homemade old-fashioned tartar sauce. Viognier was very nice with this. The crab cakes were light and wonderful (having a wife from Maryland, I feel qualified to discern quality crab cakes).

The next course was a Heirloom tomato salad with balsamic reduction dressing and Humboldt Fog Blue Cheese.

Next we had Seared Tuna with Calamari and tomato compote.

Jasmine Ice cleansed our palate at one point.

We then had Risotto with roasted pumpkin and butternut squash which included Marscapone cheese and dried cranberries. “Savory, perfect autumn dish – flavor fusion”

We then enjoyed Lamb on Frizze’ salad with white beans and tomato oil.

The assortment of desserts included:

French sweet cream burnt with Orange essence and fresh berries

Pear Caramel

A chocolate pate.

Fig & Marscapone tart with hazelnut

Whiskey bread pudding with vanilla bean

Strawberry Sorbet

The service was attentive, Josh was very accommodating both with the timing of the appetizers during the tasting and by making a special tasting menu for one of the guests who wanted substitutions. Josh’s culinary creations were excellent. The location worked well, more-so, for dinner as Syrah is quite small, we were actually seated in a interior closed courtyard with a fountain. During the tasting from 3 to 5pm, I needed to request that the music be turned down and close doors of a salon across the courtyard to lower the noise level so that we could all hear Melanie as she conducted a most memorable tasting.

Thanks Melanie for donating selections from your cellar and leading us through a magnificent gustatory adventure!


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