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Georges Vernay Cote-Rotie Maison Rouge 2012
A pioneer in the renewal of the Condrieu appellation, Domaine Georges Vernay has always made wines of unique style, notable for their finesse, elegance and harmony. The property has become a major emblem of Rhone Valley winegrowing, from the time when Georges Vernay saved the Condrieu appellation to the international awards earned by Christine Vernay’s Côte-Rôtie. Three generations have left the mark of the philosophy on the estate, while perpetuating its traditions in the greatest respect for both vines and winegrowers.
The cultivation of vines here began with Greek settlers who arrived in 600 BC. Its proximity to Vienne was important then and also when that city became a Roman settlement but its situation, far from the negociants of Tain, led to its decline in more modern history. However the 1990s brought with it a revival fueled by one producer, Marcel Guigal, who believed in the zone’s potential. He, along with the critic, Robert Parker, are said to be responsible for the zone’s later 20th century renaissance.
Where the Rhone River turns, there is a build up of schist rock and a remarkable angle that produces slopes to maximize the rays of the sun. Cote Rotie remains one of the steepest in viticultural France. Its varied slopes have two designations. Some are dedicated as Côte Blonde and others as Côte Brune. Syrahs coming from Côte Blonde are lighter, more floral, and ready for earlier consumption—they can also include up to 20% of the highly scented Viognier. Those from Côte Brune are more sturdy, age-worthy and are typically nearly 100% Syrah. Either way, a Cote Rotie is going to have a particularly haunting and savory perfume, expressing a more feminine side of the northern Rhone.
Marked by unmistakable deep purple hue and savory aromatics, Syrah accounts for a good deal of some of the most intense, powerful and age-worthy reds in the world. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah still achieves some of its maximum potential here, especially from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.
Syrah also plays an important component in the canonical Southern Rhône blends based on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, adding color, depth, complexity and structure to the mix. Today these blends have become well-appreciated from key appellations of the New World, namely Australia, California and increasingly, with praise, from Washington.
In the Glass
Syrah typically shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper and even bacon, smoke or black olive. In Australia, where it goes under the name Shiraz, it produces deep, dark, intense and often, jammy reds. While Northern Rhône examples are typically less fruity and more earthy, California appears increasingly capable of either style.
Flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb, grilled meats, spareribs and hard, aged cheeses are perfect with Syrah. Blue cheeses are perfect with a dense and fruit-driven Australian Shiraz.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” winemakers throughout the world have adopted this synonym for Syrah when they have produced a plush and fruit forward wine made in the Australian style. As an aside, Australians are also fond of tempering their fruit-forward Shiraz by blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds depth and structure.