02/17/09 – March Madness week #2 (Syrah / Shiraz)

By Jesse on February 15, 2009

It’s time for week two of our second-ever March Madness blind tasting tournament. For six weeks, we’re tasting six of the world’s most recognizable varietals, one per week. After that, we’ll have two weeks of championship tasting, in which we go balls-out crazy with the blind tasting, drawing on what we’ve learned over the past six weeks in our effort to be crowned the official Young Winos blind tasting champion.

Week #1 — Sauvignon Blanc (done)
Week #2 — Syrah / Shiraz
Week #3 — Riesling
Week #4 — Pinot Noir
Week #5 — Chardonnay
Week #6 — Cabernet Sauvignon
Week #7 — Blind white tasting
Week #8 — Blind red tasting

Each week, we bring bottles of the given varietal from all around the world. Before the tasting starts, two people volunteer to donate the two “mystery bottles,” and their wines are placed in brown bags. (For your wine to be granted this special honor, you must be sure that no one else knows what part of the world it’s from.)

We start things off with an open (non-blind) tasting of up to six bottles, representing the major regions where the particular wine is made. (For example, on Syrah week, we’ll taste one or two bottles each of French, American, and Australian.) When tasting, we pay special attention to what characteristics are typical of what regions.

Finally, we bring out the two mystery bottles in their brown bags. In complete silence, we sniff and taste wine #1, and then we make our region guesses on slips of paper, which are collected and put aside. Once everyone’s guess is in, we discuss the wine, and reveal the bottle. Then we repeat the process for #2, and we tally up the points. One point for each correct guess (incorrect guess results in no points, but points are not deducted). The donors each receive one-half point as compensation for not being able to participate in that round. Then we break for cheese time, and then we drink whatever bottles remain!

Beginners are completely welcome — and, in fact, often do just as well as the more “seasoned” tasters. To read the full version of the official rules, including the rules for the two-week championship following the six weeks of varietal tasting, click here.

For week #2, we’re tapping Syrah, which traditionally hails from France’s Rhône Valley. In the Northern Rhône districts of Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph, the reds are all 100% Syrah, and are filled with “gamy, meaty flavors” and notes of “white pepper, forest, and leather.” (In the Southern Rhône, wines like Côtes-du-Rhône and Cheteauneuf-du-Pape are typically majority Grenache, so don’t bring one of those unless you’re absolutely sure it’s majority Syrah.)

California makes some great Syrah — these tend to still be spicy, but offer more ripe fruit flavors. And in Australia, where it’s called Shiraz, the grape is made into big, structure-driven wines filled with dark berries and tobacco. Please bring a Syrah from either the Rhône Valley, California, or Australia.

We’ll be meeting at Jason’s place in Brentwood. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself a bottle of Syrah from one of the permitted regions (or bring a $10 donation, if you prefer). We’ll see you ballers on Tuesday at 9pm.