SYRAH. 1978 – JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARDS
by Paul Kalemkiarian Sr | June 1983
“I was born on a farm in Missouri and moved as a little boy to another farm in Colorado,” says Joseph Phelps. “I have had a long and deep affection for wine, and by the late ’60s, I found I could afford a second career in something I loved.” and ” I think of it (winemaking) as farming, as ranching.” Those are the words of a successful construction firm owner from Colorado, who chucked that life for that of a vintner in California.
Joseph Phelps built his architecturally famous, modernistic, redwood winery in 1973. Ten years later, the reputation of his wines are among the most admired California premium wines. The two-pavilion structure is located on the old Connolly Ranch in Spring Valley, just east of St. Helena. (Napa Valley, California). The setting of oak-dotted meadowlands and knolls is charming.
Key people other than proprietor Phelps are: winemaker Walter Schug, marketing vice-president Bruce Neyers, and enologist Craig Williams. Together they are responsible for a broad list of varietal wines…but their specialty is “true French Syrah”!
What is true French Syrah? It is the grape from which the famous Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines are made in the Rhone Valley of France.. It is not the California Petite Syrah grape. Very little French Syrah is grown in California, and hardly anybody except the Joseph Phelps Vineyards make a wine from it. They two grapes are related somewhat in their clonal characteristics, but the Syrah can produce wines of more finesse and ageing complexities in the hands of the right winemaker. A Syrah wine can be big, bold, acidic, and tannicy when young. It can smooth out with age, keeping its intense fruit for long periods of time. It has characteristic spicy, berry, varietal flavors.
This Phelps 1978 Syrah is deep ruby red in color, and nearly opaque. It has a bold blackberry bouquet, with an aromatic spicy overtone. Together, they tend to overwhelm the nasal sensors. The taste bursts with the varietal character of the grape. Tannic is dominant, and adds to the dryness in the middle taste. Like our Australian counterpart last month, it begs for ageing. A meal wine. Serve at room temperature with beef dishes.
Cellaring Notes: Worth ageing and tracking. Good for 10 to 15 years.