▶ 2010 Syrafina: a delectable blend of Syrah with a bit of Viognier
Italians say "The world is beautiful due to its variety", whereas Americans are likely quip "Variety is the spice of life"—which is especially true when it comes to wine! We all love wine precisely because of its wide variety of aromas and flavors. In order to encourage you to explore all the diversity and potential of our favorite grape we recently added a new red blend to the Montemaggiore portfolio: Syrafina. Of course it's Syrah-based, but what you may not expect is the large impact made by adding a mere 3% of another varietal. Read on to learn more about this exciting new wine, along with the other news and upcoming events at Montemaggiore.
2010 Syrafina: A delictable blend of Syrah with a bit of Viognier
The latest addition to Montemaggiore's portfolio is Syrafina, our special blend of syrah with a light touch of viognier. With the 2010 vintage, it's comprised of 3% viognier and 97% syrah—and you'd be amazed at the difference that 3% makes! This blend is very typical of the Côte Rôtie region in the northern Rhône of France (more on that below), although relatively rare in California. The small amount of viognier adds an intriguing layer of citrus and floral aromas on top of syrah's dark fruits and spices, simultaneously softening the wine's tannins.
Over the past twelve years, we've enjoyed crafting various expressions of the syrah grapes from our estate vineyards. With each, we've had a different goal or ideal in mind: first came our Paolo's Vineyard Syrah (rich and complex, in the Hermitage style), then the Reserve (more intense and deep), then the Rosé (fruity in the Provençal style). Now we're introducing Syrafina, whose goal is to be an elegant and nuanced Syrah, typical of the Côte Rôtie style.
Wine Club members were first introduced to Syrafina two years ago, and they responded so positively that we started producing more. Now for the first time, we are able to make this wine more widely available (although only 25 cases remain of the original 125). The 2010 Syrafina is priced at $42 per 750ml bottle ($33.60 for Club Primo members, and $35.70 for Club Secondo members), available now by calling (707.433.9499) or ordering online.
Italian Cooking Classes: five more regional cuisines to explore!
Recently returning from a trip to Italy, our friend and chef Gloria DeMaria has been newly inspired to pass on her tastiest tips for making authentic Italian dishes. Gloria has been leading hands-on cooking extravaganzas at Montemaggiore for the past few years, and each class has been filled with great food, wine, and laughter (the photo at right, along with those on Facebook prove it).
We have five more classes planned for 2014:
- March 30: Calabria, featuring pasta with short ribs (Pasta con Sugo di Costate di Maiale)
- May 18: Puglia, featuring seafood linguini (Linguine con Frutti di Mare)
- July 20: Amalfi Coast and Naples, featuring lemon risotto with crazy water fish (Risotto al Limone con Pesce all'Acqua Pazza)
- September 14: Umbria, featuring baked fish with roasted tomatoes (Pesce al forno con Pomodori Arrostiti)
- November 2: Tuscany, featuring pasta with braised boar and olives (Pasta al Ragu di Cinghiale e Olive)
Each class is $95 per person, limited to 12 participants. You can register online for these classes or call us at 707.433.9499. Note that all our cooking classes take place on Sunday afternoons from 11am-4pm, the time when Italian families traditionally gather for a feast. At the end of each class, we'll sit down to enjoy the dishes we prepared, accompanied by perfectly paired Montemaggiore wines.
Wintertime Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks with Syrah Risotto
One of the many things we love about growing grapes and making wine is that fabulous food comes with the territory! Perhaps like us, when you take out a good wine from your cellar (in the case of our home, a closet), you are naturally compelled to spend a little extra energy on a good food pairing. A foolproof way to ensure that the food and wine go together is to use the wine in the dishes you make—thus we'd like to direct your attention to a recipe developed especially for Montemaggiore Syrah, which is perfect for this colder season: Braised Lamb Shanks with Syrah Risotto. While the lamb does take a few hours to cook, your busy time is minimal. The risotto requires stirring, but by that time you will have had to open the wine, and you can certainly enjoy it while you are cooking. If you have a little extra energy, the porcini foam makes the dish that much more special. We hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!
Wine Club News: Wine Pairing Challenge and Spring Wine Selection
Calling all foodies to our 4th Annual Wine Pairing Challenge on February 22nd. You bring a dish that pairs with a particular Montemaggiore wine, we'll provide the wine, and everyone votes on the best pairings. Prizes will be awarded! We guarantee lots of tasty food, intriguing pairings, and scintillating conversation. Simply RSVP on-line.
Another heads up for Wine Club members: you will receive an email next month regarding the Spring Wine Club selection. The standard selection consists of 2011 Paolo's Vineyard Syrah and 2011 Syrafina, and it should arrive the first week of April. When you get the email, just let us know if you'd like to customize your shipment including modifying the wine selection or collecting your wine in Healdsburg at the April 13th Pickup Party. You needn't do anything now, we just wanted to forewarn you!
In Vino Veritas: Syrafina gives a nod to Côte Rôtie
On a visit to France's northern Rhône region at the age of 16, Lise fell in love with red wine in general and Hermitage syrah in specific. In fact, Hermitage provided the inspiration for Montemaggiore's flagship wine, Paolo's Vineyard Syrah. A more recent fascination of both Lise and Vincent is Côte Rôtie, Hermitage's neighbor 25 miles upstream. In this appellation, winemakers add a small amount of viognier to syrah, resulting in wines that are highly aromatic and nuanced (contrasting with Hermitage's intense and richer flavor profile). The latest addition to Montemaggiore's portfolio, Syrafina, was inspired by Côte Rôtie—thus we thought you'd enjoy a closer look.
South of the food mecca of Lyon where the Rhône makes a sharp turn to the southwest, lies the "roasted slope" of Côte Rôtie. The vineyards face directly south and southwest, angled to maximize the ripening effect of the sun. Being the most northerly of all Rhône appellations, only this optimal exposure enables syrah to ripen. Ancient Romans were probably the first to cultivate grapevines in this region, and it boasts some of the world's steepest vineyards. The best are inclined up to 60°, crisscrossed with ancient granite walls to form terraces for erosion control. Côte Rôtie is a small area with a very special terroir, containing around 60 vineyards planted on 500 acres (by contrast, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County has 9,000 acres planted).
The vineyards of Côte Rôtie radiate from the town of Ampuis, where a stream separates two distinct geological areas (and soil types). To the northeast, Côte Brune has soils of schist, clay, and iron—producing more full-bodied wines meant to age longer. To the southwest, the Côte Blonde has more granite, sand and limestone—producing elegant wines meant to be consumed earlier. About 5 percent of Côte Rôtie is planted with the white Viognier grape, concentrated in the Côte Blonde whose soils are similar to those in the great Viognier appellations of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet, the next winegrowing regions to the south.
Only red wines of syrah are bottled in Côte Rôtie, although most include 1-5% of the white viognier grape (the legal limit being 20%). The concept of adding white grapes to red seems unusual and counter-intuitive—and begs the question as to how this came about and why it works. Explanations include:
- Wine has been made this way in Côte Rôtie for centuries, presumably experimentation led to hedonistic success: a little white made a tastier red.
- Viognier mitigates risk during cooler years when syrah grown this far north might not have enough sugar to reach minimum alcohol levels.
- Scientists believe this particular white grape helps extract otherwise nearly insoluble flavor and color compounds from this particular red grape when fermented together.
- Recent DNA testing by José Vouillamoz reveals that Viognier and Syrah are actually related (as grandparent-grandchild, or half-brother/sister), and many great wine blends involve related grapes (e.g., Cabernet Franc and its progenies Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Bordeaux, Sangiovese and its father Ciliegiolo in Chianti, Nebbiolo and its progeny Nebbiolo Rosé in Barolo).
Thus from both a hedonistic and scientific perspective, we know that co-fermenting these two varietals can result in a superior red wine that has additional flavors and deeper color. Only two other classic wine regions in the world do the same: in the Rioja region of Spain, the red grenache has historically been fermented with the white palomino; and in the Chianti region of Italy, the red sangiovese can be fermented with the whites trebbiano and malvasia.
Over the past decade at Montemaggiore, we've tasted many delicious Côte Rôties at our dinner table. Lise has been enthralled and intrigued by their beguiling aromas, while Vincent wondered if the syrah-viognier concept would translate to our mountainside in Sonoma County. Thus in 2009, we planted a quarter acre of viognier, while simultaneously "stealing" some viognier intended for our white 3Divas blend, whose grapes we purchase. For the first three years, we harvested and vinified the viognier separately and blended it with syrah just before bottling. In recent vintages, our newly-planted estate viognier crop has borne fruit thus we have been able to co-ferment the viognier with the syrah.
With Montemaggiore's Syrafina, Lise finds that viognier adds a high-toned floral aromatic layer while softening the tannins of the syrah—which means Syrafina can be appreciated a little bit younger than the Paolo's Vineyard Syrah. On its own, viognier has intoxicating tropical fruit and orange blossom aromas, along with notes of honeysuckle, apricot, and peach. When it mingles with syrah, however, this aromatic layer is simplified a bit into broad yet effusive floral notes. On the palate, the small amount of viognier significantly smoothes out the tannins, producing a nice round mouthfeel. We hope you'll get a chance to try Syrafina and Paolo's Vineyard Syrah side-by-side and let us know what you think.
If you'd like to know more about Côte Rôtie, you must taste the wines. Although they're not too difficult to find, they can be very pricey. The most prolific winemaker in the appellation is Marcel Guigal, whose famous bottlings are the "La-La"s: La Mouline (11 percent Viognier, from Côte Blonde), La Landonne (100 percent Syrah, from Côte Brune) and La Turque (7 percent Viognier, Côte Brune). Luckily he has some more reasonably priced wines. Other excellent winemakers include Jasmin, Yves Cuilleron, Clusel-Roch, Rene Rostaing and Ogier. Of course, the best way to enjoy these wines is to visit the Rhône personally, perhaps attending the annual Ampuis Wine Market in January, a grand affair of local wine and gastronomy. For the armchair traveler, you may enjoy reading John Livingston-Learmonths's seminal tome, The Wines of the Northern Rhône.
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Events in Northern California
For those of you living in or traveling to Northern California over the next few months, you may enjoy the following events:
- February 22 in Healdsburg, 4th Annual Wine Pairing Challenge at Montemaggiore
- March 30 in Healdsburg, Italian Regional Cooking Class at Montemaggiore focusing on Calabria
- April 13 in Healdsburg, Spring Wine Club Pickup at Montemaggiore.
- May 18 in Healdsburg, Italian Regional Cooking Class at Montemaggiore focusing on Puglia
- July 20 in Healdsburg, Italian Regional Cooking Class at Montemaggiore focusing on the Amalfi Coast and Naples
Final Note: As always, we welcome your visit to our mountainside estate vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. Simply contact us for an appointment by phone (707.433.9499) or email. If you have wine-loving friends who might be interested in learning about Montemaggiore, please have them call us or send them to our website.
May your new year be full of happiness and good health—and may you enjoy a variety of Syrahs!