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(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of somewhat regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) HOY HOY HOY! I promised over a month ago to complete the comparison between a worthwhile west-coast Syrah, and the Aussie inspiration that I believe most Californians are chasing, and may someday perfect. G'Day mate. The Barossa Valley lays claim to the home of classic Australian Shiraz, but I also believe the non-corporate wineries there are functioning as great laboratories for the grape, perfecting the tannin and fruit balance, and considering aging potential. I enjoyed this inexpensive blend only slightly more than the entry level 100% Shiraz from the same maker.

St. Hallett 2008 Shiraz-Cabernet, a refined bomb.

  2008 St. Hallett Shiraz-Cabernet (About $13) Learn more about the winery: (Flash-heavy site) Learn more about the bottle in front of me: The winery seems to have moved on from this blend and currently offers no info. Cellartracker has 6 reviews:           SEE: Deep, rich medium ruby throughout, with great clarity SWIRL: Thin even slow coating of the glass, with stubborn slow legs SMELL: Jammy black raspberry and overripe strawberry upfront, with a background of light tobacco and dry forest. SIP: Rich, bright sweet fruit resolving to a mild warm spiciness. A full body and a pleasing burst of acidity. SAVOR: A faint touch of chocolate covered cherry on a relatively short but pleasant finish Final impression: A brilliant wine for the price (QPR = Quality for Price Ratio). Characteristic of the Aussie "fruit bomb" but showing some real depth and complexity, even at the low end of St. Hallett's portfolio. Pair with: Simple, powerful, familiar favorites. Burgers, takeout lasagna, bratwurst.

TBIFOM #05: Que Syrah, Syrah…

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) Que Syrah, Syrah... Lost Canyon Syrah had such promise. I recall several years ago when Syrah came to the attention of Cab drinkers as both an exotic being heavily marketed by Australia (AKA Shiraz) and as a funky Californian upstart (Syrah). It's always been a capable blending grape, good for adding some ripe dark fruit and syrupy mouthfeel to its sometimes more austere vinifera cousins. On its own, it yields a relatively simple but potentially very deep crowd-pleaser. The battle continues, Cali VS Aussie, MegaCorp VS rebel producer, to this day. I have few preconceived notions about the grape, or the wine it gives up. In my experience it's good with meat, sweet, and smoke. BBQ AKA the barbie. But I was sad to hear that we lost Lost Canyon (in its original incarnation) as a contender. 2007 Lost Canyon Russian River Syrah (About $15) Learn more about the winery: Learn more about the bottle in front of me: SEE: Dark, deep brilliant red through and through SWIRL: A nice heavy coating of the glass, with quick, striking legs SMELL: Rich blackberry and black cherry fruit, leaves, leather, vanilla, plums, and even smoked bacon, heat from the alcohol. SIP: Tart and tannic, black fruits, and vanilla from fairly new oak SAVOR: Chewy/meaty but not as syrupy as more common new world versions Final impression: All The classic brambly fruit notes, a bit tight, rough and young. Yet it's as good as any Syrah I've had at the price and a nicer alternative to cheap Aussie Shiraz. Next week I plan to test a comparable Barossa Valley Shiraz to compare. Pair with: BBQ with sauce, or any meats with grilled onions.

TBIFOM #04: The Stiff Upper Lip

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) The stiff upper lip. Imagine an Italian immigrant living in New York during prohibition, buying grapes from California to make wine in his basement. From these passionate beginnings we finally arrive at a flagship French-inspired wine favored by the British early in the 20th century. Kind of make you dizzy, doesn't it? But the wine in question stands on its own, albeit supported by a sinfully large marketing budget. It's a strong wine, but reserved - an even blend between old and new world style. It's a serious step above plonk, relatively risk-free, and wisely priced for the nervous buyer (plus, wrapped in a gold wire net!). That being said, the Coppola Claret will never give you that funky, unique love-it-or-hate-it "Wow" factor, but it's a great doorway into better class of wine for a lot of curious drinkers. 2009 Coppola Claret (About $17) Learn more about the winery: Learn more about the bottle in front of me: SEE: Rich deep ruby, fading to a slight rose at the rim. SWIRL: A medium body coats the glass with prominent legs. SMELL: A tight nose at first. As the alcohol burns off, aromas of wood, leather, plums and a hint of salted licorice. There are familiar Cabernet scents but in a more reserved style than California usually delivers. SIP: Quiet blackberry and cassis slowly open to reveal faint woody spices. Coriander, allspice, clove and orange peel in careful amounts. SAVOR: A moderately long finish adds bitter vanilla, and faint tobacco smoke. As the wine opens caramel, apple skins, and even Concord grapes emerge. Final impression: This Claret take a long time before you can even think about unbuttoning its blouse. Patience and attention pays with a balanced and very nuanced flavor. Dependable. Pair with: Nice with the Sunday roast, stews, and most British versions of French winter classics.

TBIFOM #03: A Nice Mix

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) A nice mix. Almost everyone I know approaches new music the same way: we get on kicks where we find a new band, or a new sound that fascinates us. We learn as much as we can and sample any and all releases that are related. I tend to approach wines the same way. When I'm not matching a particular dish, I tend to explore wines from a single region, varietal or style until I get bored enough to seek out the next thing. Earlier this Fall I was on a Rhône valley kick. This region in the southeast of France (just north of Provence) is known for the diversity of its grape varieties which are blended in a bunch of different ways to make Côtes du Rhône, Côtes Rôtie, Crozes Hermitage, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape and a whole lot more. Most Côtes du Rhône makers mix Grenache with Syrah and Carignan or Mourvèdre to yield easy drinking, food-friendly wines with lots of herbal and spice notes. They are not built to age the way Bordeauxs and Burgundies are, but most will improve with several years in the bottle. 2008 Domaine Sainte-Anne Côtes du Rhône Villages (About $16) Learn more about the winery: Learn more about the bottle in front of me: Link not available, but George over at Gang of pour has liked this one in the past. SEE: A beautiful bright medium red, turning slightly rosy at the edge. SWIRL: The wine coats the glass nicely, with tiny, evenly spaced legs. SMELL: Right out of the bottle, this is tight, with a nose of red berries and citrus/grapefruit. It opens to reveal holiday spices, dried fruits, cedar, and a forest full of woody herbs. SIP: Tannic, tart and warm on the tongue, with cranberry and a touch of bitter orange. SAVOR: With time in the glass and a suitable meal, the flavors deepen and soften, ending in a moderately long cocoa finish. Final impression: A nice, balanced southern Rhône, with the complex spice flavors and aromas typical of the region. Classic old world French (built for food). Pair with: Quite nice with grilled lamb loin chops and roasted herbed potatoes. It might possibly pair better with a Christmas goose, with roasted garlic or braised leeks.

TBIFOM #02: The M Word

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) The M word. Seven years after it's release, the most notorious quote from "Sideways" still rings in most Americans' ears: (Miles Raymond) "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!" The bottle in front of me is not Miles' Merlot. It's Massive. Macho. Murderous. Aside from the few decent Bordeaux's I've splurged on, my Merlot experience is limited mostly to high volume, low-flavor Californian juice of little note. I typically associate strawberry aromas and flavors with these young bottles, rushed to market. At $10-15 a pop, there has been little encouragement to search deeper. M. Cosentino has given me that encouragement. I found their 2005 Napa County Merlot lurking behind the more current 2006 at a local shop. I got wine-jacked. 2005 M. Cosentino Napa County Merlot (About $16) Learn more about the winery: Learn more about the bottle in front of me: SEE: A very deep, rich ruby color, with nice clarity. Consistent color through to the rim, showing little signs of age. SWIRL: The wine clings stubbornly to the sides of the glass, resulting in extremely slow legs. SMELL: Very ripe (almost overripe) aromas of black stone fruits, cherry and plum. Some deep floral and herb scents - mild lilies and sweet annie. Wood shows through with faint tar, cedar, and vanilla. SIP: Powerful, dense, chewy fruit on the tongue, with cassis, black plum, and black cherry upfront. An initial sweet attack is followed with a wash of tartness. The concentration and plum flavors combine to give an impression of prunes (in a good way). SAVOR: The fruit resolves to a mildly sweet tobacco finish, which stretches into a lingering smoky espresso flavor. Final impression: This is defiantly Californian, new world, and BIG. A great value for the price, and a wine to be be savored over a few hours. Pair with: Man food. Grilled hanger steak, lamb burgers, and strong, funky, salty cheeses. P.S. Mafioso Maduros for the bonus.