Are Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers actually seeking Syrah?
A provocative question – right?
I came to this question when I was talking with some wine drinkers who were disappointed with the Cabernet Sauvignons either tasted recently or over time. I asked what was disappointing and the answers varied from “not intense as I would like it to be” “too much green pepper.” Cabernet Sauvignon a king of red wines has a notation of having a green bell pepper component and other green herbaceous notations and is this the quality some people aren’t seeking. Perhaps a Syrah, which in my tasting has not tasted with bell pepper notes–but more opulent–black, red fruit, intense spice or even floral and earthy components.
Maybe the weight? Cabernet Sauvignon, of course, a middle red colour doesn’t match the intense non-vitreous red / black colours of Syrah. From a weight perspective Cabernet Sauvignon can feel non-weighty when compared to Syrah. The mouth feel experience is different and with Syrah an amalgam of intensity and high spiritedness. And I might add there is nothing wrong or less noble about Cabernet Sauvignon. I may not be completely right about the question I am posing but I also may not be totally incorrect either.
Wine lists are powerful. They convey an edited view of a restaurant or bars wine offering. There may not be any specific callouts that Cabernet Sauvignon is better but the implication by price or offering is mighty large when compared with other varieties. My quest has always been to demystify wines only to bring the magic back in (sounds contradictory but without bringing wine to it’s simplest form–the magic and delight around wine can go amiss). There is still fear about wine selection.
- “What if I select the wrong wine, variety or vintage”
- “What if I select a less-than-prime wine and the whole table remembers my selection.”
- “What if I select a Merlot but the expectation was for Cabernet Sauvignon”
- “The higher price wine must be superior”
- My wine selection for other people dictates that I must only select the best or perceived best. If I select a wine less-than-optimum everyone around me will remember.
And I have to say that I too love Cabernet Sauvignon as much as I love Syrah–so this is not a call or to pit one variety over another. This posting is to call out might there be some confusion in wine attributes as it relates to Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
No one really knows the decline in Syrah sales, at least, (in the past 10 years) in the US but I think a re-understanding and defining the characters between Cabernet Sauvignon can be a great entry point to approach and re-engage Syrah.
Some decline attributes suggested:
- Mendoza Malbec hit US market with a large supply at very low retail price points and the wine a Bordeaux variety takes no acclimating –for many it is an instant hit.
- Syrah has a great variation and is too site friendly i.e. Syrah picks up characteristics too easily and is not definitive enough
- Mass produced Syrah with a berry bomb flavour profile – this could leave a taste in one’s mouth where the assumption is that all Syrah taste this way
Producers are still clinging on to produces Syrah for reduced price points in the US—let that reduced price not be a reflection of reduced quality. Quality Syrah is available here and now. Syrah / Shiraz is a great opportunity for wine producing nations like Australia to bring their offering forward and to show their wines as a proving ground for this amazing variety. Great quality, artistry, food or non-food pairing flexibility can be the once and future varietal to come.
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