Syrahs – from elegant aromas to big jammy noses

The morning following last weeks’ Syrah tasting I received a text message from Stephen, one of our non-wine related guests: “Morning … Really enjoyed last evening … the passion behind the wine … great dialogue … got a whole new perspective on my next wine.”

Stephen’s message told me that we had achieved some of the goals behind the blind tastings – one of which was to help unschooled wine drinkers learn to appreciate wine in an environment of interesting and lively discussions.

We have now had three blind tastings, and as Kathy Malone, Hillside winemaker said, we have developed a venue for exploring wines the way a consumer would – tastings are impartial and results non-political. In addition to the bottles being covered, the panel is also unaware of what wines were submitted or the region of the Okanagan from which they came. Often we also throw in a ringer such as the Chilean Monte Alpha Syrah 2009, which makes the results even more interesting.

The winning Syrahs

Syrahs from Black Hills Winery, Painted Rock and La Frenz

Our guest judge for the Syrahs was Michael Bartier of Okanagan Crush Pad and Bartier Scholefield (BS) Wines. Each judge has their own style and Michael’s cuts to the essence of a wine, describing its characteristics with terms such as “youthfully disjointed still” or “elegant aromas”. A wine newcomer likely wouldn’t notice such subtleties unless it was brought to their attention by someone such as our panel members, who can isolate and describe such nuances.

The judges were in sync with the Syrahs and the top three wines were really close – with each one being only one point apart. The highest points were given to Black Hills (rated as a humdinger), then Painted Rock followed by La Frenz.

Kathy Malone called the Black Hills wine before she knew what it was, saying she thought it was very “south Okanagan” and had a savory sage and green olive scent which opened up to black cherry and mocha notes. She liked it as much as the Painted Rock Syrah noting that they were both excellent yet very different.

Michael Bartier was partial to one of the wines and gave it a four but Ron Watkins docked it a point, as he felt it lacked some characteristics of the Syrah grape, in fact overall the panel felt that some of the wines lacked the Syrah’s varietal character.

Some of the notes picked from each of the judges on the top three wines:

  1. Black Hills 2010 Syrah 14.1%: Green olive, smoke, mocha, black cherry, meaty, spicy, sausages, feral, this wine has life, character and place, long refreshing finish, needs time.
  2. Painted Rock 2010 Syrah 14.8%: Deep garnet, fennel, blackberry, pencil lead, leather, slightly hot and alcoholic, elegant aromas, good oak on nose, good acid balance, elegant finish, youthfully disjointed still – much better in five years.
  3. La Frenz 2007 Syrah 14%: Big jammy nose, nice oak, saddle leather, Sangiovese like… a bit of age, violets and green pepper, structure is good, tannins are nice, chocolate on the nose, mocha, caramel, raspberry flavour, very attractive aromas. Appropriate alcohol. Would pair well with a tomato based pasta with garlic and chorizo.

The other three wines were, in no particular order, Tinhorn Creek 2009 14.6%, Desert Hills 2006 14% and Quinta Ferreira 2010, 13.2%.

On one of the wines that hadn’t made it into the top three, it was noted that there was a bit of oiliness, but Bartier pointed out that you had to think of the wine in terms of context, and that it may well be good with salmon on a cedar plank which would cut the oiliness of the wine.

A passionate topic


A theme seems to evolve from each tasting and for the Syrahs things got lively around the topic of liquor laws. Ron Watkins (far right) was animatedly describing to Bartier how things need to be changed. Author Don Gayton, (center) also has an interest in the current regulations that prevent wineries from being as competitive as they could be. The conversation had kicked off with a reference to a hot Twitter topic at #bcwinechat – it is peppered with comments such as “Our wine club ships anywhere in Canada. Control boards can eat our shorts.” (Compliments of Bradley Cooper of Black Cloud Winery) and another;”#LCLB should be required to explain the archaic and ridiculous rules and regulations that they create and enforce!”

And if you really want to get your blood pressure up visit the Modernize Wine website outlining some classic examples of government thinking.

Passion Galore

Michael Bartier, Kathy Malone, Kim Stansfield, Ron Watkins

Stephen later said he thought it was fascinating that the judges were so passionate about what they are doing. “This clearly is not just about making something to drink – it’s well beyond that. And Michael Bartier wanting to create a wine that was identifiable and unique to this area – that’s pretty amazing. The intricacies and range of that one Syrah grape, I assumed the wines were all pretty much the same and what was interesting is that they went from regular to turbo-charged and even to high test fuel. The variances – you just don’t know and the result is particular to a certain winemaker and they put their own twist on it… I would never have thought of that. If you are looking for a particular grape and you think that’s the only way it comes, think again. The whole evening was an eye opener as to the variations of and the business of wine.”

article/photography by Stephanie Seaton

Special thanks to:

The wineries: Black Hills, Painted Rock, La Frenz, Tinhorn Creek, Desert Hills and Quinta Ferreira

The panel: Kathy Malone winemaker at Hillside Winery, Ron Watkins founder of Dirty Laundry Winery, Kim Stansfield of Valentine Farm and special guest judge Michael Bartier of Okanagan Crush Pad and Bartier Scholefield (BS) Wines

Barbara Thorburn for again being our gracious ‘guest server’.

Art Knapp’s Plantland and Flower Shop for the flowers – taken home for a third time by Kathy Malone.

Summerland Heritage Cider  – for donating three bottles of Tuesday’s Original Summerland Cider

Nesters Market of Summerland for generously sponsoring the dinner for eleven

Summerland Waterfront Resort for supplying accommodation to our out-of-town judges

One Response to “Syrahs – from elegant aromas to big jammy noses”

  1. Town Hall says:

    Great post; what a fun and interesting evening that must have been – and YUM! I want to taste ALL the Syrahs now.

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