We’ve all heard the phrase “bigger is better,” and perhaps, at least once in every person’s life, this has proven true. But a wise and witty master sommelier once taught a roomful of eager oenophiles that this isn’t necessarily true when it comes to assessing the quality of wine, and that sometimes, it is the bigness of a wine that earns the high scores of the most respected experts.
That said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with preferring big wine flavors—nothing at all—and there’s nothing wrong with taking the advice of your favorite wine expert. The point he was trying to make is simply this: form your own conclusions and don’t believe the hype. Which, of course, has been a common theme of this column from the start. Perhaps instead of saying “bigger is better,” we should say “interesting is better,” or “cleaner is better,” but then we’d be alienating those wine drinkers who don’t share our palate preferences. And there is an interesting paradox which exists when it comes to enjoying more delicate wines.
Because it is sometimes difficult for new wine drinkers to get past the bigger, bolder aspects of certain red wines, (usually drier, austere reds leaning towards the Old World style,) they may prefer a lighter drinking varietal instead, such as pinot noir or tempranillo. But while lighter bodied wines might be gentler on the palate, and therefore more approachable to a novice, that doesn’t necessarily make them less complex. On the contrary, what often might be perceived as a “lighter” wine, is simply a delicate body style, soft tannins and subtle complexity. And there is something to be said for subtlety. It is subtlety and restraint that lend a wine its elegance. Furthermore, it is simply easier to discern big, primary fruit and oak characteristics in a wine over more secondary characteristics such as herbal, floral, earth or spice notes. This is often the appeal for experienced wine drinkers, who are more adept at detecting subtle or secondary nuances, or, who may simply enjoy the delicacy of certain varietals.
In sum, a wine can appeal to two very different wine drinkers for two very different reasons. A perfect example of which, is Jean-Luc Colombo’s 2007 Syrah La Violette. There is plenty of appeal to this wine before it is even uncorked. The lovely, violet-colored label is understated and clean, lending a visual cue to what waits inside. On pour, this wine is a deep burgundy, varying into a burnt orange in the halo, then almost clear in the rim. Viscosity is light-to-medium, and the nose showcases mostly dark fruits and subtle spice. Licorice, cedar and tobacco hover under the fruit, and the fleshiness of the syrah grape itself provides good structure in the mouthfeel. Finish is clean, but has staying power.
Technically, most wines are a blend from at least two different varietals. All this means, is that rather than by adding supporting varietals to make up for where one grape may lack in body, color or complexity, the vintner must get the chosen one to shine on its own. It is therefore vastly important that the shining star be strongly represented by the region in which it is grown.
This is a great wine for anyone interested in exploring what a single varietal wine can taste like when produced by a deft winemaker in an exceptional region (in this case, Languedoc-Roussillon). Coming soon to Eola Wine Company for an extremely reasonable $8 a glass/$32 a bottle, La Violette embodies elegance, showcases regional integrity, and delivers complexity laced with restraint.