This past winter, I rediscovered Syrah via the red wines of the Northern Rhône River, most notably the barely-in-my-price-range wines of Saint-Joseph. Burned by too many jammy, overbearing and dehydratingly dry bottles of California Syrah and Australian Shiraz, I had all but given up on the grape. But the leaner, more savory Syrah of France had me reconsidering: Maybe I just needed to look a little harder to find good examples from the New World?
So while I was brainstorming story ideas for the site, I came across a few articles on California’s top “Rhône-style” Syrah producers. Naturally, Bonny Doon Vineyards was mentioned, but another brand soon caught my attention, and I was adding a bottle of their Syrah to my next order.
Qupé, which is named after the Chumash word for poppy, calls the massive Central Coast appellation of California its home, specifically Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys north of Santa Barbara. Here, the best sites take advantage of Pacific fog to stay cool, allowing for even ripening of grapes.
By most indications, their single-vineyard Syrah is a show-stopper, but since I didn’t feel like spending $35 on a bottle just yet, I settled for the entry-level Central Coast Syrah, which blends grapes from five vineyards in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and goes for $19.
Perhaps because of the varying terrain, I wouldn’t immediately say it recalls the Rhône-style — it is quite fruity — but goodness gracious is this wine amplified. Imagine listening to the intro of “Where the Streets Have No Name” with the volume near 10. The aromas of violets and game, the flavors of blackberry and plum, seem super-charged and hyperactive. Standing over my glass as I poured it, I could smell the wine immediately.
Sometimes, a wine this loud is welcome and other times its not. But what makes this wine special is how smooth and inviting it is throughout the night. It is easy to get fatigued with bolder New World wines, particularly Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah/Shiraz. (Its for this reason that I often don’t gamble with them). But trust me on Qupé. There’s a tension and structure to this wine that never loses focus.
It’s enough to have me mull buying that $35 bottle next time.
2012 Qupé Syrah
Tasting notes: Vivid aromas of violet, red currant and game. This wine is a real screamer, with amplified elements all around. Palate is very gamey at first, but this transitions after a few minutes of breathing, giving way to excellent and intense flavors of blackberry and plum, stone, oak and violets. Smooth texture and an enduring finish. Quite fruit-forward, but not in an obnoxious way.
Recommender for: Burgers with sautéed mushrooms and strong cheese.
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