Saturday, August 24, 2013

Black Ankle Vineyards Leaf Stone Syrah (2008)

According to legend, there was a grape varietal cultivated around the ancient Persian city of Shiraz.  The Phocaeans -- ancient Ionian Greeks who were some of the first to make long sea voyages.  Some of those voyages led to the establishment of Massilla (now Marseilles).  The Phocaeans are said to have brought the the grape varietal from Shiraz to Massilla.  They planted the grape in what is now southern France.  Eventually, the grape made its way northward, to regions such as the Rhône valley, where Syrah firmly took its place in the world of French wine. 

This story is just one of a few legends about how the Syrah grape made its way to France.  However, there are many other stories about how the grape has since made its way around the world.  A stroll down the aisles of a wine shop reveal Syrah wines not just from France, but also the California, Chile, Argentina and Australia (where it is known as Shiraz).  And, if one looks hard enough, you can even find Syrah wines from some unexpected places ... like Maryland.

About a year ago, both Clare and I tried a Syrah wine from Black Ankle Vineyards called the Leaf Stone Syrah.  The wine is predominantly Syrah, with a breakdown of 81% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Viognier, 1% Malbec, 1% Merlot.  The wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, with only 392 cases produced.  We had purchased a few bottles of the 2008 vintage, and, we opened one to enjoy.  At that time, the winemaker suggested decanting the wine, so as to allow it some time to open, or letting the wine cellar for a while to allow the wine to mature.  We decanted the wine and I began to write a wine review.  I did not finish the review at that time, because I wanted to wait to see how the wine developed.  Recently, we opened another bottle of the 2008 Leaf Stone Syrah.  I decided to let it decant as well, just to allow the wine a little air.  And, then I decided to finish that wine review. 

Generally, Syrah wines are very bold, fruit wines.  Joshua Wesson, the author of Wine & Food, describes the grape as having two main expressions: the northern Rhône style, with its "earthy quality, dark fruit and firm tannins" and an Australian style, best described as "jammy" with spice.  From the description provided by Black Ankle, one would assume that the goal was a northern Rhône wine.  The winemakers describe the wine as having "savory hints of smoke, leather, hickory, and plum on the nose," as well as "a lovely earthen and spice edge to the fresh and tart flavors of black cherry, cranberry, olive and vanilla."  These descriptions are apt for a Syrah from the northern Rhône valley.

Our first bottle of the wine did resemble the description, with both earthy and dark fruit elements int the aroma and the taste, which was definitely full of dark red fruits, and, earthy aspects reminiscent of the ground from which the vines grew.  However, after about a year, the wine had matured.  Much of the description -- smoke, leather, and hickory -- had mellowed to a significant degree, allowing the fruit of the wine to be more dominant in both the aroma and the taste.  In some ways, the expression of this wine gravitated away from the Rhône and toward Australia.  The second bottle was definitely the fruit forward, bold wine one would expect from a Syrah, but those earthy elements evolved into more of a spice and pepper.  This new element was very pleasing and it complemented the dark red fruit -- those plums, cranberries and black cherries -- in a very good way. 

Like any Syrah wine, the Leaf Stone Syrah pairs very well with beef and lamb dishes, whether grilled, broiled or braised.  Think a grilled steak or braised short ribs.  It will also work with substantial chicken and pork dishes, such as braises or stews.  

We still have a couple bottles left of this vintage.  It will be interesting to see if there is any more development in the wine.  Only time will tell!


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