Though Syrah began its life in the Northern Hemisphere, and is widely grown through Europe, and the United States, it actually has higher production volume in the Southern Hemisphere. There is also a lot of export from some of these Southern Hemisphere wine makers so that by now the world is familiar with the idea, at least, of either Australian, or South American wines, for example.
The differing growing climates of various regions, plus the differing production techniques of wine makers combine to create utterly unique renditions of what would otherwise be called the same grape. It can be remarkable to taste the contrast between a varietal wine from one area, and that of another, especially when history connects the vines back to the same place of origin.
As the story goes, Syrah originated (or was developed into what we know today, at least) in the Rhone region of France. As colonial practices took people from Europe all over the world, other cultural practices spread with them. Wine is no exception to this.
In the late 1800′s Syrah vines were brought from France to Argentina and planted in the high elevations of the region’s mountains. In fact, it is in Argentina that Syrah is grown at the highest elevations in the world. To add layer to the story, within a decade of Syrah being brought to Argentina, the phylloxera blite hit Europe, almost fully devasting the vineyards of that continent.
Overtime it has been discovered that with persistence Syrah does well in the high altitude region (though the warmer parts of it) of Argentina. The elevation allows a slower ripening for grapes generally, which is thought by some to offer a differing complexity in the flavors. Interestingly though, in many cases Syrah in Argentina ripens faster than other grapes, demanding harvest earlier in the growing season than some of the grape varieties. As a result, many wine growers strive to slow the ripening process of Syrah in this region by placing trellises with live foliage through it above the vines. This covering allows a softening of the solar effect, and thus a slowing too of the grapes’ maturation, hopefully, with an enlivened complexity of flavors as well. The geography of the place, then, demands harvest techniques, and wine making practices that differ from other areas of the world.
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Luca wines are led by Laura Catena with wine maker Luis Reginato, a man raised and trained in Argentina itself. Luca wines commitment is to small production wines made from old growth vineyards of Argentina. As such, Catena purchased vineyards with a story behind them. Her labels tend to honor the history behind it by naming the person that started the vineyard the Luca wine is now made from.
The Laborde Double Select Syrah includes, then, the story of Laborde, the man that first planted this particular vineyard site. As it goes, he wanted to try growing Syrah in Argentina, so he visited the vineyards of the Rhone and selected what he thought were the best, strongest example of Rhone Syrah. He then planted them in Argentina, and after allowing the vines to take hold and develop he inspected them all and selected only the best of those to keep–Laborde’s Double Selection, only the best of the best will do.
The result of Laborde’s early efforts, and Luca’s continued focus is a surprising, and concentrated Syrah that manages to strike a balance with sophisticated scents and flavors in a very full body. Luca has performed some kind of magic, mathematics, or sub-particle physics here (more likely all three) by offering in this 2008 Syrah what feels like drinking two glasses of the varietal simultaneously–there’s a whole lotta wine in that glass! And yet, having said that, the wine is well-balanced, pleasant to drink, with lots of pleasant fruit accented by some pepper bite, hints of coffee, and a wonderful mouth feel. When approaching this wine you’d better be ready for its intensity, but expect it to make you comfortable with what it has to offer at the same time. This wine is perfect for grilled meats (and beets!), and will be enjoyable to drink on its own as well.
Each wine producing area is thought to have its own character. Argentinian wines, with their higher elevation growing conditions, are often thought to show more concentrated fruits. Historically commercial wine making in Argentina had a strong focus on quantity, seeking high volume production. In some ways this weakened the International reputation of Argentinian wine’s quality. Wine makers in the last few decades, and in some areas throughout Argentinian wine making history, have worked to change this practice and this reputation.
Luca Wine is just such a company keeping its focused on older, well-established vineyards, and small production with close, hand’s on attention being their focus. By working with Reginato, Catena is further relying on his expertise of the local industry and geography to develop the label’s quality. Luca is a wine company to keep an eye on. They are thought to already offer a celebration of what Argentinian wine can show. I’m interested in seeing both how their particular vintages develop with time–this 2008 Syrah is certainly drinkable now but will be tasty, and even more subtle and complex in a few years too–and also what Luca will continue to do with their wines in general.
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