I hit a local wine shop that I thought would have a good selection — they call themselves a “gourmet” food and wine joint — only to find it was awash in the usual selection of Chileno and Argentino reds, mostly malbecs. This is the life in Peru, alas.
That’s not saying it’s a bad thing, but sometimes I’d like white wine, y’know?
So I realized I hadn’t really gotten too deep into the Syrahs of these countries, so I thought I’d put together a little taste test between a few of them. When the time came, I was the only one tasting, so I limited myself to two selections, since I’d be the only one drinking. I chose a 2011 Terrazas de los Andes Syrah Reserva, and a 2017 Pascual Toso Alta Syrah, both from the Mendoza region of Argentina. I typically like Syrah, but definitely lean towards the Australian Shiraz if given a choice. I find the Argentine offerings largely flat, and dramatically similar from label to label.
These were both medium-priced; not top shelf, but not lying on the floor of the wine shop, either. I think they ran about $30 apiece. I also ran these past the Vivino app beforehand, and found them holding moderately high ratings (4.2 for the Pascual Toso, 3.9 for the Terrazas.)
I was primed for this face-off. I set up my tasting area, threw down a labeled placemat so I wouldn’t confuse the two glasses, and then … everything fell apart pretty quickly.
First, I had the wrong wine glasses. I’m a wine slob, not a wine snob, so I wasn’t too worried. The glasses used were slightly narrow-mouthed, and intended for whites, but this was just me sitting there, so no one was looking.
Next, the cork on the Terrazas crumbled mid-way. That’s a bad sign in Peru, since so many of the wine shops have unreliable air conditioning, and some of the delivery trucks aren’t temperature controlled at all. As a result, it’s common to have bottle after bottle tainted with heat damage. A crumbled cork can indicate this, so I was nervous off the bat. All attempts to remove the remaining portions of the cork failed, and I was forced to shove the remaining bits into the bottle, and serve the thing through a filter screen.
I had already opened the Pascual Toso, and then the third cock-up happened: I switched the glasses on the placement. I wasn’t completely sure which was which anymore. So I had to put the glasses aside and re-pour. I wasn’t about to go into a tasting session unsure of what I was drinking. I’m an idiot.
Finally, the food arrived. I like to test wines alone, and then paired (if possible). The dinner was supposed to have been carne (beef), but someone changed things up and served fish instead. This was pan-fried bonito, which is not a tepid whitefish, but still… I wanted to bounce these wines against a cow, not a gilled creature.
At that point, I just said, “screw it,” and got on with the whole thing.
First out of the gate was the Pascual Toso, which had the higher rating on Vivino. The nose was very flat, with some earth notes and blackcurrant, but just barely. That’s common with Syrah, the nose often won’t telegraph too much, but this was outright shy.
I went over to the Terrazas, and found the same. Maybe black cherry here instead of blackcurrant, and less earthy, but still very, very timid. I decided this might have been due to the narrow glasses (unlikely, but maybe?) so let them sit for about ten minutes to see if anything opened up.
It didn’t. Both were the same when I came back. So I started drinking.
For the Pascual Toso, more blackcurrant came through, along with some spices and black pepper. This was, despite the year (2011) still really acidic. The sugar was nearly absent, which didn’t help. Sometimes, a peppery, acidic wine can be saved by a quantum of sugar, but this one had none of it. The blackcurrant fruit note was great on its own, but that pepper wasn’t helping.
Paired with the fish, things actually got better. I imagine this would have been better with a hamburger or filet mignon, but pairing definitely helped. I ended up giving this a rating of 3.7.
For the Terrazas, I was ready to wince. Remember, this was the bottle with the crumbled cork, and I suspected heat damage. Taking a swig, I didn’t find any. It was actually better — albeit only slightly — than the Pascual Toso!
The main flavor note here was black cherry but with a licorice kick. I don’t like licorice, mind you, but in a red wine I find it pleasant. The tannins here were much smoother than the Pascual Toso, and the sugar was slightly higher, but don’t be fooled: this is still a dry red. The acid was lower, too.
But the finish was lacking, and pairing it didn’t improve at all. In the end, I rated this one 3.8.
So the winner was the Terrazas, but only by a tiny bit. Both were generally disappointing. Fine to drink, sure, but not what I was expecting. I find Vivino ratings are generally lower than my own, so I assumed both Syrahs would win better ratings from me. They didn’t; in both cases, my ratings were lower.
What was odd — and maybe fun, in the end — is how the Terrazas came out on top at all, given the cork problem, the risk of heat damage, the screw-ups by yours truly, etc.
But this brings me back to the fact that I seem to enjoy Shirazes better than Syrahs. I also enjoy US Syrahs more than the ones I’ve had from South America, so far. I’m starting to think I’m just not a fan of Argentina’s offerings for this grape.