Wine Review: 2009 Laughing Stock Syrah

28 09 2011

View from the parking lot: I could get used to looking at this every day.

On my trip to the Okanagan earlier this month, one of the things I was most looking forward to was my visit to Laughing Stock Vineyards, producer of my favourite Canadian red wine of all time and restorer of my faith in (at least some of) my homeland’s wine industry.  We made the trek out to Naramata, located just northeast of Penticton along the shoreline of Lake Okanagan, on a gorgeous late summer day and I was lucky enough to meet LS owner/vineyard manager Cynthia Enns and get a guided tour of the property, which sits on a west-facing slope with an incredible view overlooking the Lake.  I was even luckier that the tasting room still had some of the 2009 Laughing Stock Syrah in stock, which I’d been dying to try, partly because LS had made me think that good Canadian reds were an actual possibility, partly because I generally just love Syrah, and partly because I had never seen this particular wine anywhere in Alberta, giving me (in my head, anyway) a chance at a provincial exclusive.  I bought a couple bottles to take home, and tonight was the first taste trial.  Since the last Canadian Syrah I had before this one smelled and tasted like tomato soup, this had nowhere to go but up.

If I did Bottle Ratings, this one would be right up there.

In composition if not flavour profile, the Laughing Stock Syrah follows the example of the classic Old World Syrah region of Cote Rotie, located in France’s Northern Rhone valley, where small amounts of the lush white grape Viognier are blended into the Syrah to add softness and aromatics to the final wine.  This Syrah is actually 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier, although unlike the tough, tannic, meaty wines of Cote Rotie, I’m guessing it was probably already pretty soft and aromatic on its own even before the Viognier came into the equation.  Before I get into the wine, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t pass on some cool trivia about its bottle.  Did you know that:

  • The series of numbers in the coloured rectangle in the centre of the bottle (in this case, “2009 +1/10”) represents the date when the grapes making up the wine were harvested (in this case, October 1st, 2009)?
  • The stock ticker symbols and prices on the bottle are actually accurate statements of how real stocks performed on the harvest date in question?  (So looking above and left of the red rectangle, WestJet Airlines [WJA] lost 29 cents and was at $12.04 a share on Oct. 1/09.)
  • Since Laughing Stock doesn’t use stick-on labels, this means they have to order new custom bottles for each wine each year?
Now THAT’S staying true to a branding concept.Anyway, on to the main attraction.  Even though Laughing Stock is located in Naramata, the majority of its vineyards (particularly for its reds) are actually found near Osoyoos, which is over an hour south of the winery and about as close to the US border as possible.  The likely reason for this is that it gets considerably hotter and drier in the Okanagan south of Penticton, to the point where growing conditions are basically desert-like.  This gives slow-ripening red grapes like Cabernet and Syrah the best chance they’re going to have in Canada to ripen properly, a climatic situation that wineries a few hours due south in Washington State have exploited to great advantage.  The growing season is a little shorter farther north, but if you want your BC Syrah not to taste green and bitter, planting it in the desert right at the 49th Parallel is a decent starting point.

Cork Rating: 6.5/10 (Yes, I gave this same cork a 7 in the Portfolio review. Call me capricious.)

Greenness and bitterness weren’t a concern with the Laughing Stock, which was a thick, dark, opaque purple in the glass and gave off intense sweet fruity aromas of cassis, blueberry pie, candied orange and grape Kool-Aid to go along with almost Port-like notes of burnt sugar and caramel and a toasty, woody smell that was best described by my wife as “sauna”.  With that nose, it was no surprise that this Syrah was almost Shiraz-like in style on the palate:  full-bodied, plush, super-ripe, with big fruit, soft tannins and a looser sort of structure.  The initial attack featured gobs of blue and black fruit and chocolate, with none of the more savoury undertones that are the hallmark of many Syrahs.  Oak-induced flavours of vanilla, cedar and hamster cage (not in a bad way) gained strength over the course of each sip, as did the notable alcohol level (14.8%), which generated some heat on the back end that was pleasant but a little disconnected from the rest of the wine.  On the finish, for the first time, there was a trace of bitterness that was unlike anything else in this otherwise-bombastic red.

I sort of get the sense that this wine hasn’t fully come together yet, as the LS Syrah was nowhere near as integrated and as seamless from beginning to end as the winery’s top red blend, Portfolio.  This isn’t a huge surprise, since in addition to using the best grapes, Portfolio also ages longer in barrel and bottle than any other Laughing Stock wine, giving its flavours more time to come together before it’s released to the public.  I think I will hold onto my second bottle of this Syrah for another year or so to see if this same harmonization occurs and to allow the enthusiastic fruit to mellow and settle down a bit so that other flavours can develop.  This bottle was $34 at the winery, so I expected a little more from it than I got, but it may redeem itself sometime in 2012.  I think this wine is a work in progress, but since I’m not about to rate it “incomplete”, I’ll have to go with…86+ points

$30 to $35 CDN 



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