Pairing a movie day with a wine from Lirac

Domaine Coudoulis 2013 Lirac

Recently I indulged myself with a day of movies. I love going to movies by myself. You can immerse yourself in a film, in it’s moods, colors and tones. I always stay until the end to read all the credits. By then you can escape quietly, no other voices to pull you out of your contemplation/meditation. There is no one there waiting to talk about the film, no one to disagree with your interpretations. You are free to stay immersed in your reverie, musing on the mood the film has wrapped you up in.

This was a day for that. I went to see The Phantom Thread. It was lyrical and ordered, filled with manipulation and surrender. (The sound design, by the way, was stunning. You will hear about the annoying toast, but it goes far beyond that. They movie is filled with silences with the sounds of steps or breathes, of closing doors or fabric moving.)

I left and still happily ensconced in my reverie headed to look for a bottle of wine for my evening. I am exploring the Rhône and settled on a bottle from Lirac. The shelf talker spoke of violets and white pepper and this seemed appropriate today. (I will stay away from mushrooms for a bit. spoilers)

I chose a Domaine Coudoulis 2013. This wine is a blend of grenache and syrah.

Domaine Coudoulis 2013 Lirac

Domaine Coudoulis 2013 Lirac

So as always, I like to know a bit about where the wine I am drinking came from, so…we will dive in to a few details on Lirac and then Domaine Coudoulis.

Lirac

Lirac is in the southern Rhône and sits west of the Rhône River across from the famous Chateauneuf du Pape AOC and just north of Tavel where the famous rosés are found. It officially became and appellation in 1947, but wine grapes have been grown here since the middle ages.

Lirac in France

Map of France with the Lirac area highlighted Mapdata ©2018 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009), Google Imagery ©2018 TerraMetrics

You will find crus here in red, white and rosé. Primarily they focus on the reds, with 10% of the wines being white wines and just 3% rose. They focus on the white grapes Grenache blanc, bourboulenc, roussanne and clairette and use picpoul, marsanne or viognier for in small amounts for blending.

The variety of soils, clay plateaus with those galets roulés or pebbles for the reds, sandy soils where they grow the red for rosés and then the scrubland where the whites grow, give each variety a distinctiveness.

The red wines here are full-bodied, the white wines are heavier whites with floral notes. Many of the rosés of the area are in the deeper darker style of Tavel, but are significantly more affordable.

While Lirac has only been an AOC since 1947, it is said that Lirac is the birthplace of the Côte du Rhône. In the 16th century the wines of Lirac were known around the world. They were very popular so to protect them from misuse of the name, the wines were authenticated by labeling the barrels CDR (Côte du Rhône). This was the origin of Côtes du Rhône wines.

Read more about this amazing region in a beautiful article by Jill Barth that she wrote for PalatePress.  It gives a vivid and intimate view of this area.

Domaine Coudoulis

The soils here are limestone topped with a dusting of red clay and pebbles. They grow grenache, syrah, cinsault, carignan and mourvèdre as is typical for the region.   Harvest yields are kept low to keep the best quality and the grapes are harvested by hand. The grapes are destemmed before fermentation.

Bernard Callet bought Domaine Coudoulis in 1996. The Domaine is 28 hectares (just under 70 acres). It sits on a terrace where you look out over head trained vines, the rows between filled with the galets roulés, and down onto the village of Saint-Laurent-Des-Arbres and it’s medieval castle. There is a sense the history of the place, and you remember that wines have been grown here since the middle ages.

When Bernard Callet bought this place he wanted to blend the tradition with the modern. He spent 10 years on-site learning from the crew. He and Patrick Hilaire, his winemaker, then take the tradition and add a little innovation. So the grapes are sorted by hand, and then go into a modern cellar with a cooling system built into the walls. But within the added technology there is a simplicity. A respect for the vines and the soil.

The Pairing

First the second movie

I sat down on the couch with this lovely bottle and continued my movie reverie, turning this time to “Theatre of Life” a beautiful documentary on the story of the Refettorio Ambrosiano, invisioned by Massimo Bottura. Massimo was overwhelmed by the amount of food waste at the Milan Expo and worked with other famous chefs to open a soup kitchen which would serve gourmet meals made from this food waste to the hungry in Milan. His restaurant Osteria Francescana is in Modena and was rated the 2 two restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine in 2015. The story of Refettorio Ambrosiano is not just that of the chefs and the food that they create, it is about the sense of community and respect that they bring to the hungry. Much of the food waste is bread and the through line becomes “bread is gold”. Such a simple thing, bread. Breaking bread together can span the gaps between us.  The documentary begins with a homeless woman, Stefania Bassania reciting a poem she wrote, it continues, sharing the stories of the people who came to the Refettorio Ambrosiano and their stories of how they came to Milan and how they became homeless.  It also documents their stories as their lives continue.  It’s about people coming together at table, and finding that we are not so different from each other.  Using our empathy to see their story from their perspective.  So I was in this very open place when I reached for the bottle of of 2013 Domaine Coudoulis Lirac.

Then the 2013 Domaine Coudoulis Lirac

As I opened the wine, blackberries hit my nose immediately. As I dipped my nose into the glass there were dusty notes of cocoa powder, I swished it in my mouth and tasted dark chocolate. (It went brilliantly with the chocolate pudding cake I had for dessert). As it opened up there were notes of dried thyme, then a little barnyard funk and wet straw. Another dip with my nose and I smelled anise/black licorice. At this point the movie had me enthralled, there were tears…does that mess up your nose for tasting? Doesn’t matter, my heart was full and I went back to the wine and found more warm dark berries, those blackberries from the beginning, warming, changing and coming full circle. There were violets and white pepper and then some deeper warmer spices like curry.

The tannins on this wine coated my mouth, and then smoothed, like the feeling when you brush your hand against the grain on velvet feeling the prickliness, then you turn your hand and feel the luxurious softness as you smooth the fabric.

bunched velvet

Velvet and other fabrics can be so soft when you touch with the grain, but brush it back and you get that prickliness, that roughness. (photo credit Act2Art by RuBen)

This wine is not a high end wine, and it comes from the other side of the tracks (the other side of the Rhône from the more well-known Châteauneuf-du-Pape). But the depth and unfussy complexity was perfect. This is a rustic heartfelt wine and it was the perfect pairing with my day of movies. The 2013 Domaine Coudoulis Lirac can be had for $17 or less and is pretty widely available.

All in all it was a day of exceptional feels.  The movies opened me up to listening more deeply and being open to other perspectives, which in turn I believe opened my senses to be able to take in the depth of the wine and the changes as it opened up.  It is typical to pair wine with food, but wine is so much more, and pairing it with, movies, art and music can open your mind to new ways to appreciate it.

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Syrah – a Rhone Grape

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise time, Beaujolais, Rhone, France

Originating in Southeastern France, Syrah was cultivated during the Roman Rule.  It is the child of two not so well know grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

Where it’s Grown

First grown in France, and found in particular in the Rhône Valley, it has spread globally and can now be found in Australia, where the call it Shiraz, as well as California, Washington, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, South African, Spain, Switzerland, Chile and, as I just discovered, Tunisia.

 

(side note on Shiraz…the story goes that the grape was brought to Marseilles in 600BC by the Phocaeans from Shiraz, Persia. Another story has it coming from Sicily with the Roman Soldiers, but UC Davis DNA testing say it was born in Southeastern France)

Climate

Syrah thrives in warm climates where it’s canopies reach for the sky, but it can be grown in cooler climates where it will express itself differently in the glass.  The canes on this vine grown long and will grow down, making it impossible to head train.  It is the one Châteauneuf-du-Pape variety that is allowed to be trellised, otherwise the grapes would be on the ground. The leaves often need to be thinned to let the berries get some sun so they can ripen. In the vineyards it is said, “Syrah likes a view”. Because it is such a vigorous vine, planting it at the top of a hill with poor soils helps to concentrate the berries and temper the rigor of the vines.

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Larner Vineyard Syrah

 

Berries and Bunches

The grapes are typically small clusters with small dark (almost black) berries, but this vine produces them in abundance. The skins are typically thick. Because there are many small berries, when you crush the grape you have lots of skin contact, which can give you bold tannins, and pair that with thick skins and you have a very dark, sometimes almost opaque wine.

Syrah Grapes

Syrah Grapes

Home in the Rhône

Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache in acres planted in the Southern Rhône. It is of course, the S in a GSM. You find it in the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape,  and it is the only grape allowed in the famous Côte Rôtie & Hermitage wines in the Northern Rhone. In the Northern Rhone they co-ferment Syrah with small bits of Viognier, adding the beautiful Viognier aromatic and creating a rounder mouthfeel for the wine.

Winemaking Techniques

Syrah is often given an extended maceration, meaning it is often cold soaked for days or longer. This mitigates some of the harsh tannins from those thick skins. It also increases the color, due to the extra time with skin contact, and brings forward the fruit flavors while tempering the herbaceous notes.

 

Oak Aging

Like most reds, Syrah is typically aged in oak.  In American they lean toward French Oak for this, in France and Australia it is often American oak.  In the Rhône, it is more often aged in larger Foudres so it has less oak contact, although sometimes blended with lots that have been aged in small oak barrels.  Quite honestly, this is a beautiful wine and often doesn’t need much oak addition.

 

How long to hold a Syrah?

Typically you can hold a Syrah for up to 10 years.  There are those who will tell you not to even look at the bottle for 5 years, and of course a well made Syrah from the Hermitage might age beautifully much longer, up to 30 or almost 40 years.  And keep in mind that wines can go through closed phases as they age, opening up again later.  This is where owning a Coravin comes in handy.

Tasting…

Adaptable as it is, this grape expresses itself differently depending on the climate. Cooler Climates produce Light-Bodied Syrahs that can have savory notes as well as Olive and Plum. Warmer Climate produce more Full-Bodied Syrahs and you get Cocoa, Licorice and Mint.  But let’s break this tasting down a bit.

Sight

A Warmer Climate Syrah will be dark purple/black and almost opaque.

A Cooler Climate Syrah will be a deep purple burgundy with some translucency.

Aroma

Here we have to break it down a little further.

Primary Aromas (those are the ones that come with the grape which include the terroir)

  • Fruits like Blueberry, Blackberry, black currants or prunes.
  • Spices like black pepper, clove, anise (black licorice) or thyme
  • Floral notes like voilets, geraniums or roses.
  • Herb notes like cedar, eucalyptus, sandalwood or green olive

 

Secondary Aromas (these come from the winemaking techniques)

  • From Oak: Vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, smoke, coffee or coconut.
  • From Fermentation: Rubber, tar, solvents or stem

 

Tertiary Aromas (these come from aging)

  • Leather, cigar box, earth, spices and even truffle

 

Taste

Syrah is considered to be a full bodied wine and is supple.  The tannins (that dryness that you get on your teeth) are medium and it has a medium acidity.

Warm Climate Syrah

  • Dark fruits like blackberry or cherry, smoke, meat, leather, white pepper, licorice, earth.

Cool Climate Syrah

  • Dark Fruits, green olives, black pepper and spice.

Finish

Typical finishes are medium to long in length (that’s how long you can still taste the wine in your mouth)

Pairing Syrah with food

Most often when I have Syrah, I crave bacon.  Salty pork just loves this wine.  Want to have it with desert? I paired a Syrah with dark chocolate bark with fresh rosemary, bacon and a coffee infused sea salt and it was heaven! Pork barbeque is a good bet and if it is a bold Syrah, don’t be shy with the pepper. Stews and braised meats are good if you are drinking Syrah in a blend like a Rhone blend or a GSM.

If you have a lighter Syrah, like one from Washington or Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley (where yes it grows very well), think a little lighter. The wine will likely have a bit more acid and can pair with lamb or grilled eggplant.

 

Need a cheese platter?

With a full bodied Syrah look to harder cheeses or stinky cheeses. Bleu cheeses like Gorgonzola, or Stilton and hard cheeses like Parmesan or asiago. Smoked Gouda is one of my favorites with this wine, since the smoke in the cheese often is great with the smoke on the wine. And then charcuterie…well Bacon, and then all sorts of smoked meats.  If you are drinking a Cool Climate Syrah, you might pull out the olives if you get a little of that on the wine’s nose.

 

Quick summary for pairing…

  • Red meats, things that are grilled, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, peppers, black pepper and hard or stinky cheeses!

Syrah is a perfect winter wine, as fellow wine lovers will attest. The kind of wine that you can curl up with. Maybe a nice rich stew, while curled up in a comfy chair, under a blanket with a fire in the fireplace, and a nice book to read. Of course you can enjoy Syrah all year, in the summer with Barbeque is divine, but I love having my nose in a glass, and quietly contemplating it over the course of an evening all by myself.

If you are looking for a Syrah:

  • In France, look to the Rhône:  Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Châteauneuf du Pape, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • In Washington State, look to Walla Walla, Yakima and the Columbia Gorge
  • In Oregon check out the Rogue Valley
  • In California check out the Russian River Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, and then Santa Barbara from the Santa Maria Valley to the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon where it is the flagship wine.
  • In Australia you’ll find it in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
  • In Spain in La Mancha
  • In Italy in the Basilicata Region in Southern Italy
  • In Chile try Elqui and San Antonia for Cool Climate Syrah and The Colchagua Valley for a mild climate Syrah.
  • In New Zealand on Waiheke Island near Auckland then on the Coast in Hawke’s Bay and a little further south in Wairarapa and Martinsborough.
  • In South Africa you will find it in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swartland and Robertson.
  • And in Switzerland in Valais.

Collage of Maps

There are tons of wines out there, but just with this one variety you can explore much of the world.  It’s on my list to do this year.  Check back with us for more information on wine and grapes as we continue our journey, learning and chronicling the journey of the grape from dirt to glass!

Want to know more about Syrah?  Try some of the links below. We attended a Seminar on Syrah in Santa Barbara County and listened to wine makers from across the area (and climates) speak.

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