Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blood and Iron in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo County Syrah “Bassetti Vineyard,” Edmunds St. John 2003 $27. 13.3% alcohol. Cork.
Steve Edmunds calls his basic red “Shell and Rock,” a reference to the soil beneath the vines from which he sources the fruit and to the flavors that soil imparts to his wine. Following the same paradigm, an apt name for his Bassetti Vineyard Syrah might be “Blood and Iron.” They’re the two flavors that resonate most clearly through this wine. While I can’t say whether or not they’re typical elements of San Luis Obispo Syrah, I definitely get the feeling, tasting this, that the blood and iron elements are the earth’s way of speaking through the vehicle of Edmunds’ work. For once, a California bottle blurb actually seems on point.

Brambly and sanguine, driven by intensely stony, iron toned structure. There’s a little savage character at work, carrying an animal aspect across the palate, braced by angular tannins and high acidity. Spicy, wild, red berry fruit leads a sharp attack on the palate. Complicated, a bit of a soft-spoken bully on its own, this is wine built for food, a more than happy partner to the lamb burgers I threw on the grill a couple of nights ago. In fact, this seems tailor-made for lamb, as the sweet, gamy flavor of the burgers, brushed with just a little olive oil, helped bring the wine’s hard edges into harmony. The blood, iron and spice matched the savor of the lamb.

Pouring this alongside another producer’s Bassetti Vineyard Syrah might make for an interesting Lab Report. For now, I’ll throw an herb rubbed leg of lamb on the grill and settle for the wine’s immediate pleasures at the table.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post David. I have been putting away some of the 2005 Bassetti -- Steve seemed to indicate that might be one of the best wines he has made....trying not to open a bottle for a couple of years, but now I am tempted!

Wicker Parker said...

I pretty much flip my wig for blood and iron -- a 2003 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas being a particularly memorable example -- so naturally I will ferret this out! Great post, thanks.

fillay said...

Ummm... not to dwell on the crass commercial questions, but where in the H*ll can you find this for $27? Thems are recession-friendly prices.

Michael D. said...


Great picture of the back label. Notice the beauty and humlity of Steve's words????

David McDuff said...

The '03 still has plenty of stuffing and should continue to grow in the cellar for another decade. Of course, if you're holding more than a couple of bottles of the '05, it would certainly be worth a look now.

WP Mike,
They are definitely compelling flavor components, ones I often associate with wines from Marcillac as well as the Rhône. If you haven't already tried them, look out for either of the Marcillac bottlings from Domaine du Cros, especially the Vieilles Vignes.

As much as I've railed against the PLCB (PA's state system), there's a reason I still check in on a few of their better shops from time to time. Whether they bought this on close-out or have just reduced their price since release, I found it at $27 pretty recently in one of their shops just outside of Philly.

Most of all from Steve's words, I get a sense of connection that goes way beyond what I'd expect from someone who actually doesn't farm or own his own vines.

Joe said...

Nearly fell off my chair when I saw a California syrah with 13.3% alcohol. Your Marcillac analogy is bang on, although I am thinking of Bandol right now...

David McDuff said...

Not all the Edmunds St. John wines are that low in alcohol but Steve is one of the handful of producers in California who aims to pick for balance and expression rather than waiting for extreme ripeness and resultant high alc.

Good call on Bandol, btw. I've a bottle or two in the cellar that really do need to be opened, so thanks for the inspiration.

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