This is the question we went round and round about during our most recent dosage trial for our Sparkling Syrah. In fact, this was our second dosage trial for this wine because during the first trial, we all agreed that the color of the wine was too light. The colors of all our sparkling rosé wines vary a little from year to year. Nevertheless, the Sparkling Syrah is typically cranberry in color.
This one was more of a coral color. It’s beautiful in the glass and the flavors are delightful. It just looks different than what we or our members are used to. So, after our first trial, winemaker Ashley Herzberg decided to go back and try adding a small amount of still Syrah to the dosage. She brought a 1% and a 2% addition. We all liked the look of the 2% addition in the bottle. It was still a bit lighter than usual and leaned more toward coral than cranberry, but it was closer to the color we’ve all come to expect.
That was the 2010 vintage, before the other members of our team had joined us. Ashley, Mike and I remember it well. The “dark year” was alluring in the bottle but to our taste, it had just a little too much of the earthy flavor of Syrah. We love that flavor in the red Syrah. In our sparkling rosé we want a brighter, more fruit forward flavor.
OK, so back to the dosage trial. After seeing the colors of the two different additions in the bottle, it was time to pour and taste. We poured the 1% and 2% additions and looked at them side by side. In the glass, the differences in color were more subtle, although all of us preferred the color of the 2%. Now for the tasting. As soon as we tasted I got that hint of earthy Syrah in both samples. I didn’t want to say anything but then Ashley mentioned it. We decided we needed to go back and try the original without any added Syrah.
We were all blown away with how much fresher and fruitier it tasted, with bright bubbles on the tongue. The Syrah addition had weighed the wine down a little. The wind went out of our sails because we loved the taste of the original and preferred the color of the 2% addition.
A lively discussion ensued about how much fun it is to do a tasting for our guests and start with a splash of our Blanc de Blanc, then proceed to one of the lighter rosés and then unveil the cranberry colored Sparkling Syrah. We call it “joy in a bottle” and it brings a festive note to, not only to a tasting, but to any occasion or dinner table.
Then we had an in-depth conversaton about our club members. We have many who have been members for years and they remember the colors of our different sparkling rosés. That is in part because all our sparkling wines are bottled in flint (clear) glass, so the color is visible. The other is that we have several rosés – many sparkling houses have only one. We’ve made a point to craft them so they each have a slightly different color. Now our members have come to expect that. Did something we featured come back to bite us?
From a winemaker’s perspective, achieving just the right color is no small feat. First, you don’t always have complete control of how much time the grapes stay on the skins, which is what imparts the color. Second, sometimes you get just the right color when you press the fruit and then it falls out when you disgorge the wine. You can adjust the color by adding some of the still red wine during the dosage, but that may change the flavor profile.
It was unanimous. Taste wins over color. As much as we wanted the deeper, cranberry color, we just couldn’t sacrifice taste. Perhaps it’s not the cranberry color that makes our Sparkling Syrah “joy in a bottle”. I’m convinced that in a blind taste test, the joy would come from the bright, fresh picked strawberry flavors with a hint of citrus that bursts on the tongue.
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