Er, uh, pretend this picture is in focus…zyrah 002

I believe this  is  was the last bottle of this wine on earth.

For my first Wine Blogging Wednesday, inspired by the way Robert Mondavi had a knack for pushing wine forward–in many ways and directions–I  chose Zyrah 1993; “a blended California Red Table Wine,” says the label. Zyrah was a Robert Mondavi spinoff of a spinoff, made under the Vichon label, which had recently been bought by RMW (and later become the winery for RMW’s La Famiglia line of Italian varietal wines).

Zyrah promises with its name to be a combo of Syrah and Zin. One would think. Actually, it has mostly Syrah (60%) and hardly any Zin (2%), with the rest Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault. No alcohol-by-volume is listed (calling it red table wine sufficed; this meant under 14% if I am not mistaken). I bought this bottle for $8.00, probably in the late ’90s in the early stages of an infatuation with “splendid blendeds”–wines that emulated classic Euro blends but added a twist. {I first wrote about this genre for Wine Review Online in 2005:  http://www.winereviewonline.com/splendid_blendeds.cfm.}

By virtue of its 2% Zinfandel injection, Zyrah was neither Rhone Ranger nor Meritage. Instead, it was a very deliberate early progenitor of the splendid-blended genre. It was a kitchen sink. A lab-made blend that winds up sounding like a field blend. The folks behind Zyrah were trying to make it stand out, not only with the blend, but also the proprietary name (with TM symbol, though it never became a registered mark), the sporty (at the time) flange top and the dime-sized decal covering the cork.

I do not even remember if I tried this wine back around the time I bought it. Splendid blendeds under $10 were pretty much an impulse buy for me at the time. This particular bottle just sat in the cellar, never quite getting the call to the table.

I expected it to be more of a curiosity than a wine to ponder. After all, Zyrah may have been ahead of its time in the1993 vintage, the years of slumber may well have put this bottle past its prime. To my surprise, it was about as fine as could be hoped, its fruit still proud if a bit pruney. Aromatically, it evoked Rioja, but a bit fresher. And on the palate, ditto. Old fruit…aged, dried, past ripeness into raisinhood. But still walking and talking. And sure enough, after about 20 minutes in the glass, it seemd to kickstart itself, opening, showing fruit one might peg as plum rather than prune. And so, I am glad I opened it now, while it still had enough vigor to show some Robert Mondavi-esque swagger, which Mondavi himself showed for decades.

Zyrah did not change my mind about aging. I still believe that most California reds, to generalize, age linearly, predictably, not spoiling but not evolving. If the wine starts out with fruit, it can hold the fruit for a decade or more. But it’s still pretty much fruit, not complexity. If anythingl, this pleasant experience reminds me to start poking around in the cellar formore orphans of the 1990s, and to open them sooner than later.