American country clubs and their wine lists are simpatico; boring, nondescript bottles of wine punctuated by a few “has been”, overpriced, tired Cabernet and Chardonnay brands served up to a homogeneous pool of status-subscribing members willing to pay for social standing. Apologies for these harshly extreme generalizations, but my memory banks were recently refreshed at a business dinner staged in a high profile Atlanta-area TPC golf and country club where we culled the 2004 Dumol Russian River Syrah from a list offering iconic reinforcement of the decision I made eight years ago to walk away from club membership forever.
At that club, I can’t recall one engaging member-to-member conversation, any stand out meals, or a single interesting wine moment. It was all vanilla and oak to me. Subsequently, as social and business guest at a long list of private clubs, I have been predictably disappointed by wine lists appearing to have been assembled without effort or thought. Maybe it has something to do with the imposition of those dreaded, but mandatory, monthly dining minimums. Or are club F&B managers shrewd enough to provide inauthentic, empty wines with expensive price tags and brand name recognition to captive members that will sit still for it?
Bad wine lists are akin to irresponsibly reared children…both tainted by lack of care, love, focus, structure, and attention.
Dining this week with a few colleagues I enjoy spending time with, we almost managed to side-step club-list mediocrity with our pick of ’04 Dumol Syrah at $110. Assuming the Dumol brand did not engender enough mainstream country club attention, I rationalized the legitimacy of the languishing 2004 vintage on a list of mostly current release wines.
There was a lot of promise in the wine’s nose; almost exotic in its old world Asian spice and incense aromas, yet laden with black cherry and pepper. The color of this Syrah was just shy of black. For a moment, I thought we had transcended the gloomy predictability of gloppy country club wines. Unfortunately, the wine delivered a sweetness that defied the nose, with a large dollop of vanilla that overwhelmed any subtle nuances. The wine lacked finesse and was full on from the moment it reached my lips through the finish.
In a December 2005 tasting note, Robert M. Parker, Jr. awarded the wine a 90-92 point score, mentioning:
The 2004 Syrah Russian River exhibits …a deep, chewy, rich style. It should drink well young, and keep for 7-8 years….One can’t say enough about owner Kerry Murphy and his talented winemaker, Scotsman Andy Smith. Together they have produced a bevy of extraordinary Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and recently added some full-throttle Syrahs to the portfolio
I can’t completely agree with Mr. Parker. Lured into trying this Syrah by my own recall of so many legitimately great Dumol Pinots and Chardonnays I have drank heretofore, this Syrah was sadly overblown, with a sweetness that masked anything pretty. The wine was a signpost and reminder to me that finesse and restraint are uncharacteristic qualities of country club living.