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Wine Reviews: Francis Coppola Diamond Series Syrah 2001
by: Vino Joe (e-mail

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A wine you can't refuse: Francis Coppola Diamond Series Syrah 2001

While in college, you may have played a beer game while watching "The Godfather." For example, take a sip every time someone swears, two sips whenever Sonny comes on the screen, do a shotgun chug when someone gets shot (tough during the christening and toll booth scenes), etc. However, now that you’ve matured from those frat days and you’re drinking fine wine, you can contemplate "The Godfather" while sipping this Syrah.

Yes, the wine is from that Francis Coppola, and it’s no marketing ploy. Mr. Coppola spent a long time and a boatload of money restoring the Niebaum estate, a 1600-acre property in Napa Valley that produced legendary Cabernet wines under the Inglenook name. Unfortunately, most people these days associate Inglenook with a cheap jug wine; in fact, Inglenook was the standard-setting winery of Napa for most of the first half of the 20th century, while headed by a man named John Daniel. Unfortunately, in the mid-1960s, Daniel sold the winery and within 10 years the brand name was owned by a liquor company that slapped the Inglenook label onto jugs filled with crappy juice. In the mid-1970s, Coppola purchased the Niebaum property (which no longer was used for Inglenook wine) and has ever since been making wine in the spirit of its illustrious history. Since the Inglenook name is owned by someone else, the wines from this property are now branded as Niebaum-Coppola, and their top wine, Rubicon, is beginning to achieve legendary status. 

However, with that legendary status comes quite a few greenbacks. Luckily for peasants like me, there is the Francis Coppola “Diamond Series” line of wines that is of excellent quality and affordable -- around 15 bucks. Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, “Claret” and Syrah are the available flavors. These are not made from grapes growing on the Niebaum property, but they do come from good vineyard locations and uphold the virtue of what Coppola is trying to do: make quality wine. And he wouldn’t be putting his name on the label if the wine inside was apocalyptically distasteful. 

The Diamond Series Syrah has a wide open nose of sweet, ripe, jammy fruit, displaying aromas of plum, cassis, black currant, violets and earth. In the mouth it is equally ripe and jammy upfront -- like a bushel full of berries. The flavors are fairly complex, with lots of ripe fruit and spice. You may taste something different, but I tasted boysenberry, overripe raspberry and hints of black pepper, dark chocolate, vanilla spice and earth. The acidity and tannins are mild, which make their appearance in the finish, balancing off the fruit and a touch of hotness (alcohol is 13.5%, so it’s going to be a bit hot). Because of the low acidity and tannin levels, I’d recommend this as a “fireside wine” -- something you drink without food. However, I think it could match well with some meat dishes that are prepared with a glazed sauce or other touch of sweetness, such as barbecue sauce or a mesquite grill. It could go perfectly with Swedish meatballs or meatloaf, depending on the recipe and gravy, and leaner meats such as turkey and chicken.

Overall, this Diamond Series Syrah is a nice wine and has a good price-quality ratio. Its bursting fruit will find a number of fans, and be a good choice for sipping during a cocktail hour. Thus, it might make a nice gift to the host of a dinner party, or a christening. Just be sure to hit the ground if you hear gunshots.

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