Ode to Syrah-Toledo Free Press Article
I know, generally speaking, people that are into wine tend to be masochistic, always championing the unlovable wines (see Gruner-Veltliner). This not only occurs in the world of wine, but other artistic expressions such as: Film (i.e. David Lynch) and Rock Music (Sonic Youth). I suspect that for 7% of you reading this, your blood is boiling, but you what they say about opinions. Anyhoo, I tend to drift more towards rampant enthusiasm when it comes to great wines, and my definition of great wines is probably broader than most. My enthusiasm about wine is akin to a 13-year old girl who “dots her eyes with a smiley face”. I love many wines, but perhaps my favorite grape is Syrah.
Syrah may be thought of as a novelty amongst the average wine drinkers. It’s historical significance is great, as is it’s sphere of influence. Bordeaux and Burgundy steal the spotlight in France. Bordeaux has it’s power and extremely long life, and Burgundy is an enigma, mysterious and magical all at once. Nothing captivates my attention and my muse more than the wines from The Northern Rhone Valley. The reds, being primarily, if not exclusively Syrah, show tremendous extraction and power, while constantly maintaining a beauty and otherworldly floral bouquet. The mouthfeel can be velvety and silky, or it can posses powerful tannins. The very best of Northen Rhône are from 2 Appellations: Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. While debate may rage about which is better, both are at the very top of quality for this fantastic grape. With a strong showing as well in Southern Rhône as well as Provence and Languedoc, this grape is one of the faces of the Southern third of France.
Syrah has also found a home in Australia under the label of Shiraz. The linguistic origin of the name change is unclear, but I write it off to Aussies being Aussies. Stylistically, Shiraz in Australia is nothing if not concentrated. Ranging in character from a fresh baked blueberry pie to a fresh baked raspberry pie, to well, a fresh baked blackberry pie. Shiraz is usually hedonistic and delicious. Elegance is not what one thinks of when describing the Aussie version of Syrah. The alcohol of these wines can be significant, as can their staining ability. While it’s trendy to bash these stylized wines as overly zealous and monochrome, I think that there is a place in the world for these types of wines, and I just like the way they taste.
There have been many interesting versions of Syrah in both Italy and Spain, not to mention the birthplace of the term Shiraz, South Africa. Although, no region has me quite as excited about the possibilities of this grape as the U.S.. I’m sure my love of this grape can be traced back to my time in Santa Barbara County, where Syrah is perhaps at it’s domestic best. It has strong palate memories for me just like your Mother’s Comfort food has for you. But with 3 distinct AVAs in Santa Barbara County, Syrah thrives in all of them. Then there’s Paso Robles, with near Aussie-style bombastic baddies. The real coup as of late has been Syrah’s success in the cool microclimates of both Napa and Sonoma. Cool Climate tends to make Syrah taste like their Northern Rhone brethren. And finally Washington State, which also shows extraordinary promise.
Look for wines that have lavender and violet on the nose, with an almost sweet black/ blue fruit quality to them with moderate to big tannins. These wines are the perfect foil to Lamb in most incarnations. But it will pair nicely with practically any meat, especially anything slow cooked or braised. Spend a little money (over $20) and you will be rewarded handily. The top Syrahs tend to cost just a fraction of the similar quality level of Napa Cab. Happy Hunting!