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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

Ode to Syrah-Toledo Free Press Article

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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!
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At 8:35 AM, Anonymous jeremy mahler said...

"Film (i.e. David Lynch) and Rock Music (Sonic Youth)."

HEY!! that seems a bit... directed... :)

I understand, though, the need to fear that which you don't understand. I just don't fear it - I love it. SY and Lynch both represent the edges of their craft for me. When they do it right, they really, really do it right - and when they don't? Well.. you get abominations like Dune or (and a lot of SY fans will hate me for this but) NY Ghosts and Flowers.

I imagine that's similar, honestly, to your beloved Syrah. Maybe the wine's a bit less noisy, a bit more acceptable to general society, but you and I both love these things at least partly due to their fringe status, that feeling you're understanding something kind of uncharted where the artist (and yes, I do consider winemakers to be artists) has done something valuable and interesting in comparison to the rest of the world of 4/4 time, 145 patterns, merlot-cab blends, and grocery-store mass-safety.    

At 9:16 AM, Blogger adam mahler said...

No, Syrah is more like Ben Folds. Not so much a fringe grape, just overshadowed enough to frustrate me. It's beautful and it rocks, but not in the way that Cabernet Rocks, which is more like, Metallica, more viscerel and primal.Sonic youth and David Lynch are more like Gruner Veltliner, trust me. Remind me next time you're over, and I'll open one up. they are all art for arts sake. Which has it's place, but not to be overly championed.

BTW, you make upo 7% of my readers-sad but rue...    

At 3:57 AM, Anonymous jimcinyakima said...

Adam, dude, Washington rools! (Just did that to get your attention). Seriously, kind of, it's great to see opinionation on this subject near and dear to our hearts and palates. I live in a state where cab sauv and merlot make (historically) all the money for the growers, vintners, but all the buzz here in the Evergreen State is about Syrah. Talk of it even being "overplanted."

Well, you and I both know from our days in and around Santa Barbara County that this grape holds more promise, potential, and chameleon-like identity possibilities than we syrah-lovers ever could have imagined a decade ago, when it was an afterthought and a hiccup in the world of wine. From the scorched high desert of the Yakima/Columbia/Walla Walla Valleys to the coastal climes of Santa Rita Hills/Sonoma Coast/Monterey, we're seeing viticultural expression that is at this moment awesome, and probably just kicking into gear. Whodda thunk?

Great post, looking forward to the Robert Altman as Mourvedre theme.    

At 12:54 PM, Blogger burgundy wines said...

Burgundy Wine lies at the very heart of France, and is one of the world’s finest wine producing regions. Located two hours to the southeast of Paris, the wine area starts in Chablis in the north of the region and then it follows the autoroute A6 southerly to Lyon.

The Burgundy soil is mainly based on oolitic limestone, upon which both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes flourish. The red wines, made with the Pinot Noir, are more difficult to grow because these grapes are more sensitive to disease or to being badly handled. Towards the south of the region, from around Macon, the soil changes to a reddish granite schist and sand of the Beaujolais. Here, the Gamay grape flourishes, making excellent red wines, many of which are drunk while they are young.

If you have not been to Burgundy, try it. It is a great part of France to visit for a holiday. Alternatively, stay at home and simply drink and enjoy the wine.
You can more information for the Burgundy Wine in:    

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Umpqua Wineau said...

Hurrah for syrah! Just don't skip Oregon! What you say, syrah in Oregon. Oh, yes. You have to know the whole state is not wet and chilly and can grow lots more than Pinot Noir. Google: Umpqua Valley AVA. Then get ready to add Umpqua Valley to your list of syrah wonderlands!
For an insiders wine tour try:
Oregon Wine Country Tours    

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