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Tuesday Tributes
A Love Letter To Syrah

By Charles Olken

Happy Valentine’s Day, Syrah. I Love You.

I know that those bullies, Pinot Noir and Riesling are throwing stick and stones at you. I know that those bags of acid that make Chardonnay so palatable to folks with a taste for lemonade are threatening to change your complexion as well. I understand that a bunch of namby-pambies who cannot drink anything with alcohol in it now revel in their Txakolis and Ribolla Giallas. I don’t care.

I love your lush, plump physique. I luxuriate in your richness. I grow dreamy just thinking of the intellectual challenge presented by your complex personality. You remind me of why I also love Zinfandel—you are no wimp. You have character. You have depth. And yes, when your pure fruitiness caresses my lips alongside a savory leg of lamb or a Provençal-seasoned stuffed chicken thigh simmered long in a wine and mushroom bath, I am transported to vinous heaven. Yes, Syrah, I worship you.

Why is it, I wonder, that so few folks agree? You are not an “acquired taste” like orange wines or Gruner Veltliner. You are mainstream. You make thousands and thousands of people all over the world happy with your intense fruit and gamy, meaty, sometime herb-scented complexities. You can be tight and worthy of long cellaring, and you can be open, delicious and bold. And that is just in your native France where somehow winelovers understand.

There are wonderful tasty Syrahs being made from Santa Barbara to Walla Walla and almost every place in between. Yet, Syrah, the fickleness populace on these shores has abandoned you. Oh well, all’s the better for those who have discovered the new releases from folks like JC Cellars, DuMOL, The Ojai Vineyard and Shafer, from Betz and Testarossa.

Hang in there, Syrah. Popularity tends to run in short bursts these days. Man cannot live by Napa Valley Cabernet, Dry Creek Zinfandel and Russian River Pinot Noir alone. Your offspring, Petite Sirah, has found new lovers and so will you.


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Some Might Argue
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:2/14/2012 10:06:22 AM

Well Charlie, Some might argue that those that have to have sweet, round, curvy fruit might be more on the namby-pambie end than lemonaide or high acid fans, but....seeing as I'm not one to argue, I happen to agree with you on Syrah. When done well it is every bit as sultry and alluring as Pinot Noir and often far more complex. That being said, when done wrong it can and has become a cartoon character of itself. A glass of melted chocolate covered cherries, thick, syrupy and lacking in structure. Am I really the only one that thinks that Syrah might be shouldering the push back caused by those grotesque offerings like Molly Dooker coming out of Australia? Only so much candy one can drink before you need a glass of something refreshing. Makes me sad really...

Love Is In The Air
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/14/2012 11:25:56 AM

Hi Sam--

Syrah has suffered from lots of things including the pushback against highly ripened wines. Yet, there are few Syrahs in this world that are not fully ripe. It matters not, for this part of the conversation whether we define ripe as Cote Rotie or Cornas, DuMOL or Molly Dooker.

There are wines everywhere that someone will accuse of excess and there are folks who love those wines regardless of the manner in which they get put down by those who refuse to drink chocolate cherry juice.

My point in writing this particular column was to try to balance the books. This is Petite Sirah week up here with a giant PS tasting on Friday night, and I will write about it tomorrow. But, having just worked through what I think of as a glorious group of high-quality, personality loaded Syrahs that go wonderfully with some types of foods, I feel the need to not only praise PS for what it is but to also point out that Syrah has been kicked around mercilessly and only deserves some of that kicking.

And, as always, you inspire me to think about what I like and why and make me wish you were  here in the north end of the state so you could taste with us much more often than once every year or two.

No Subject
by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:2/14/2012 12:38:56 PM

It would be remiss of me to pass on the opportunity to speak about this topic given my well-known passion for Australian wines but I will pass on the typical Down Under rant and take up a broader theme about this noble grape which I think gets overlooked. And I say noble on purpose, just as grapes such as riesling, pinot, et al are considered noble varietals.

One of things that makes a grape noble is its ability to communicate terroir or a sense of place. Given that most people in our business turn up their nose at syrah, the grape is rarely considered to be of noble rank. But what I find fascinating and compelling about syrah, especially as viewed through the prism of Australian and Californian growing regions, is syrah's clear and precise ability to communicate the place and location from where it came. Yeah, we can see the different expressions of syrah in the northern Rhone but we all know that from textbooks and classes. Ho hum.

To bear witness to the grape finding its voice(s) as we learn more about syrah's interaction with the panapoly of places in the new world is quite exciting. It's as if the textbooks are being written as we speak, errrr... taste. And that is part of the fun in syrah today. Witnessing its evolution has been an exciting and joyful experience. Bravo to that!

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