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Reports Of Syrah’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

By Stephen Eliot

It was only a few years back that the death of local Syrah was being mourned in some circles with almost no sense of loss. There was no weeping at its passing other than a few crocodile tears, and jokes comparing the difficulty in getting rid of a case of Syrah with a case of this or that disease instead marked its supposed slide to oblivion. I understand well the nature of wine punditry and the need to be the first to articulate trends and the “big picture”, but there was always something that did not quite ring true in the repetitive dirges announcing Syrah’s demise starting with the fact that it seemed quite alive to me.

Now there is no doubt that the place from which you view things to a great deal determines just what you will see, and I suppose that if I were someone who had bet the farm (or untold millions of corporate dollars) that Syrah was the fast track to riches, I might have been ready to read Syrah its last rites as well. I am not, however, in the business of making and selling wine, but in paying attention to what is in the bottle, and from my particular perch, one that is concerned with quality and interest, I cannot say I was irrevocably dismayed by what I saw.

Oh, I will concede that there was and still is a sizeable sea of uninspired Syrahs that will convince no one of its virtues. But, such is the case with almost every variety, and one needs to take care to differentiate between the industry as a whole, and the niche occupied by the top wines and the best of the artisanal producers. Through that looking glass, Syrah has not only not disappeared. It has, I would argue, gotten better and better in recent years.

It may not command the widespread acclaim of Cabernet, Pinot and Chardonnay, yet its admirers are many, and there are plenty of talented, deeply committed California producers who are, with very good cause, holding true to their beliefs. What is more, real success can be found in most every one of California’s better wine-growing addresses, from Santa Barbara and Sonoma to the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Napa Valley and the Sierra Foothills.

That point was driven home once again as we tasted our ways through a series of very fine efforts over the last couple of months, and, as has typically been the case when we turn our attention to Syrah, we had no problem at all in finding compelling, eminently collectable wines that belie any notion that California Syrah has breathed its last.

We are not in the game of making predictions, but with brilliant wines of the ilk made by folks like Stolpman, The Ojai Vineyard, DuMOL, Red Car, Ram’s Gate, Ramey, Rusack, Dierberg, Terre Rouge and JC Cellars, to name but a few, it is hard not to be excited by Syrah’s present and optimistic about its longevity.


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