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Do Not Miss These Superb Syrahs

By Stephen Eliot

It is no secret that we have been mystified by Syrah’s inability to gain marketplace traction and expand its following among curious wine drinkers, and, once or twice a year, as we taste our ways through yet another collection of very good examples, we feel the compelling need to revisit the issue and make our pitch that Syrah deserves to be given a second, very long look.

We have written at length about the possible reasons for the local version’s fall from grace after rapid rise to prominence some twenty years back, but, even if its early popularity unquestionably led to too many innocuous bottlings on the part of corporate winemaking concerns looking to cash in on the next big thing, there are simply too many remarkably good examples being made by a highly talented bunch of Syrah growers and vintners these days to ignore. And yet ignored it is, and we continue to wonder just when California Syrah will break out of its vinous doldrums.

Here are two observations about the current state of California Syrah that are worth noting. First, those wineries that have stubbornly chosen to grow and make it have learned their craft very well, and second, the quality-cost ratio found in a vast number of versions earns latter-day Syrah a place at the very head of the class when it comes to inarguable value.

Recommended below are a half-dozen recently reviewed favorites that attest to both points, and, while there will always be room for fine Cabernet Sauvignon at our tables, there are precious few examples that demonstrate same degree of satisfaction, seriousness and sheer gravitas at anything close to the price.

STOLPMAN Originals Ballard Canyon Syrah 2014 $42.00
One of the first wineries to see Ballard Canyon's potential as an important locale in which to grow and make wines from classic Rhône varieties, Stolpman is very much an original and continues to produce some of the state's finest Syrahs. This particular effort shows great varietal definition and depth with loads of peppery spice and a strong gamy streak indelibly marking it as nothing other than Syrah. It is a big, intense, fully ripe, well-constructed wine that does not abandon structure and balance in its successful pursuit of richness, and, in the end, it is counted among the more collectable Syrahs of the vintage owing to its precision as much as to power. Be in no hurry to gulp it down.

ADELAIDA Adelaida District Anna's Vineyard Syrah 2013 $40.00
There are, in truth, few differences between this intense, deeply drawn effort and its reserve counterpart, and, like its mate, it is loaded with concentrated, fully ripened fruit and sports a sweet trim of oak spice along with a pronounced gamy streak. It is a very well-structured wine despite its high ripeness and never once becomes heavy or hot, and it keeps its sights firmly set on juicy berries and spice all the way through its very long-lasting finish.

NOVY Garys' Vineyard Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands 2014 $39.00
None of Novy's newly released Syrahs shy away from full ripeness nor does any make the slightest pretense to nuance, but, as a group, they are as rich and outgoing as any and this one from the well-regarded Garys' Vineyard stands as the richest of them all. It is saturated in color and saturated in smell with dense, oak-sweetened flavors that are unsparing in very ripe, fully extracted, blackberry fruit, and, if purists might quibble that it is not quite as specific in varietal spice as it could be, few will find it wanting in stuffing and depth. It is nicely balanced for the very sizeable wine that it is, and its immense fruity extract serves to disguise its underlying tannins, but it needs a minimum of three or four years in the cellar and will easily grow and improve for at least twice that time.

PROSPECT 772 The Brawler Syrah Calaveras County 2013 $36.00
The overtly peppery and gamy aspects of Syrah are not what this rich and many-layered wine is about, and its focus is instead fixed on very deep raspberry- and blackberry-like fruit with sweet oak and relatively subtle spice notes in support. It is quite full, solidly structured and fairly supple in feel with nominal tannin and a bit of heat peeking through at the finish, but neither does much to impede its extraordinarily long-lasting flavors. It is, just as it claims, a bit of a bruiser right now, but time is very much on its side and its youthful brashness will slowly be tamed and give way to a more mannerly, yet still very rich Syrah as the next half-dozen years pass.

ANCIENT PEAKS Renegade Syrah Santa Margarita Ranch 2013 $24.00
Hailing from one of the newly defined small-area overlaps with the too large Paso Robles AVA, this wine is quite high in ripeness with a fleshy texture that could have run to "ponderous" but is saved by the wine's obvious fruit energy that keeps it going from back to front. Its tannins are on the grippy, muscular side, but they also add some needed backbone and help make it into a wine for those who like a fair bit of size and solidity in their Syrahs.

HANDLEY Kazmet Vineyard Syrah Redwood Valley 2013 $25.00
Spot on in Syrah focus with a deep and varietally articulate nose of ripe berries, pepper, dried herbs and a bare wisp of smoke, Handley's version from the Kazmet Vineyard follows with similarly well-defined flavors that do not disappoint. A touch soft to start and firming up nicely as it goes, it shows a fine sense of careful proportion throughout with enlivening acidity and a trim touch of tannin for grip. It is just tight enough at this point to warrant another few years of patience, and it earns an extra round of enthusiastic applause for its noteworthy value.

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by TomHill
Posted on:7/29/2016 10:36:42 AM

Good post, Steve.  I think you're spot-on on the great value that Syrah  achieves in Calif vis a vis other varieties. You can get some truly world-class wines in the $25-$40 price range.Wines that are every bit as good, and age as well, as wines > $100.

   It, too, puzzles me why the glories of Calif Syrah are not more widely appreciated.

   What really struck me about you list of recommended Syrahs was the diversity of Calif growing areas it represents. Calaveras/RedwoodVlly/SantaMargarita don't immediately come to mind. . Could it be that...gasp...Syrah reflects its terroir more than any other grape variety?? Ohhhhh...wait....that's supposedly!!!  :-)



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