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Seriously good Syrah

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, and Kelley O’Neill

In his January 18 (2011) post on the Wine Spectator website, Matt Kramer asks, “Why hasn’t Syrah captured the American imagination?” He continues, “I’m still puzzling over this one. California and Washington are today creating some truly remarkable Syrahs at every price point… Yet apparently no one is panting after American Syrah… There’s no more reliable value — and no greater quality for the money today — than California and Washington Syrah.”

According to the Wine Institute, California was home to 19, 283 acres of Syrah vines in 2010, or approximately only one quarter of the vineyard area occupied by the more widely planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet, particularly at lower prices, California Syrah fares better at the hands of many wine critics. Robert Parker’s website, for example, has given a 90-point rating or higher to 276 California Syrahs priced under $30. Only 125 Cabernets in the same price category achieve that distinction.

With interest piqued the staff at Northside Wine & Spirits gathered a selection of eleven California Syrahs priced under $30 per bottle for a blind tasting. Most of the examples were produced from grapes grown along the state’s Central Coast area, most notably from Paso Robles, the California region with the largest planting of Syrah.

As a group the wines were full of character, with the best wines packed with the smoky, dark fruit character typical of good Syrah. A few of the wines suffered from heavy-handed tannins or the overuse of new oak. The majority, however, were rich, full-bodied wines with well-integrated tannins and oak that complemented the fruit.

The group’s top pick overall was the Stolpman 2009 Estate Syrah ($27 per bottle), produced from dry-farmed grapes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley located about 125 miles north of Los Angeles. The area’s warm days and cold nights are considered by many to be ideal for Syrah. The 2009 Stolpman is an impressive bottle of wine, full-bodied, packed with black cherry fruit, and exhibiting a long, smoky finish.

This Syrah cries out for full-flavored food. Try this warming wine with stews, game, calves liver and onions, wild mushroom dishes, or hard cheeses.

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