Grapelive Latest: Syrah, Lonely and Misunderstood, but the Real Deal.

By Kerry Winslow,


kwsyrah.jpgSyrah is one of the greatest grapes in the world, and it has proven itself in almost every region of the world from France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, and Chile to Australia as well as right here in California. Syrah serves the mainstream as well as the top collector wine enthusiasts making for an unbelievable range of reds, everything from the lowly Yellow Tail Shiraz to Guigal’s three single vineyard Cote-Roties of which people have offered Ferraris, wives and houses for, and which garner 100 Point scores more than the First Growth Bordeaux(s) Chateaux!  Even here in the States, top Syrah are wildly sought after and get top dollars, right up there with top Napa Valley Cabernets, I mean when have you seen Sine Que Non or Alban single vineyard Syrahs on the self? Let alone under $200? Almost never… Even with that fame, Syrah still suffers from an identity crisis and has struggled to find its niche with the average wine buyer, and is most often overlooked and underrated. Oh poor Syrah and poor those that don’t give this grape a try, as it a special grape with a long history in the world of wine.
Syrah is a serious wine and anyone who has tried the aforementioned Guigal, Chapoutier’s L’Meal Hermitage, Jaboulet’s La Chapelle, Penfold’s Grange, Alban’s Pandora or Cayuse’s Bionic Frog will attest to Syrah’s greatness, maybe to the point of absurdity! Syrah’s flavor profile changes depending on where it is from, but somewhat like Pinot Noir, but classic markers include blueberries, cherry liqueur, cassis, mocha, game, licorice and pepper. The grape lends itself to very dark color and a full body, plus it can have a very floral nose, especially when grown in cooler climates I find. Syrah’s origin is the Rhone Valley of southern France, and this was recently confirmed through DNA testing. There is the myth out there that the grape came from the ancient Persian city of Shiraz, a claim that the Aussies have made to add mystic to their wines, and likely why they insist on calling Syrah by the Shiraz name. That old tale is completely untrue, but it remains as some sort of “Urban Legend” and most likely always will. Syrah was always a native grape of France, loved by the Romans when they traded and had outposts along the Rhone River, and by the crusading knights who upon returning from the wars in near and central Asia settled and were remembered in Hermitage, the spiritual home of Syrah. It is there where the truest 100% Syrah wines come from and vines hang on the steep hillsides looking over the Rhone River and the historic city of Hermitage, where they are honored with pride.

syrahs.jpgBut, besides the wine mentioned above, Syrah sometimes gets lost between the comfort of Cabernet Sauvignon and the emotional connection of Pinot Noir for affection in the market place and restaurant lists. Sadly as Syrah starts getting better and better as a wine it gets less favored by wine buyers and the wineries are having a hard time positioning in their line-ups. So you see cheap and tepid to ultra premium versions and it becomes confusing and harder for the general public to understand this amazing grape. There is hope, and the savvy wine buyer can find wonderful Syrah at remarkable fair prices. My picks for interesting Syrah wines at under $40 include: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage ($30 Est.), Fairview Paarl Syrah, South Africa ($26-32 Est.), Clarendon Hills Syrah, Australia ($35-40 Est.), D’Alessandro Syrah Cortona, Italy ($24-40), Ridge Syrah Lytton West, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma ($35 Est.), Melville Syrah, Santa Barbara ($25-32 Est.), Parsonage Syrah Estate, Carmel Valley ($35 Est.), Little Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma Valley Estate ($30-35 Est.), Geo Wines Chono Reserva Syrah, Chile ($14 Est.) and Marquis-Philips Shiraz Barossa Valley, Australia ($18-22 Est.). All of these wines year after year have impressed me with depth and character and are from mostly small estate vineyards in great Syrah areas.

Oh and I must also mention the fantastic estate Syrahs that are coming out of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, both Roar (Gary Franscioni) and Lucia (Gary Pisoni & family) are turning heads with their intense and complex wines. I have been able to try every vintage of each and can tell you with any hesitation that the Pisoni Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard are great sources for top Syrah fruit and these wines are some of the best wine red for the money in California! All the Lucia and Roar Syrah come in at about $40 and rival their more famous Pinot Noir for quality. Keep your eyes out, as they plan to release the new vintage in the next few days and weeks…

Here are two extra special Syrahs from grower producer estates that highlight Syrah’s charm and seriousness. Both of the following wines are available now, though they are both wines that were very small productions, just a couple hundred cases of each were crafted and released.


phoenixsyrah1.gif2005 Phoenix Ranch Syrah Napa Valley Estate.
Long time wine biz guy Richard Phoenix makes a small amount of very stylish Syrah from his vineyard, but mainly he sells fruit to top winemakers in Napa Valley, like Ehren Jordan, winemaker from Turley Cellars and his own labels Fallia and 32 Winds. Jordan has made some high scoring wines from this little vineyard and Richard has done well in his own efforts too. The 2005 vintage is a lovely wine with lots of pure Syrah character and nice balance. The fruit is lush and tangy with boysenberry jam, blueberry, and red berry flavors mixed with lots earthy mineral, scorched rock, pepper and subtle wood notes. This wine still feels very fresh and has bright layers with a long lingering finish that has a touch of vanilla smokiness. This firm has firm, but smooth tannins and should age well for the next 3-5 years easy. ($22-26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

For where to get this wine call Richard Phoenix direct at: 707-246-4562


alfarors06syrah.gif2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Syrah Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains Estate.
This is my third mention of this wine at least over the last couple of months, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, as this wine gets more and more impressive each time I open a bottle, in fact I was craving so much I just drove up to the winery and begged for more before it was even released! Richard Alfaro is a real talent and his pretty estate in the Coralitos area of the Santa Cruz Mountains is without a doubt a wonderful site for quality grapes, especially as he keeps getting gold medals for his estate wines, like the Lindsay-Page Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But it is this wine, his first release of Ryan Spenser Vineyard Estate Syrah that continues to enchant me and makes me crave for more with its near black color and deep richness. This wine has developed an intense perfume and is filling out into a huge and powerful wine that has everything to be a classic with strikingly good razor sharp details and layers of massive fruit. The wine opens with violets and wild flowers with hints of mocha and smoke before the palate unfolds with cassis, blueberries, currants, plum and cherry liqueur. The depth and mouth feel are impressive with fruit, spice and tannins on par with great Cote-Roties and Hermitage wines, with complexities that include cayenne, bitter chocolate, fresh ground pepper and lavender oil essence. This wine took some taming and spent almost 2 years in wood, all French oak barrels that give subtle grace and vanilla cream warm to the wine. This Syrah is world class and will certainly get even more interesting over the next 3-5 years and drink well for many more. ($35-40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive


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