California Syrah Recommendations

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By Thom Elkjer

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The marriage of Syrah and California has one of the hottest trend lines in wine. Ten years ago, the state had 800 acres of the grape ­ about 2% of the acreage held by Cabernet Sauvignon. Today it's on its way to 16,000 acres and growing faster than any other major grape, red or white. It's easy to see why. Syrah comes from a region in the south of France known for sun and wind ­ which California has in even greater abundance. It's easy to grow and easy to make into wine. And its flavor profile fits California's Mediterranean-style dining trends like a lock and key.

A classic description of California Syrah is "blueberries in blood" ­ dark sweetness mingled with a powerful physicality. Some people emphasize Syrah's "meatiness" both in flavor and texture. Others like the "brambly" quality of spice and dried herbs. Whichever you prefer, you can pair young Syrah with any hearty food, particularly grilled sausage or cassoulet. Older wines can be stunning with veal and poultry.

These eight Syrah's have all been grown using organic and biodynamic practices, but they are all distinctly different. Taste them and see if you agree with Thom.

  Fitzpatrick Syrah Fairplay (Sierra Foothills) 2001: has it all, from vivid red plum flavors and rich earthy undertones to spicy high notes and a long warm finish that drapes over your tongue like liquid tapestry. 

Sobon Estate Syrah Shenandoah Valley 2002: this smooth-textured, tooth-coating wine is beautifully balanced between sweet fruit and lively tannins, and gets fruitier and spicier through the finish. Excellent value. 

Bonterra Syrah Mendocino 2003
: a juicy, fruit-fest of plums, rhubarb, and berries of all colors, plus cassis for darker richness, layered into a full-bodied, silky texture with a mouthwatering aftertaste. 

Patianna Syrah Mendocino Fairbairn Ranch 2003: supple, satisfying syrah from a biodynamic vineyard; the fruit is dark and red, there's plenty of earth and spice, and the finish lifts off warmly. 

Lolonis Syrah Redwood Valley Winegrowers Selection 2001: engagingly bright version of Syrah, with aromas and flavors of fresh orange juice mixed into the red cherry candy flavors; nice smooth texture, too. 

Preston Syrah-Sirah Dry Creek Valley 2002: smells, tastes and feels French, with scents of dried grass and flowers, coffee and cola under the sweet berry flavors, and a softly tannic finish. 

Sobon Estate Syrah Shenandoah Valley "ReZerve" 2002: would have sworn it was Grenache, Syrah's traditional blending partner; light red fruit, plenty of herbs and spice, and a hint of root beer in the finish. 

Fetzer Shiraz California 2003: the aromas are sweet and true to Syrah, while the wine itself favors overt flavors and a grippy texture aimed at complementing food.

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