Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
August 6, 2009
When you drink wine on a regular basis, you occasionally go through phases.
Earlier this summer, as I watched the Tour de France, my taste buds were enticed by refreshing Rose from Provence. Before that there was a week when Merlot was in vogue in our house following a delicious encounter with a bottle of Blackbird that friends poured at a dinner party.
But this week, actually this month, I seem to be devoting my dimes and dollars to Syrah. More specifically, Syrah from California. These dark, deeply purple, heavily concentrated wines pair perfectly with the grilled meats and fowl that are staples during the lazy, hazy days of August.
Syrah, as was proven through DNA analysis conducted by University of California, Davis researchers in the late 1990s, has its origins in the Rhone region of France. It is the grape that makes up the intensely fruit-forward wines of Hermitage and is blended with a bit of Viognier to make the wines of the Cote Rôtie. It is also a significant player as one of 13 permitted blending grapes in the generally Grenache-based wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
In recent years, many in this country have grown to love Syrah as a direct result of drinking Australian wines called Shiraz. A Scotsman named James Busby, who is frequently cited as the father of viticulture in the antipodes, as the British referred to Australia and New Zealand, brought the grape to Australia in the 1830s. Today the Shiraz grapes grown in the scorching Barossa Valley of Southeastern Australia are considered to be some the best expressions of the grape.
Which brings us to California. As recently as the mid-1980s the grape was virtually unplanted in the Golden State with no more than 100 acres or so under cultivation. But a small group of evangelists calling themselves “The Rhône Rangers” began to plant Syrah along with 21 other grapes from the Rhône. In 2008 there were 18,875 acres of the stuff in the ground.
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It grows all over the state and though we are less than a week into August, I have already been beguiled by Syrah from three different regions in California. To start, I have fallen in love with the wines from Klinker Brick in Lodi, Calif. Fifth-generation grape growers, nice people, brilliant wines, I have written in the past of their two Zinfandel bottlings.
Now I have “Farrah” to love. Named for their daughter, who will be the sixth generation of Feltens to work in the dirt, the 2005 Klinker Brick “farrah syrah” is a whole basket full of dark fruits. Cherries, berries, chocolate and a little pepper in a package that, if you can find it (and I did, at Willits Wine and Spirits), sells for $16.99 a bottle.
My second hit of flavor came from the Santa Ynez Valley, where Doug Margerum (yes, Aspenite Amy Margerum’s brother) makes powerful, lush, handcrafted wines. The Margerum Wine Company’s current portfolio features nine separate wines, of which six are single-vineyard Syrah, which again, if you can find them (try Grape and Grain), sell for around $40 a bottle.
My Margerum revelation came in the form of the 2005 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County with a bottle numbered 0873 of 1,500 made. This wine, at 14.5 alcohol was, of course, big and brawny, but what set it apart was the way it combined fruit flavors with those of earth and leather into a soft feel in the mouth. Tough to drink big Syrah sans food, but this was a wine that I could sip, or gulp, on its own just to taste each mouthful.
The third bottle of California Syrah that found its way under a corkscrew at my house came as a surprise. Halter Ranch Vineyard is located in the Paso Robles appellation of Central California. While the wines are not yet for sale here in Aspen (they are close to inking a deal with a distributor) a friend was given a bottle of the 2006 Halter Ranch Syrah, which she graciously brought to dinner. It was robust, jammy and will only get better in a year or two. The wine was a blend of Syrah supplemented by Malbec and Mourvedre – an SSM, if you will. Owned by a Swiss businessman with Aspen ties named Hansjörg Wyss, this 250-acre vineyard is one to look for in the near future.
I may move on to a new phase in the future, but for the time being I’m sure enjoying this one.