Now is perfect time to try Syrah wines from California


POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

Syrah is a varietal generally regarded as a “;true noble,”; and has been for hundreds of years.

Benchmark Syrah comes from the northern Rhone Valley of France—specifically Cote Rotie, Hermitage and Cornas—and can only be eked out in small quantities.

The best grapes are produced from old vines among the region's vine-challenging, granitic hillsides. Deeply embedded roots help hold soil in place, instead of eroding during rains or being blown away by strong gusts of the region's fabled mistral winds.

The resulting wine appears purple with a black core during its youth, with a wild herbal/gamey rusticity, which I find both intriguing and very provocative. Despite the masculine character, the very best Syrah will display refinement, elegance and class while remaining amazingly light on the tongue—which, at first, is quite unexpected.

Today's wine drinker would probably think of an Australian Shiraz to be more of a benchmark for this grape variety—ultra-ripe, thick, lavishly opulent and usually round and quite supple.

HAVING JUST come back from a jaunt through California wine country, I discovered there are a growing number of Syrah-based red wines being produced in various pockets throughout the state.

Thankfully, they taste more like the French examples I used rather than the Australian.

Grown on challenging sites (often meager-soiled hillsides), many of the new winemaking bucks are opting to craft their renditions into more elegant, suave and classy styles, which generally have wider applications at the dinner table.

The best, in fact, can readily bridge the wide gap between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, in terms of weight and body. But many of the farmers and winemakers—who, amazingly, are committed to producing Syrah-based wine—are getting discouraged because of the lackluster sales.

With the much-heralded 2007 vintage arriving in Hawaii stores, followed by a smaller 2008 crop, now is the perfect opportunity to check out these wines for yourself. Hopefully, they'll make you a believer, too.

Here are a few recommendations worth seeking out:

» 2007 Qupe Syrah “;Central Coast”; (about $20 per bottle)
Here is an easy-drinking, contemporary Syrah whose juicy fruit and deliciousness, coupled with the peppery nuances, creates a wonderful drink and a really good choice with heavier fish dishes featuring ahi and swordfish, as well as lighter meats such as chicken and pork.

» 2007 Denner Syrah (about $35 per bottle)
Grown on the limestone-soil hillsides of their breathtaking, steep Paso Robles estate vineyard, this is a much more “;serious”; version with lots of rustic character, structure and layering without compromising food friendliness and drinkability.

» 2007 Neyers Syrah “;Old Lakeville Road”; (about $35 per bottle)
My initial taste of this wine was a revelation. There is a majestic quality to its character somewhat similar to French-born Syrah. Consider having this gem with roasted meats and hearty steaks.

» 2007 Drew Syrah “;Valenti Vineyard”; (about $33 per bottle)
Here is a Syrah, strikingly purple in the glass yet surprisingly elegant, suave, intriguing, sultry and seductive on the palate. One can have a lot of fun pairing this wine with foods.


”;By the Glass”; appears every second Friday in HILife. To contact Chuck Furuya, visit www.dkrestaurants.com.