I've been on a serious Lamb kick lately, causing me to grab an excessive amount of Burgundy and Syrah to stand up to this heartier cut of meat and the more serious seasonings of the dishes I prepare. And it reminded me that sadly, Syrah is like the red-headed step-child of California Cabernet. These wines are often half to one quarter the price of their Rhone Valley counterparts, and have more balance than the big Aussie Shiraz, but still seem to slip by unnoticed by everyone but the most "in the know" of oenophiles.
How is this possible? Where did Syrah go wrong? Was it the confusion over Syrah versus Shiraz (yes it's the same darn grape for the hundreth time)? Is it the fact that in order to find a good one, you've got to start at $30 and typically spend about $45 that scared off the novices? Sad, but true on both accounts I'm afraid. So I'm here to DO something about it, darn it!
You owe it to yourself to try these wines if you're a Cabernet drinker looking for some excitement in your life and variety. For those that wish for something full bodied and powerful, Syrah is a mastermind in California. The beauty is that it grows well almost all over the place. In Napa, it ripens to big, spicy levels of alcohol. In Sonoma, you get more fruit-driven wines with silky tannins. Paso Robles brings power. And Santa Barbara brings nuance and elegance due to the cooler climate and breezier conditions.
So really, there's something in Syrah for everyone. The cool thing is that Syrah originated in France's Rhone Valley, where it produces the great wines of Hermitage and Cote Rotie. However, the best wines here will cost you upwards of $700 per bottle, whereas the best California counterparts, that too, have good ageing potential, will run you about $125. So you see, dollar for dollar, you're getting a good deal in CA Syrah.
Need a starting point for decent Syrah from CA without breaking the bank? Try Niner from Paso Robles for $20, Beckman from Santa Ynez for $25, Whetstone Phoenix Ranch from Napa for about $50, and Byron's IO from Santa Barbara for about $75. The nice thing about these wines, is that while they pair beautifully with your lamb, they will work with anything you'd do with Cabernet and THEN some, due to their complexity and structure. Syrah is catching on.....could it be the next Pinot Noir?