Misunderstood Syrah

In case you did not know, Syrah-based wines from the Rhone region were sought after before the Bordeaux region came to fame. It is believed that the Romans brought the first vines to the area in the year 125 BC. Wines from the region supplied many Popes’ cellars for centuries, and no doubt have inspired an inquisition or two, but I digress...   As a winemaking student, I learned first about Bordeaux and its first growth fame. I was very lucky to land an internship at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in the rainy harvest of 1987. Thierry (the French intern that year) and I would polish off a bottle or two of the “Vin de Cadre” (employee wine) per day so it did not take long for us to get tired of drinking Lafite and start seeking alternatives. That is when I first realized that when it comes to a great wine for a reasonable price I fared better when purchasing Syrah based wines. Syrah makes a full bodied wine with softer tannins than Cabernet-based blends. Syrah is also spicy when grown in cooler regions, with some wild fennel and slight white pepper notes. Handled correctly, Syrah can get what the French call “goût d’animal”, just enough funky stink to hold my interest and modify the fruit character. In French oak, Syrah often gets a smoked meat character that blends well into the matrix of the wine. In 1998 I produced two barrels of Syrah to launch Longboard Vineyards (I drank the third barrel trying to come up with the name). I believe that the north part of the Russian River Valley, the east side of Healdsburg to Laguna de Santa Rosa, is cold enough to make it interesting. I prefer Syrah grapes from the “crucible,” the upper-mid reach of the Russian River Valley, where summer lingers and the wines have more layered complexity than the pruney and jammy cousins from warmer areas. Syrahs from a cooler region, like Longboard Vineyards’, are less alcoholic than ones from warmer climates so they pair great with lamb and Mediterranean cuisine (lentil salad, couscous) and with spicy food with curry and cumin. I had it with Cioppino and it was great. Other great pairings are a choucroute, and other stews with braised meat.

About the author

Raised by Dolphins in the Sahara Desert, made his first $3 fortune mowing the neighbor's lawn

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