Syrah is a grape that most wine merchants will tell you is a difficult sell. It seems it’s always going to be the next big thing, but never is. For consumers, that’s a good thing. A great Syrah usually will cost far less than a comparable quality Cabernet or Pinot Noir. For my money, I tend to buy more Syrah than any other grape. A disclaimer here – I liked it so much, I started to make it.
In any event, as the temperatures start to drop, fall is great time for a hearty red with dinner or next to a warming fire. Syrah is a grape that really changes its personality depending on where it is grown. Cooler climate Syrahs can be quite different from warmer climate ones. California has plenty of each. While I love many of the cooler climate Syrahs, most of the ones listed below are warmer climate Syrahs. In my opinion, that is where the very best of Syrahs from California can be found.
Here is a list of my ten favorite Syrah’s from California at any price.
Saxum Syrah James Berry Vineyard Bone Rock – Saxum is a winery in Paso Robles owned by Justin Smith. They make half a dozen blends that feature Syrah. The Bone Rock is named after a vineyard that contains fossils in its limestone soil. The wine was initially 100% Syrah but in later years now has some other Rhone varietals blended in. This is a huge wine that also ages quite well. I find they need at least five years from vintage to settle down but others may prefer them on release. It is expensive at $95, but is my favorite Syrah.
Sine Qua Non is a winery in Ventura. It is hard to list one wine to look for as each year Manfred and Elaine Krankl change the names of their wines and the intriguing labels as well. Some years may be better than others, but the Syrahs are all great. My favorite so far has been the 2002 Just For the Love of It. These can be hard to find and can also be quite expensive running well north of $100. Your best bet is to find a friend who is on their mailing list!
Colgin IX Syrah Estate – This is the work of Ann Colgin from her winery in Napa. Colgin is often better knownfor the Cabernets, but the Syrah is just stunning. It is quite expensive selling for $225 per bottle on release. Napa Syrah’s are not generally the fruit monsters from the southern part of the estate. That said, this is not a shy wine by any means. It is full throttle deliciousness.
Lagier Meredith Syrah is the product of Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith’s eponymous winery in Napa. These Syrah’s are far different from the first ones on this list. The grapes are grown at a higher altitude and this is more of a cooler climate Syrah. Please don’t read into that under ripe, because there is plenty of fruit. The difference is more one of acidity and more red fruit profiles than purple of blues. I loved these wines so much that I usually drank them a few years from vintage, but I am learning that they are even better with a decade in a good wine cellar under their belt. At around $55, they are within the budgets of many more of us.
Carlisle Winery Syrah Papa’s Block is a project of Mike Officer who is able to get grapes from some of the great vineyards in California and also has his own vineyard. Mike makes a lot of wines including some of my favorite Zinfandels. His Syrahs though, are equally amazing. They are also reasonably affordable. Perhaps his most expensive, the Papa’s Block may be his best. This is not a huge Syrah, but certainly has plenty of fruit. Balanced and delicious, it can be drink on release, but will continue to improve for five to ten years and last a lot longer if cellared properly. It should be available for around $50.
Tensley Syrah BMT – Tensely is a producer that seems to fly under a lot of people’s radar. Not the critics though as Joey Tensley’s Syrah have been getting mid-90 point scores from the critics for a while now. The BMT is a special release available only in Magnum (1500 ml). There is some Grenache in this blend but it is 75% Syrah. Even in the double bottle size, it still is available for around $85. This is a big, delicious wine that will drink great now but will age and improve in a good cellar.
Torrin Akasha James Berry Vineyard is probably the biggest wine on this list. For those of you, who like subtlety in your wines, look elsewhere. This is about fruit and boldness. It can be a divisive wine. Now that you have been warned, for those still interested, this is a great wine. It has tons of fruit and everything else just amped up. I like to let these sit for a few years from vintage to come together. I wouldn’t want to drink this all the time, but on the right occasion it is outstanding. Around $60.
Booker Vineyard Fracture is another Paso Robles area wine. Eric Jensen is the owner of this winery begun in2005. The wines are fruit forward but carry not only richness but a depth that, over time, shows a great complexity. These are also decadent wines, but are surprisingly food friendly too. Booker makes a variety of wines, but this is my favorite. $70 on release from the winery.
Jaffurs Syrah Upslope is a collection of the best barrels of the Craig Jaffurs single vineyardSyrahs. It was originally put together for his New York distributor, but has since become a regular part of the Jaffurs portfolio. Jaffurs makes wines in all price ranges, but this is their most expensive at $75. It is also their best. This wine demands cellaring for five years and will probably be better with ten. At that, it is not a monster wine, but a balanced, middle of the road in style wine, that is delicious on release.
Ojai Syrah Melville Vineyard is, in my opinion, the best wine to come from Adam Tomlich’s Ojai winery. Theyhave been making great Syrah for almost twenty years in the Central Coast area. While they are all excellent, Melville Vineyard consistently hits the highs. To me, these wines capture the best parts of the Northern Rhone Syrahs while still exhibiting the best part of California. Lots of fruit, grilled meats and bacon fat flavors in the wines. They are available for around $45 and can be drunk now or cellared for a decade or more.
Well, that’s my list of ten. Obviously, there are lots of other great Syrahs being made in California. Your tastes may vary, and there are always new wineries coming on line that are making great stuff as well.