Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Syrah and the Sierra Foothills, Part 1

Image courtesy WineWithMe Blog
International Syrah Day is February 16, and Syrah producers everywhere participate in a variety of activites.  That will happen in 2012 despite the somewhat-gloomy remarks in the recent blogpost done by Eric Asimov, the headline of which is:  “Why Syrah Hasn’t Caught On in America.”
“The real issue is why Americans don’t buy syrah. This question has caused great heartache and controversy, especially in the California syrah business,” Asimov noted.  “This, I suggest, is why American don’t buy a lot of syrah: Too many of the wines seem generic, a blend of fruit and oak that may be vaguely pleasant but could come from anywhere and be made of any grape.”

“Conversely, the best American syrahs, in my opinion, are made by producers who have been inspired by the great traditionalists of the northern Rhône,” he said.

Of course, in this last remark, Asimov must be talking about Syrah from the Sierra Foothills.

And so, it will be a treat to wine lovers near Sacramento – or those willing to drive there – to enjoy some excellent El Dorado County Syrah at a special tasting on the evening of Feburary 16.  And… it’s free.

Eight El Dorado county wineries -- Boeger Winery, Crystal Basin Cellars, David Girard Vineyards, Grace Patriot Wines, Lava Cap, Mount Aukum Winery, Shadow Ranch Vineyard, and Sierra Vista Vineyards & Winery – will pour from 5:30 -7:30 at the El Dorado Hills California Welcome Center.  For more information, go to the Facebook page (click here) or call 916-358-3700

As to Asimov’s remarks, a few comments from Sierra Foothill wineries:
Mike Owen of Crystal Basin notes:  “There are multiple issues impacting this simple question of why Americans don’t drink syrah.  Asimov touched on one of them - the big bad 3 tier system.  Mass market Syrah in grocery stores or non-major market wine shops have disappointed many a curious wine consumer.  Once the hint of Syrah becoming the 'next big thing' was communicated, the big boys raced out and planted oodles of it. This fruit from new vines, made in million gallon tanks using a chemical soup process, was inevitably not very good.  It turned off a lot of potential consumers.

"Another is that Syrah has not yet developed a dominant style that people can expect when they are picking out an unfamiliar bottle.   There is considerable consumer confusion about what Syrah "is".  On one hand, you have the French creating terrior-driven wines of highly developed style at relatively low alcohols.  Then, the Aussies pop up with Shiraz, made in an over-extracted. boozy, blueberry fruitbomb style.    Zinfandel has become successful despite being made in a very wide range of styles.  Unfortunately, having two very different styles of Syrah as global benchmarks creates a confused consumer base.

"I've been to the Rhone and sat down for a lovely dinner during the harvest of 1995 with Yves Cuilleron.  There are some EXCELLENT wines being made over there.  However, at that time, the competitive aspect of the success of the New World had not been comprehended in France and there were notable producers who were making wines that were seriously flawed with overly suphured and burnt match aspects.  The best were really the best of breed (think Brune-et-Blonde from Guigal) and the worst were equivalent to the worst stuff coming out of Ceres.
"The US market has to look past Napa and perhaps Paso Robles for good Syrah.  Washington is doing a good job and there are some outstanding versions coming out of the California Foothills.  All I can say is, "Just wait!".   

"The future of Syrah is all about fruit and getting that fruit - with the smoky meat, pepper and berry aspects that mark the variety - into the bottle,” Owen said.

 John MacCready of Sierra Vista Winery responded to the Asimov piece, and in particular this comment from Asimov:  “This, I suggest, is why American don’t buy a lot of syrah: Too many of the wines seem generic, a blend of fruit and oak that may be vaguely pleasant but could come from anywhere and be made of any grape.”  
MacCready believes that great Syrah wines do not come out of the Southern Rhone Valley. “Likewise,“ he said, “many regions in the USA are not suitable for great Syrah wine but make pleasant but not great wine much as vin de pay in Languedoc.  Many of the cooler regions in the Sierra Foothills qualify for climates similar to the northern Rhone and many do not. 

"Who determines what is a great Syrah?  I maintain that many judges at competitions do not know a great Syrah from a big high alcohol wine from a warm region in California!”
See Syrah and the Sierra Foothills, Part 2  for more information on syrah and the Sierra Foothills.

Celebrating SyrahDay, two special blogs about Syrah and the Sierra Foothills!

No comments:

Post a Comment