California wine varietals - Syrah Out of all California wine varietals that have been proclaimed as the ‘next great California wine’ in the past decade or so, I‘d put my money on Syrah. Or maybe on Shiraz. And when putting down your money, it’s a good idea to get a little history on the object of your affec- tion. So let's do a background check. In the late 19th century, vines imported from France to Northern California were identiﬁed as Syrah, or specifically, the clone which at the time, the French called Petite iyrah. After almost a century of merrily naking wines called Hermitage and Rhone Red. among other misleading names it was liscovered in the early 1980s that the grape was really Durif, which, depending on the zxpert at hand, may not have anything to do vith the Rhone Valley or Syrah. It turns out that there had always been a cattering of true Syrah in California, but it had been blended with Petite Syrah/Durif. In the early 1970s, Joseph Phelps Winery in Napa wought grapes from a small vineyard then twned by the Christian Brothers Winery, which Phelps believed to be the true Syrah. ‘he first vintage released was the 1974, which is also the ﬁrst ever varietal California Syrah. It didn‘t take long for a few of the more alert Californian wine makers to realise that helps was on to something. All they had to to was taste the wine. Phelps Syrah had Rhone written all over it. In 1980, McDowell Valley Vineyards came out with a Syrah and in 1982 Bob Lindquist at Qupé Vineyards in Santa Barbara County released his first Syrah. The US wine consuming public yawned. The collective question was, why bother with this thing called Syrah, when there was Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay at hand? there were only a few thousand cases of the wine made and well under 100 acres planted. Then came Randall Grahm, owner and wine maker at Bonny Doon Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco, with his posse of Rhone Rangers, Grahm, a former philosophy professor with a flair for attracting public attention, led a surge of interest in Rhone varieties, especially Syrah. in 1984. he put a wine into play that probably single-handedly gave Syrah its present status California. It was called Le Cigare Volant, blend of Syrah and Grenache. Since then, the wine moved steadily north, in a ﬁgurative sense, taking on a more Syrah-ish northern Rhone aspect. It caught the public imagination (as well as palate) and so moved into the mainstream of California wines. Americans who couldn’t find the Rhone Valley on a map took to Syrah/Shiraz in a big way. Which incidentally raises the issue, when is it Syrah and when is it Shiraz? Syrahs. A Syrah Reserve under the Bonterra label is made with organically grown grapes from vineyards in Mendocino County, where daytime temperatures often soar above 90°F 62°C), but plunge to 40°F 6°C) at night.‘ The Bonterra is aged in French oak and has a Rhone-like intensity and complexity. Meanwhile, the Fetzer Syrah is made from grapes grown in the Lodi region, a much warmer climate. It receives very little oak and has the fruit-forward juicy quality comparable to many Australian Shiraz.
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