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California wine varietals - Syrah

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					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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George Chapungu George Chapungu
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