California Syrah

Not long ago at a staff meeting, one of our sharp-tongued managers cried “Cool climate syrah is for CLOSERS.  The rest of you can go sell shitty Australian stuff.” He was right. Cali syrah is a tough sell.  Even customers who are open to domestic choices are leaning more toward syrah from Washington, thanks to the likes of Barnard Griffin, Owen Roe, and K Vintners.  Nobody knows what to expect from this varietal in California.

Recently Decanter Magazine published an article about California syrah’s identity crisis.  While not altogether cutting-edge, I found the article poignant and topical.  It’s hard to find consistency in style in syrah from the Golden State.  Some are rich, opulent and flashy; some are elegant and nuanced.  It’s even more difficult to find consistency in quality.  Sure, there are stars: Alban, Stolpman, Qupe, Herman’s Story, Beckmen and, of course, the cult classic Sine Qua Non.  But many, if not most, are one dimensional and disappointing, especially considering the average bottle price is much higher than that of cab, merlot or even pinot.

I think it will be a very long time before CA syrah develops its own identity.  People can’t help but compare it to Rhône.  Look how long it’s taken American Pinot to step out of Burgundy’s shadow.  And that’s a freaking shame, because some vintners in Cali make wines that are true expressions of both the varietal and the terrior.  But with syrah, it’s rare.  But it is amazing.