It's not Gonon, but..

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It’s an exciting time to follow the evolution of California’s wine identity, which is in a constant state of flux due to an expanding number of talented winemakers.   Instead of inheriting thousands of years of viticultural heritage, or developing a complex control system like France’s A.O.C or Italy’s D.O.C., the new world follows its own path.  In the beginning of viticulture in the states, obscure grape varieties that we no longer associate with California were planted up and down the coast.  Our friend Jon Bonné’s fantastic guide The New California Wine, points out that at the end of the 18th century vineyards could consist of Refosco, Freisa, Sylvaner, and of course the ever-present Mission grape.  As wine became less of an immigrants’ reminder of their homeland and cuisine and more of a symbol of California’s rich agricultural land, the prestigious varieties of France — Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc — became ubiquitous. 

Throughout all of this history, there is barely a mention of the noble Syrah.  According to Bonné, in 1982 there were less than 90 acres planted to Syrah, but by 1999 the number had exploded to 10,298, and in 2004 there were approximately 17,000 acres.  At that point, there was more of the grape planted in California than in the relatively small Northern Rhône.  The American Syrah marketplace became over-saturated, and many of the new plantings were in areas less than optimal for the grape’s cool-weather preferences. In a recent article by The New York Times wine columnist, Eric Asimov, the tasting panel hypothesized that  the rapid decline in Syrah’s popularity after the high water mark may have been caused by Pinot Noir’s ascension after the Pinot-promoting film Sideways was released in 2004 and the proliferation of inexpensive, fruit-driven “Shiraz” wines from Australia.  Happily, Asimov’s article continues to report that his tasting panel found lots to be excited about in many of the Californian Syrahs that we stock.  Below are some of our favorites mentioned in the article:

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Enfield Wine Co. 2011 Coombsville Syrah Haynes Vineyard

For the Enfield label, John Lockwood makes tiny production (as in 40 to 50 cases) California wines sourced from some of the state’s most exciting vineyards. The Syrah comes from a cool pocket of Napa that boasts stony soils and volcanic ash. Although full-flavored and bodied, the wine also shows a spectrum of savory Syrah characteristics like anise, black olive, and cracked pepper. The fruit tone is warm with plum and crushed blackberry notes — delicious now, and structured for years to come.  JR

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  • $46.99

Arnot-Roberts 2012 North Coast Syrah

The anti-hedonistic Syrah returns.  Whole cluster fermented for a deep, savory structure.  Grapes come from Baker Lane near Sebastopol in Sonoma Coast AVA, Clary Ranch, Griffin's Lair and La Cruz vineyards in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA, and Alder Springs Vineyard in northern Mendocino AVA.

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  • $34.99

Copain 2011 Mendocino County Syrah "Tous Ensemble"

Wells Guthrie makes some of America’s most delicious and complex Syrahs in his single vineyard offerings, but the wine we do the best with is his blend of several vineyards: Tous Ensemble.  The value is tremendous, and certainly built with an eye toward the elegant, but powerful, wines of the Northern Rhône.  We recently opened a bottle and were delighted to see the wine showing fresh pepper, long raspberry flavors, and a really velvety texture.  JR

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  • $23.99

Wind Gap 2010 Sonoma Coast Syrah

Pax Mahle's skin-contacted and concrete egg wines get lots of buzz, but Wind Gap was founded on finding balanced and expressive Syrahs from the western rim of the Sonoma Coast. This 2010 is really hitting its stride right now! ! Sweet tobacco, thyme, tart cherry fruit and soft Syrah smoke dominate the nose; fresh acidity and sturdy tannins ground the fresh, supple palate of boysenberry, black raspberry, and blueberries with subtle black pepper, fresh-cut green herbs, and a bit of clove.  A vibrant young Syrah that deserves a spot at your next casual Northern Rhône night. -AR

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  • $41.99