California syrah has been much maligned, often justifiably.
The grape arrived in a big way beginning in the 1990s. It was intended to be the next merlot, a wine with an easy, wide appeal. Yet as the popularity of merlot nose-dived, syrah never could replace it.
Partly, it was because much California syrah was planted in the wrong places, areas that were too warm. The result was often generic red wine with none of the savory, feral characteristics that make syrah wines from the Northern Rhône Valley of France so distinctive and wonderful.
Syrah, as Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards put it in 2010, “appears to have crashed and burned in this country.”
As I am inevitably drawn to syrah in the cold weather, I thought it would be interesting to check in with California syrahs 10 years or so after their nadir. Here are the three bottles I suggest:
Stolpman Vineyards Ballard Canyon Estate Grown Syrah 2016 $28
The Ojai Vineyard Santa Barbara County Syrah 2016 $33
Arnot-Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah 2015 $45
As is so often the case, these wines are made in relatively small quantities. You could also try other cuvées from these labels, different vintages or other producers entirely. For other California syrahs, I recommend La Clarine Farm, Pax, Failla, Lagier Meredith, Bedrock, Peay, Sandlands, Enfield, Qupé, Bonny Doon and Alban.
One of the reasons I love syrah wines is how well they go with many different sorts of foods. Syrah and a roast chicken is a wonderful combination. It will go with all sorts of red meat dishes, whether burgers, steaks or stews, as well as bean dishes and poultry. Experiment and see what you think.