Cabernet Sauvignon, long the king of wine, may be in danger of a royal coup by Syrah. Not that Cabernets are going to slink into the annals of history anytime soon, however this once staple red found on virtually every winery tasting menu may be conceding the crown to a peasant of wine, comparatively speaking.
In France, where many of our well-known wine grapes hail from, there is a distinct pecking order among varietals. Indeed, their appellation d'origine controlee system splits the country into designated regions and also puts many restrictions what varietals can be bottled and in what manner for each region.
This varies greatly from region to region. In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, winemakers are allowed to blend reds and whites from 13 approved varietals, however are not allowed to make a blush wine.
Along the shores of the mighty Rhone River, vineyards have thrived for centuries. While many varietals are planted, Syrah is clearly the favored grape in wines made up and down the Rhone. In fact, it is the only red varietal used in northern Rhone wines.
There is something mystical about wine that easily lends itself to a phenomena resembling hero worship with a host of varietals and wine styles. In the 1976 Judgment of Paris competition, two countries faced off: American Chardonnay versus France’s White Burgundy and American Cabernet Sauvignon versus Bordeaux red wine.
The American wines prevailed in both competitions, leading to the overnight popularity of Napa Valley wines. It also started a love affair between the American wine drinking public and Cabernet Sauvignon, an alliance that continued for decades and was responsible for huge vineyard expansions throughout California as the call for premium wine made in California grew annually.
Along the way, prices on Napa Cabernets skyrocketed. New AVAs were opened in California: Temecula, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Mendocino, Paso Robles and of course, Sonoma. Much like a chicken in every pot, nearly every winery produced at least one Cabernet Sauvignon and often it was the priciest offering on the wine list.
And then something happened. Not overnight and it came on so slowly as to go almost unnoticed by wine consumers. It was called Zinfandel. It grew everywhere – in fact in hot southern California there were already acres and acres of Zinfandel planted, many on vines that were 100 years old or more.
By Y2K, everyone was planting Zinfandel. Some wineries developed multiple styles. Zin-specific wine clubs started popping up and were all the rage. The cool folks belonged to Ridge’s Z-List where the price of entrance never starts below $30 a bottle.
Relatively unknown except to those familiar with French Rhone wines, Syrah began making headway and by 2010, wine critics realized there was a smooth and sassy new kid on the block. Syrah is a high yield grape, hence prices on Syrah wines were quite reasonable and soon the Rhone Rangers of Paso Robles were born – a group of younger winery owners who wanted to branch out from the ubiquitous Zinfandels that came from many area wineries.
Temecula Valley, having similar characteristics including face-of-the sun hot summer weather, soon began planting more acres to Syrah. Santa Ynez, a much cooler AVA, began successfully experimenting with this varietal. Soon the Wine Spectator was singing its praises and 90+ scores were handed out like Halloween candy.
With these high scores came increased prices and a market glut of finished wines. While still vigorously marketed and produced, consumers just weren’t convinced on a widespread basis. Fortunately, it appears that winemakers learned from their initial avarice and many now put out well-priced wines of excellent quality.
Syrah is bewitching. It can be bold or elegant, spicy or smoky, brimming with ripe, dark berries and a pleasant earthiness finishing with a trademark smoothness that often includes a hint of tobacco. While it can be cellared effectively, most are designed to drink within 5-7 years of bottling.
Your Craveyon wine subscription offers amazing premium wine and their 2013 Syrah is a gem. It pairs well with red meat, BBQ, spicy Asian food, bacon-anything and so much in between. Grab a bottle – or three – and throw a London Broil on the grill tonight.