Magazine article Sunset

Syrah Nights

Magazine article Sunset

Syrah Nights

Article excerpt

Martha Stewart undoubtedly drinks red wine in winter and white wine in summer. What could be more correct?

The problem, of course, is that proper behavior and pleasure can be two different things. And for its part, wine is far more allied with the latter than with the former.

Then, too, there's the issue of food. On a July night, with the helplessly alluring aroma of steaks cooking on the grill, does one really crave white wine?

As I build my case for red wine in summer, one more point must be made: Loving red wine is chronic, progressive, and cumulative. You start out enjoying a glass of Zinfandel every now and then, and before you know it, you're an incorrigible red wine chauvinist, a person for whom wine means red, period.

You guys know who you are.

For me, summertime and red wine intersect at Syrah. Darkly masculine, earthy, spicy, even gruff, Syrah is my favorite wine with almost anything grilled. In part, that's because Syrah (like grilled foods themselves) is robust and a little brazen. Syrah doesn't know about passivity; most examples (at least from California) are not what you'd call elegant or even well mannered. But mm-mm, are they compelling. Syrah is a tuxedo-clad Clint Eastwood with a 5 o'clock shadow.

The other day, a winemaker friend said to me, "Just watch. Syrah is going to be the next Merlot in California." A call to the Wine Institute confirmed Syrah's increasing popularity. While it's got a long way to go to catch up with Merlot, Syrah acreage has increased nearly tenfold since 1988. A third of these acres aren't yet in production.

The world's most famous Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley of France. In the north end of the valley, the famous wines of Cote Rotie and Hermitage are made from Syrah. In the southern Rhone, Syrah is one of the chief wines that make up the blend in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. In the Rhone, Syrah's potent and exuberant flavors lean toward leather, damp earth, wild blackberries, smoke, roasted meats, and - especially - pepper and spice. The best have a kinetic mouth-feel with flavors that detonate on the palate like tiny grenades. (Consult your wine merchant; there are numerous great producers, though the wines are very expensive.)

These were the Syrahs that, in the early 1980s, inspired a whole group of maverick California winemakers. The "Rhone Rangers," as the group came to be called, went on to make some full-bodied, deliciously earthy wines, forging a whole new direction for red wine-making in America in the process. …

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