Cold sweats – hot fun – cool wine

Ten wine bottles concealed in brown paper bags in a crowd of 15 – 20 people can send some into cold sweats of stress and anxiety.  This is totally uncalled for!  In the friendly environment of a home where the hosts’ only desire is for everyone to have a great time and perhaps sample some new wines and enhance their palates, blind tastings, at someone’s home or in a more sterile professional environment, offer a unique opportunity for one to challenge one’s own sense of smell and taste and sight.  That is just what occurred this past weekend at a tasting party in a Santa Clara home.

Twenty enthusiasts gathered at the invitation of the kindest hosts ever.  Each couple was asked to bring a Syrah and a dessert or appetizer to share.  For the Syrah, country of origin or appellation was not defined so the wines presented originated in San Luis Obispo County, Santa Clara County, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County, Monterey County, all in California and Barossa Valley in Australia.  As frequently occurs, some mistook Petite Sirah for the requisite Syrah and therefore two impostors were represented at the event. 

Just to add some pedantic confusion, Wikipedia offers the following: “Syrah or Shiraz is a dark-skinned grape grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce powerful red wines. Syrah is used as a varietal and is also blended. Following several years of strong planting, Syrah was estimated in 2004 to be the world’s 7th most grown grape at 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres).[1]  DNA profiling in 1999 found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.[2] Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a synonym for Durif, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880.”  Did that help??

The tens wines fell into a reasonable price range of $15 to $30 and included:

Arrowood, 2006 Syrah, Le Beau Mélange, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County

Francis Ford Coppola, 2008 Neibaum-Coppola Petite Sirah, Plum Label, Sonoma County

J. Lohr Estate, 2009 South Ridge Syrah, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County

lights out, 2008 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia

Longboard, 2006 Syrah, North Coast, Sonoma County

Sarah’s Vineyards, 2004 Syrah, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara

Satori, 2007 Estate Petite Sirah Ha Ha, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara County


St. Somewhere, 2009 Syrah, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County (Castoro Cellars)

Travieso, 2008 Amaranta Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

Zaca Mesa, 2008 Estate Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County

The surprises for this evening were the wines whose grapes came from inauspicious California origins like Gilroy and the Santa Clara Valley.  Although grapes are and have been grown in these geographic areas for decades, they do not typically rise to the top in varietal tastings.  Not surprising was the good showing of grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Paso Robles.  These two appellations have outstanding histories although often for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel grapes.

The results were unambiguous and almost unanimous as the Travieso 2008 Amaranta Syrah came in as a strong favorite scoring the highest of all entrants.  Also scoring well and in second place was the Castoro Cellars, St. Somewhere, 2009 Syrah from Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County.  Third place was a virtual tie between the Sarah’s Vineyard 2004 Syrah and the Arrowood 2006 Syrah.  Each of these presented the characteristic flavor profile, color and tannic structure of a well balanced Syrah.  The remaining six wines settled in to a tight pack reminiscent of a NASCAR yellow flag lap.

The fascinating aspect of this event, which is characteristic of blind tastings where price or brand are not a factor, is the good showing of wines from here-to-for little known wineries (like Travieso in Campbell, CA) or under-represented wine regions (like Santa Clara Valley). 

Ever since the movie Sideways subverted Merlot and Pinot Noir became the ‘It” wine, Pinot prices have skyrocketed.  Syrah (and maybe Malbec) has been poised as the next big wine.  This event proved that, at least for now, great tasting Syrah can be found for under $20!


About John Compisi

John Compisi is a freelance travel, adventure and lifestyle writer focusing on California, Italy, France or where ever life takes him. He is a published member of the SF Bay Area Travel Writers and the Redwood Writers Club. John, and photographer wife Linda, reside in Sonoma County and love nothing more than getting out there and experiencing the world, no matter if it’s a destination close to home, a road trip, or a journey to romantic international destinations.
This entry was posted in Day Trips, Santa Clara Valley, Uncategorized, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wineries and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cold sweats – hot fun – cool wine

  1. Damon Ainsworth says:

    Being in the industry and a friend of several winemakers. Every winemaker I know says that Syrah is his/her favorite varietal. For some reason it just hasn’t grown as fast as it should here in the US. It has been touted as the next biggest thing but still it continues to be a mystery to the average wine consumer. I will tell you that one the best wines I ever had was a 1999 Darioush Shiraz from Napa Valley. I drank this wine when it was 10 years old and it tasted like a huge bowl of raspberries which was very curious given what Syrah is known for its meaty, peppery, leathery flavor profile. I for one love Syrah and have many in my cellar as well as Syrah blends from all over the world. This will motivate me to continue beating the drum for Syrah here in the US.

    • John C says:

      Damon, Excellent point made here. I have also tasted the Darioush Shiraz but not the 1999. Agree that despite all the buzz Syrah remains stuck in a sort of limbo. Perhaps there are not the volume producers avaialble (or committed) to get sufficient distribution to push it over that tipping point needed to be the “Next big thing!!”. Thanks for your valued readership and pithy comments.

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