America + Syrah = Egon
Of all the Ghostbusters, I think that Egon was both the most essential and the least appreciated, an assertion confirmed by the fact that you probably now have a separate browser window open to look up who Egon is. Don’t bother, I’ll tell you: Egon is American Syrah.
Actually Egon was played by the late great Harold Ramis, but their standings are analog: Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is Cabernet Sauvignon, who gets the girl, the laughs, and the most screen time. Ray (Dan Aykroyd) is Pinot Noir, the cute-but-nerdy lightweight with flashes of brilliance. Winston (Ernie Hudson) is Zinfandel, the deep-thinking workhorse that does most of the driving in blends (but somehow never gets on the posters). Egon, like Syrah, is universally recognized as brilliant – he built all the gizmos they use, for crying out loud – but is never anyone’s first choice.
Why doesn’t Yankee Syrah get the same love as Cab or Pinot? It gets the same scores (or better in many cases), and it achieves the same huge weight and deep colour as Cab, especially in California. Everyone knows it’s amazing, everyone loves it when they drink it, but even in Washington State, where Syrah should rightly be the State Bird, winemakers have a hard time moving it, especially compared to Cab, which effortlessly flops out the winery door like runaway salmon.
No more. I plant a flag here and now for US Syrah, as a dynamic, electric, and regionally expressive grape that will henceforth get more attention on these pages, and more real estate in my cellar. Wines like these:
Shafer Relentless 2014, Napa Valley
The former Wine of the Year (Wine Spectator Top 100 2012) returns with muscle and grace, a beautiful, classic year for Syrah in Napa. Containing a small measure of Petit Sirah, everything here is deep and dark. Blackberries, black pepper, and black currant rolled up with violets and lavender and smoked with a pork belly (or something like that, I’m hungry). The wine enters your mouth in the same way that the Kool-Aid Man enters a house. This is objectively delicious and will only get better, the future of this wine is assured. My allocation is only 3 cases now, apologies if I don’t have quite enough for everyone again. 95 points Vinous, 95+ points Robert Parker, 3 cases available, $160.99 +tax
K Vinters “The Deal” 2014, Wahluke Slope
Another stellar Washington Syrah from the already-legendary 2014 vintage, but unlike its contemporaries like Force Majeure and Betz, The Deal is a) immediately drinkable and b) half the price. Made from the Sundance vineyard with indigenous yeasts by the Human-Falling-Space-Station known as Charles Smith, The Deal shows a good deal of herbs and blueberries with a great deal of spices and an even greater deal of pure power and body. What is doesn’t show is a ton of tannin (it’s there, but the huge body covers over it like a muffin-top), making it safe to dive into now, although by sheer concentration it will age just fine. We’ll be pouring this on Saturday at 3pm if you’d like to try. 95 points Robert Parker, 5 6-packs available, $66.49 +tax
Jonata “La Sangre de Jonata” 2013, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley
Jonata is the answer, so long as the question is “what if Screaming Eagle made Syrah”? On the other side of the mountains from Santa Barbara, the white-hot and bone-dry Santa Ynez valley has been producing everything from ripe Cabs to plump Pinots (Sea Smoke being the best specimen), but the microclimate of Ballard Canyon has shown a remarkable ability with Rhône varietals, rooted in sand and boasting characteristically floral notes. Jonata, the sister winery to Screagle, cranks up the aromatics in their top Syrah (with 2% Viognier ‘cause we don’t want Viognier to feel bad) with peppery plum and soy notes amongst the flowers and the berries. Indeed, drinking Sangre de Jonata is like watching a badminton match between Savoury and Fruit, a really entertaining nose preceding a fierce frame with prominent tannins that may need to be talked down, over time, like The Hulk (“Sun’s gettin’ low, big guy”…). 97 points Vinous, 96 points Robert Parker, 6 bottles available, $236.99 +tax
Argentinian Adventures – Wednesday April 11, River District Classroom, 6:30 – 8pm, Seats $35
A deep dive into Mendoza and Salta (but mostly Mendoza), with a nod to the country’s history and a slurp to some of its biggest red wines.
2011 Zuccardi Zeta $55.49
2012 Chayee Bourass Bonarda Reserva $45.99
2015 Colome Autentico Malbec $55.49
2011 Bramare Malbec $52.49
2011 Zorzal Piantao $101.49
2012 Vina Cobos Volturno $217.49
2012 Cuvelier Los Andes $43.49
Until next time,