Que Syrah, Syrah

Que Syrah Syrah?

Last week I had the chance of visiting a new winery in the southern Monterey County wine region of Lockwood. Ing Vineyards is in its infancy, but plans for a tasting room and a more active wine growers association are under way.

Dennis Ing planted more than 40 acres of Rhone varietals this past spring and the rows of delicate first leaves were still floating on the late fall breezes, just barely peaking out from the trellis holders.

I had come to do some barrel tasting of Mr. Ing’s Syrah wine. Right now he is concentrating on making Syrah wine. I tasted a Nouveau Syrah in the Beaujolais tradition, a dry French style Syrah Rose and Syrah aging in American and French oak barrels, which we then blended for an even better wine.

I have been tasting more Syrah wine of late and it seems to be making inroads as an up and coming grape on the California wine scene. The grape is also known as Shiraz. They are the same grape, but can have direct roots or different root stocks from either France or Australia. In Australia, 40 percent of the red grapes grown are Syrah. Syrah or Shiraz can be made in a “drink me now” style or a richer deeper wine that can hold well for several years.

The history of the Syrah varietal dates back to its use as the basis for French Hermitage wine. On the left bank of the Rhone River, opposite the old town of Tournon, you can see a huge granite rock touring above the village of Tain-Hermitage. The town was named after a 13th century knight crusader who retired to the village to make wine from cuttings he collected in Persia. His vineyards produced a strong full-bodied red wine from Syrah grapes, which seem to flourish in the rough, rocky soil.

Ing went looking for this rocky soil when he was ready to set up his winery. He has three chalky rocks sitting on his dining room table that have come from the new vineyard.

“These are the same rocks that I saw strewn throughout the Rhone countryside,” he said. “I knew I had found the right soil for my wines right here in Lockwood.”

The first Syrah in California was planted 20 years by Doug Meador, owner of Ventana Vineyards in Monterey. He is known for growing test blocks of grapes and experimenting within the vineyard as well as the winery.

“Syrah wine is fruit driven – at least from us it is,” he said. “Our cold climate and Ventana’s rocks, (not “soil” – rocks, gravel and sand!) married to the Syrah vine. No rootstock – ours are ‘direct’ producers – on their own roots in the ancient way, result in forward, lush fruit effects – blueberries, blackberries and cassis. “Additionally, there are strong overtones of black pepper, some rose, some violet and sometimes a light touch of ‘tar.’ The oak is subliminal but seems to be the wedding bond integrating it all.”

Syrah grows well in San Benito County and many of the local wineries make Syrah or use it in a Rhone Blend. On the nose, Syrahs incorporate smoke, herbs, black currant, logan berry and leather. French Hermitages lean more toward smokiness and acidity, and Australian Shiraz’s have more berry qualities. The wines from the Syrah grape are very big in terms of color, nose and flavor. Be sure to pair it with a rich dish like rack of lamb, barbecued meats, roast game or hard English cheeses.

Ing looks over his rocky terrain and tender new vines as he swirls the deep red Syrah of his making in his glass.

“My piece of heaven,” he sighs.


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