Let’s look at a great grape for chilly winter days and hearty menus, a favorite of red wine lovers and a red wine often chosen for chocolate.
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The first grape to capture the palates of American wine lovers was cabernet sauvignon. We were told that it was a “noble” variety, and in the early days of wine enjoyment here that was good enough for most of us.
Then, as more Americans began to discover the joys of wine, an unlikely grape emerged as a favorite—merlot. Merlot had always been considered a blending grape, but its wine was softer than cabernet, and smoother in its youth. And we were a youthful, newly emerging nation of wine lovers.
You veteran wine lovers might have noticed that, as your palate has matured you’ve appreciated bolder, more flavorful wines, wines that might have been overpowering when you first began. Many Americans have reached this point, and I believe that’s one reason for the success of syrah.
Syrah’s popularity has circled the wine world. It’s considered an “international” variety, because it’s now grown in just about every country that makes wine. It’s dry red wine with a deep dark color and bold, berry-like flavors is a recipe for success in these days of higher flavor thresholds.
Like most of the world’s best-loved wine grapes, it came from France. Along the northern Rhone River the syrah grape reigns, especially for the famous wines Cote-Rotie and Hermitage. Each will often contain a small amount of white wine grapes like viognier, but the syrah is so deep in color that it adds complexity without making the wine appreciably lighter.
While Rhones can be quite expensive—there are three single-vineyard Cote-Rotie’s that can retail for well over $150 per bottle—both Cote-Rotie and Hermitage have neighbors that are perhaps less great, but also less expensive. St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage are two.
You can spend over $100 on an Australian syrah called Grange-Hermitage, and many do, but there are several good ones for less. Some of the least expensive, though, are much lighter. Or, you can buy my Vina Robles Syrah for $18 to $20 It’s from estate vineyards near Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast, and while it may not be as great as a Cote-Rotie from the La Mouline vineyard, I might prefer ten bottles of rich, deep Vina Robles Syrah to one bottle of that earthy French version.