Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Syrah the VC’s signature grape?

As published in the VC Reporter's Dining Guide, April 2009.

When I first started drinking red wine (after a regretful phase with Kendall Jackson Chardonnay), like most in our region, I was drawn to Pinot Noirs. Some years later, the Sideways phenomenon hit, and my favorite wine was exploited like a single mom giving birth to octuplets. I soon graduated to a smoky, inky, bolder varietal: Syrah.

Syrah (not to be confused with Petite Sirah, a very different grape) is best known as a Rhone varietal, having developed a solid reputation as a quality red-wine grape in one of France’s best-known wine regions. For Australians, who call it Shiraz, it’s their most widely-planted grape. Syrah first appeared in California in the seventies, and over the past decade, it has been steadily gaining in popularity right here in Ventura County, thanks to some very talented and resourceful local winemakers.

When renowned wine critic Robert Parker gave Manfred Krankl’s Sine Qua Non Syrah a perfect score of 100 points, Ventura County got noticed in a big way. But at upwards of $400.00 per bottle (if you’re lucky enough to actually find it), Venturans are finding more affordable (and less elusive) pours to slake their thirst for Syrah.

Though most of our local winemakers are sourcing their grapes from outside the county (Krankl’s “perfect” Syrah grapes came from the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County), they work their magic right here in our own backyard to turn out award-winning products, from Ojai to Moorpark.

One of my favorites is Herzog Wine Cellar’s Special Reserve Syrah ($36.00). With grapes sourced from the Edna Valley, this wine is bursting with blue fruits and hints of pepper. Have a sip at Herzog’s gorgeous tasting room in Oxnard if you don’t believe me. Winemaker Joe Hurliman, by the way, was the one who told me that Syrah would be Ventura County’s signature grape, and I think he may be right.

Another tasty Syrah comes from the Old Creek Ranch Winery in Ojai ($28.00). Made with grapes grown in Santa Barbara County, this lovely red boasts flavors of ripe blackberries, tobacco and spice that will leave you wanting a second pour and a seat on their tasting room porch overlooking their ranch in order to fully appreciate it.

Also worth mentioning are the Syrahs from Cantara Cellars and Rancho Ventavo Cellars. Cantara Cellars pours their Syrah ($29.00) in Camarillo with grapes sourced from Lodi. Rancho Ventavo Cellars of Moorpark (soon to be pouring in Oxnard’s Heritage Square) makes their Syrah ($26.00) from grapes grown in Paso Robles.

Syrahs are very drinkable upon purchase, but they mature beautifully should you decide to cellar your bottles for a while (but you would be more patient than I). Though wonderful in winter months with beef, lamb and pork chops, Syrahs are a hit in warmer weather, too, so fire up the barbecue now to pair this versatile red with grilled meats or Portobello mushrooms.

For more information on these wonderful local Syrahs, visit