Magazines that take ads from winemakers and have a vested interest in promoting wine consumption generally have a tendency to report bad news in tangential euphemisms or positive spins. I am referring to such publications as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast or The San Francisco Chronicle wine pages. Thus an ugly reality was presented in starkly blunt terms in a magazine that is not primarily wine oriented. In an article entitled “Left Out in the Cold”, San Francisco Magazine (June 2010 edition) proclaimed that the California Syrah market has collapsed. Various makers, sellers and distributors were quoted as complaining that they simply cannot move their syrah because no-one wants to buy them. Really?
I didn’t know, because I personally do not buy much California Syrah. The article went on to point out that the Australian Shiraz market also collapsed, prior to our local Syrah. Again, I wouldn’t know. I buy even less Shiraz, and have not attempted any recent purchases. The article wonders about the causes of this distressing phenomenon. Could it be the over-the-top, overripe styles that turned off consumers? How did the recession play into this? There are no solid answers, just plenty of distressed growers and sellers. How could this happen when Matt Kramer of all people, the great wine philosopher, predicted in 2004 that Syrah was the next “chardonnay” of the wine world, with lots of logic to back up his conclusions.
Two years ago I travelled to the Paso Robles/ Arroyo Seco/ Edna Valley region where a lot of syrah is grown and bottled. I tasted a bunch, and brought home an assortment of about a case and a half. As I subsequently opened these bottles, I discovered that I did not like the ripe flavors of Cental Coast Syrah, and gave up on the grape. Paradoxically, if you ask me what my favorite varietal is, what I wouldn’t mind being stranded in an island with a few cases, I would quickly answer “syrah”. But not in its New World versions.
Syrah and syrah mixes of the Rhone remain the prototype, and for my palate, the best examples of this varietal, especially as expressed in their Southern version with such appellations as Gigondas, Vacqueras and Chateauneuf du Pape. Most New World products don’t compare well.
Having said that, now that I know the market has collapsed, I think it is time to explore the nooks and crannies of this niche, since prices will be favorable for such an endeavor. Why, just two weekends ago, someone brought a wonderful 2007 Qupe Syrah to our Friday night blind tasting which is currently retailing at around $17 per bottle. A nice bargain from a well respected Central Coast syrah maker.
My advice with this new Syrah reality is: happy hunting!
I'd say that Pinot noir quickly grabbed the spotlight that never quite shined on Syrah. Syrah would have gotten more traction if it weren't for the mass-produced Shiraz from down-under that ruined its reputation for quality. The whole Syrah/Shiraz confusion hasn't helped either.