Celebrate with bold, Syrah, A Chicago-Style Wine
Here's what I don't like about Syrah: It's big, it's bold. The sun-loving grape translates extreme ripeness into a wallop of alcohol, often 15% and higher. Its gnash-and-tear tannins prime the palate for rich meats. "It coats the mouth in lusciousness," says a wine-drinking buddy, with flavors compared to juicy-ripe berries, black and brown spice, even chocolate. Yuck.
Not too long ago, a lot of people didn't like Syrah. "It's big, it's bold," sniffed aficionados, referring to wines from Syrah's homeland, France's Rhone Valley and preferring the refined wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Then, in 1987, young American attorney and "Wine Advocate" Robert M. Parker Jr. published "The Wines of the Rhône Valley and Provence" (Simon & Schuster), to highlight what he considered to be France's most under-appreciated region.
It turned out Americans like big and bold. Rhone sales skyrocketed.
At the same time, West Coast winegrowers like Fred Cline figured California's big, hot sun was best suited to Syrah and its thick skin, rather than relatively more delicate Cabernet Sauvignon. Like-minded producers joined forces to promote American-made Syrah, in an on-again-off-again fellowship (now on), dubbed the Rhone Rangers.
Despite this palate's preference, Syrah wines are made for Chicagoland's big-shouldered cuisine. Grilled sausages, rich stews and game meats are as welcome on our tables as in the Rhone. Non-carnivores can enjoy Syrah with the richest veggie dishes, especially mushrooms; just be certain to add rich cheese to soften tannin.
And if I'm invited for dinner, this will be one time you don't have to buy an extra bottle for me!
Syrah, Sonoma Coast, Cline Family Cellars, 2017: A perennial Syrah value. Pretty violet colors introduce youthful berry flavors with pepper, smoke, herb and meaty accents.
At 14.5% alcohol, it's a powerhouse, but will complement the richest poultry as well as meats. Serve just cool to the touch to brighten flavors. ($14).
Syrah, Sonoma Coast, Ramey, 2016: With a long rest in new French barrels, this is a wine for lovers of oak. Meaty, smoky flavors are interwoven with black cherry, licorice and black spices, an exciting mouthful now that will repay the patience of cellaring for a decade or more. ($40)
• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at food@daily herald.com.
Ross' choiceWine: Syrah, Purisima Mountain Vineyard
Producer: Beckmen Vineyards
Region: Ballard Canyon AVA, Santa Barbara, California
Availability: Chains and fine wine shops, $32
Distributed by: Heritage Wine Cellars, Niles
Slips across the palate like liquid velvet. Young tobacco and herb accents keep this intense wine from devolving into a fruit bomb. Powerful tannin outlines berry/ cherry/ plum flavor, while rich fruit extract softens any bitterness. Remarkably fresh for such a concentrated and powerful (15%+ alcohol!) wine.