June 15, 2007
What's With Syrah?

IMGP1365_edited.jpgThe first day of the California State Fair's 2007 commercial wine competition is wrapping up at Cal Expo. A record-high 3,029 wines, all from California, have been entered, meaning each of the 16 panels will judge around 100 wines the first two days of the competition. (Sunday, the last day of the competition, will be devoted pretty much to picking the best varietals, best regional wines and the overall best-of-show wines, candidates for which will already have won gold medals.)

Our four-man panel spent most of its time judging 80 syrahs, all from the 2004 vintage. I like syrah, but after this exercise I can see why it is having trouble generating much enthusiasm among consumers. We ended up awarding six gold medals. Only one was a double-gold, meaning all four judges agreed it warranted a gold medal. Given the excitement that syrah was generating among winemakers just a few years ago, several of whom were convinced it would be California's next great varietal, I expected a stronger showing from the wine.

A high proportion of the syrahs we judged, however, just weren't enthralling. Many failed to make a strong statement that they were even syrah; they were just pleasant red wines, unflawed for the most part but one dimensional and short. At least we didn't draw the viogniers, another varietal attempting with marginal success to set down firm roots in the California soil; a member of the panel that did judge viogniers said they didn't give any of the 60 entries a gold medal.

Things could turn around Saturday. Our panel then is to judge 84 more syrahs, but these will be from the 2005 vintage, perhaps a year more favorable to the varietal.

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