I recently asked several of Hawaii’s top sommeliers for their insights on syrah. I hope this inspires readers to try something different.
Why should someone try California syrah?
» Mark Shishido (wine director, Alan Wong Restaurants): “Like the tried-and-true cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, syrah is a noble red grape variety. At its best, syrah produces wines of sheer power, depth and girth, yet has the ability to portray wines with soulful elegance and fineness, filling the glass with hard-spiced aromas of cracked black pepper or crushed green peppercorns, floral notes of violets and a heap of ripe blackberry nuances. Syrah can also have quite a savage nature, at times with aromas reminiscent of wild game or roasted meat hung on a spit.”
» Ivy Nagayama (managing partner, Sansei Waikiki/ d.k Steak House): “Syrah … seems to excel when REALLY challenged in the vineyard, with poor soils and long, cool growing seasons, which encourage physical maturity, minerality and length on the palate in the finished wines. California’s Paso Robles and the various pockets of Santa Barbara, for instance, are up and coming wine growing regions (where) one can find some sensational boutique syrahs worth checking out.”
» Kevin Toyama (wine cellarmaster, Halekulani Hotel): “California syrah offers value with a flavor profile that pops! With dark woven fruit (and) a savory minerality combined with elegant tannins, it is an exceptional food wine.”
Recommend three syrahs available in Hawaii
» Shishido: 2006 Peay, Syrah “La Bruma” 2007 Drew, Syrah “Valenti Vineyard” 2005 Cep Syrah “Sonoma Coast”
» Nagayama: 2004 Ojai Syrah “Melville Vineyard,” 2009 Melville Syrah “Estate-Verna’s Vineyard,” 2009 Neyers Syrah “ Old Lakeville Road ”
» Toyama: “In early March … I had to go up to Sonoma and see what winemaker Pax Mahle was doing. Known for his rich, rugged syrahs from the cooler reaches of Sonoma, his new winery, “Windgap,” threads the fine line of elegance and purity of fruit. The 2008 Sonoma County (available in Hawaii this summer) caught my attention with its sweet-fruit, smoky bacon-fat aromas typical of the Rhone Valley of France, and the modest use of oak. I couldn’t believe it was Californian. Not to be outdone, at Ojai Vineyards in Santa Barbara, Adam Tolmach also crafted a standout, worldly 2008 Syrah from grapes he sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard down in the Ballard Canyon subregion of Santa Barbara. Stolpman Vineyard also produces their own wines under their own label. Winemaker Sashi Moorman crafts their “Estate” label syrah in a richer vein than Pax with layers of black fruit, huckleberry and cassis notes. It is bolder in structure, but still worldly and elegant.”
Suggest a compatible dish to cook at home
» Shishido: “Pork or beef pot roast with oven-roasted herb potatoes, wild mushrooms and carrots. Don’t forget the gravy.”
» Nagayama: “Lamb chops with a nice rub spice instead of a marinade, grilled asparagus and sweet potatoes.”
» Toyama: “At home, the kids love it when I make boneless braised shortribs with lots of tomatoes cooked down, with red wine, browned, caramelized garlic and sautéed onions. … Another syrah-oriented dish is leg of lamb marinated overnight with rosemary, thyme, garlic and red wine. Winnah!”
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the D.K. Restaurant group.