Syrah and The Sierra Foothills

Syrah from the Sierra Foothills is a treat for anyone who loves this grape.  I had a chance to taste several fine examples at the SyrahDay tasting sponsored by the El Dorado Winery Association recently.  Eight wineries poured:  Boeger Winery, Crystal Basin Cellars, David Girard Vineyards, Grace Patriot Wines, Lava Cap, Mount Aukum Winery, Shadow Ranch Vineyard, and Sierra Vista Vineyards & Winery.

Syrah is a wine that is not without controversy.  Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, blogged this:  “The real issue is why Americans don’t buy syrah. This question has caused great heartache and controversy, especially in the California syrah business,” Asimov noted.  “This, I suggest, is why American don’t buy a lot of syrah: Too many of the wines seem generic, a blend of fruit and oak that may be vaguely pleasant but could come from anywhere and be made of any grape.”

“Conversely, the best American syrahs, in my opinion, are made by producers who have been inspired by the great traditionalists of the northern Rhône,” he said.

Sierra Foothills winegrapes come from terrain that is reminiscent of the northern Rhone, which is why they do so well both in the vineyard and on the palate.  “The future of Syrah is all about fruit and getting that fruit - with the smoky meat, pepper and berry aspects that mark the variety - into the bottle,” said winemaker Mike Owen of Crystal Basin Winery.  

Mike and Melissa Owen,
Crystal Basin Winery
Crystal Basin (Camino, CA) made 311 cases of their 2009 Syrah El Dorado 'Reserve', using grapes sourced from BushBrothers Sumu-Kaw Vineyard, El Dorado County. It’s packed with rich ripe fruit and blackberry flavors with a touch of spiciness. Aged for 18 months in neutral French and American barrels, this wine has soft tannins and 15.5 percent alcohol. $22/bottle at the winery or 

Lava Cap Winemaker,
Tom Jones
Lava Cap Winery, Placerville, poured its 2009 Estate Bottled El Dorado Syrah. Winemaker Tom Jones produced 816 cases of this wine, which has complex flavors of dark cherry and plum, with a hint of carob and spice. It’s a wine with intensity and depth. 14.7 percent alcohol, $21/bottle at the winery or

Barbara & John MacCready,
Sierra Vista Winery
John MacCready of Sierra Vista Winery, Placerville,   poured his Fleur de Montagne (syrah based) and his /Reserve Syrah, Red Rock Ridge Syrah.  “Over the years the Red Rock Ridge Syrah has been compared favorably to some of the best of Cote Rotie by those who have tasted fine Syrah from Cote Rotie,” said John, winemaker and owner.  Frankly, Sierra Vista’s Fleur de Montagne is one of my all-time favorite wines, so I am so pleased he is pouring it.  It’s a delicious rouge Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend. $29/bottle at the winery or

The Red Rock Ridge Syrah is Sierra Vista Winery’s flagship Syrah, and very reminiscent of a Cote Rotie. Winemaker’s Notes on the 2005:  “Deep purple in color with a wonderful bouquet of red berry and violets, the ripe, juicy raspberry and cherry flavors marry well with hints of oak and medium tannins. This wine will age nicely over the next 6 to 12 years, “ $32/bottle at the winery or

Check out El Dorado Winery Association’s website for other nearby upcoming events:

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