Syrah is one of those few grape varieties that is as at home by itself—as a stand-alone varietal wine of distinction (viz. the French Hermitage wines)—as it is sloshed around in a blend with others of its kindred Rhone varieties (Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsaut, and even Viognier).
California’s two-season Mediterranean climate—especially here, where Sonoma County meets the Pacific—is as ideally suited to Syrah as is its native Rhone Valley. This a variety that does particularly well on the sere slopes of Alexander Valley and Sonoma Valley, and is finding a new home in the warmer stretches of Russian River Valley, where winegrowers are discovering new aspects to this variety’s multi-faceted personality.
Syrah’s darkly-colored juice often shows a bright strawberry character, which makes it a nice wine for the picnic blanket. Pomegranate is another fruit character that often shows though in this varietal, along with the occasional hint of black pepper spiciness that reins in all that fruit before it can escape into the ether.
Those rough, almost raw, hardy characteristics allow the Syrah to stand up to that hot pastrami sandwich you love, lavished with mustard, and the dill pickle potato salad that goes with it. Sonoma County Syrah is also a good wine around the fireplace on a cold winter night, served with beef stew or pot roast with your favorite aged hard cheese after the main course.