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Cool Climate Syrah
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 10, 2009
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Truchard, Carneros Napa Valley Syrah, 2005 ($28):  In 2007, California wineries crushed 25% more Syrah grapes than they did just five years earlier -- and more than 200 times as much as they did in 1990.  Although Syrah plantings represent only 24% of Cabernet Sauvignon's acreage in California, Syrah is clearly gaining steam.  Much of the enthusiasm about Syrah is coming from those who have planted this grape in cooler parts of the state, such as Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara and, in the case of this wine, Carneros.

I first heard of the concept of cool climate Syrah several years ago in Australia, where winemakers from cool regions of Victoria and Western Australia use the term to distinguish their wines from the better-known, blockbuster Shirazes of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.  They characterize the cool-climate wines as 'peppery,' a reference to black pepper spice rather than bell peppers.  The wines are trimmer than Barossa's, with generally more focused fruit character and more vibrancy.  The same characteristics apply to many of California's new cool-climate Syrahs.

The Truchard family estate has 270 acres of vineyards in the northern part of Carneros, toward Mt. Veeder, and grows ten grape varieties.  Much of the production is sold to other Napa Valley wineries; Truchard itself produces only 16,000 cases of wine each year.  I have admired every Truchard wine that I have tasted, and this Syrah is my favorite.

The wine has a vibrant aroma of red fruits that, after airing, opens to spice, herbal nuances and some gamey notes.  The nose suggests good concentration but not the heavy denseness that a warmer-region Syrah might have.  In its intensity and complexity (if not its specific aromas), the nose somewhat suggests Pinot Noir.

In the mouth, the wine is fairly full-bodied and very flavorful with a medium amount of very fine-grained tannins that in no way overpower the wine's fruit.  The nature of the tannins is particularly pleasing because they run all through the wine rather than hovering on the rear palate; as a result, they give the wine a rich texture instead of the disjointed rear-palate hardness that so many wines have.  Although you probably wouldn't notice the wine's acidity, it gives depth and length to the wine.  As for the wine's flavors, they include dark fruits, mint, an earthy note, a bit of peppery spice and a note of chocolate -- all showing good concentration and yet freshness.

In the balance between aromatics and structure -- whether the wine is more about its aromas and flavors or its weight, body texture and so forth -- the aromatics dominate by a hair.  This is a very flavorful wine, easy to like, easy to enjoy, more than it is a powerhouse.  But it's seriously well-made at the same time.  It has real class.

Judging by the continued improvement that this wine showed for 48 hours after I opened the bottle, I believe it can age well for at least five years.  Because of its fresh fruity notes, I would pair it with dishes that welcome a fruity accent, such as grilled meats or vegetables and simple roasts.

91 Points