I'm sick of Syrah getting kicked around. It's a noble grape, the source of Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, powerful and nuanced enough to stand on its own, but friendly enough to play well with other grapes, particularly Grenache and Mourvedre. It can be be savory. And sweet. It can charm you with briar fruit and tempt you with the luscious scents of bacon cooked over a fire while camping in the Sierras, hints of wet granite tickling your nose. Can your Merlot do all that?
Still, Domestic Syrah seems to get little respect. It was the
"next big thing" until it wasn't. But it is still championed by a handful of sommeliers, wine geeks and writers, passionate advocates of well made wine and the vignerons who are pushing the boundaries of what the grape is capable of here in California. This week's Wine of the Week celebrates that kind of California Syrah, from one of the producers we feel is really doing the grape justice and one of the San Francisco Chronicle's Winemakers to Watch for 2011: A Donkey and Goat.
The 2008 A Donkey and Goat "Melange" Mendocino Syrah ($18.99) is made by the husband-and-wife team of Jared and Tracey Brandt, a small winery that focuses on creating natural, unadulterated wines in a warehouse in downtown Berkeley. The Melange combines fruit from the Broken Leg and McDowell vineyards in Mendocino, and is cofermented with 2% Viognier like many Northern Rhônes. A great deal from the winery, this is made from fruit usually destined for single vineyards wines, but because of the fires in 2008, the winemakers chose to declassify it. The smoke influences are there, but in a pleasing way, with classic blackberry fruit, black pepper spice and smoked meat undertones. It's medium-bodied with lots of raspberry on the palate, and fresh acidity that keeps it from getting tiring half way through the glass. The tannins are dusty and fine and the finish hangs out awhile, like your best friend at a party. Enjoy this with early season barbecue, roasted chicken or pulled pork sandwiches.