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California Wine: A Syrah is Born

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Photo by Andrew Murray Vineyards
Photo by Andrew Murray Vineyards

With the Academy Awards just around the corner, allow me to offer some star-lit grapegazing: The scene opens with Sean Connery as James Bond. Dashing, strong, handsome, elegant and charming: this is someone you would want at every dinner party, and you will usually find him there -- he is Cabernet Sauvignon. A host's go-to wine, it is dependable and predictable. But for those brave enough to seek the company of someone dangerous and unpredictable, something a little more Marlon Brando circa "The Wild Ones:" choose Syrah, or when in a more boisterous and jovial mood, Shiraz.

Syrah has a long mysterious history from legends of Iranian birthright, to its more probable origin and early upbringing in France, to a sun-baked drunken sowing of its oats in Australia. It has plantings in Italy that are occasionally acknowledged, as well as in Lebanon, and of course, in the United States. In each of these regions, much like Brando, it deftly adapts itself to the terroir and takes on a different personality.

In most of the world Syrah is the most well known of the wines of the Rhone Valley. In the south, it lends a friendly supporting performance in the wines of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Cotes du Rhone blends. But it is in the Northern Rhone Valley that it plays the loner, standing in the shadows like Jean Reno in "The Professional." Here, it is leather-clad and animalistic, sneering at strangers and smelling a bit like steak au poivre. This rough exterior is tamed a bit in the wines of the Cote Rotie, where a bit of Viognier is added, much like Natalie Portman, helping to bring out a bit of sweetness and delicacy.

As we move down under, we see it as the youthful, reckless, loud and gregarious Shiraz. Left to its own devices in the hot Australian sun, it may not have a lot to say, but it certainly says it loudly, much as Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon" would. Moving back to the northern hemisphere to California, we have the best of both worlds. Planted in cooler regions of the Central Coast, Syrah has elegance while maintaining its tough guy attitude, much like Steve McQueen. A perfect example of this style is the 2009 Andrew Murray Central Coast Syrah. Aromas of blueberry and blackberry are dusted with black pepper and hints of bacon. Even with a mouthful of luscious fruit, this wine manages to leave your palate refreshed. This is a great everyday drinker, whether perfectly paired with grilled meats or slowly sipped on the sofa in the soft glow of an awards show.

2009 Andrew Murray Syrah, retails about $17.

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