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Feb 20, 2008 08:15 AM

California Syrah

What producers do you like and why?

Do the CA syrahs you like come from grapes grown in warmer climates (like Paso Robles) making a wine similar to Aussie shiraz or do you like cooler climates (Los Alamos, Sonoma Coast, etc.) that make a wine more in the style of an Hermitage?

Just curious....

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  1. John Anthony ( makes a great Syrah. It is not quite as extracted as many others from CA (it is a Napa based winery). A bit pricey at $45 and not the easiest to find, but one of my favorites.

    1. I think Paso has a handful of wineries doing some pretty interesting stuff with Syrah (L'Aventure, Tablas Creek, Linne Calodo, Saxum, Booker), but for the most part I've been underwhelmed by a lot of the other wine coming from that region. I'm not sure if it's a climate issue or because it's still a younger and burgeoning wine community, or maybe both, but there seems to be a lot of disparity between what's good in Paso and what's not good in Paso. Then again, Alban in Arroyo Grande (around 40 miles south of Paso but still in the same coastal plate of soil type) makes my absolute favorite Syrah in the form of their Reva bottling. I don't find the wines I dig from Paso at all in the style of the stuff coming out of Australia. They seem to be to be different beasts all together, although sharing at least some sort of new world lineage.

      I also love the stuff coming out of Sonoma. Names like Pax, Carlisle, and DuMOL come immediately to mind, although I wouldn't say any are really in the style of an Hermitage.

      Truthfully, I love them all in their own way. I'm reminded constantly why Syrah is my favorite varietal and I don't show preference to terroir or appelation when I'm buying my favorite bottles. Whether it's a dusty old Cornas, a wine from one of Paso's hot new boutiques, or even from a Napa classic like Shafer in their Relentless bottling. Syrah is good in all forms when in the hands of a loving and caring winemaker.]

      Is it just me or is my answer clear as mud?

      R. Jason Coulston

      1. I like the syrahs by Edmunds St John. Sourced from San Luis Obispo and El Dorado counties. Generally accessable upon release but they also age well. Old world style at a reasonable price.

        1. The simple answer to your question is that it's not that simple. You cannot automatically say (e.g.) "Paso = Shiraz, Sonoma = Hermitage." It doesn't work that way.

          As "scrappydog" has already pointed out, Edmunds St. John -- my favorite California producer of grape varieties traditionally associated with the Rhone Valley -- produces wines from the Paso Robles area, the Sonoma Coast, the Sierra Foothills, and ALL are on the French (versus Australian) end of the spectrum.

          Other producers are in the Sonoma Valley and/or Sonoma Coast, and they definitely make wines more akin to an Aussie Shiraz (and I'm presuming you mean those reminiscent of the Barossa, rather than the Margaret River).

          There is no easy "shorthand" like that.


          22 Replies
          1. re: zin1953

            This is the very response that makes me lose interest in being more active on this board.

            There’s always someone who feels obligated to play tyrant and nit pick every post.
            I don't recall writing some an outlandish statement defining how Syrah must taste based on an appellation.

            I'm simply asking for some feedback on what syrahs people like.

            BTW, thanks for the responses scrappy, tony and RJC.


            1. re: vinosnob

              I think zin1953 was replying to this part of your post:

              <<Do the CA syrahs you like come from grapes grown in warmer climates (like Paso Robles) making a wine similar to Aussie shiraz or do you like cooler climates (Los Alamos, Sonoma Coast, etc.) that make a wine more in the style of an Hermitage?>>

              1. re: pierrot

                Let's not ruin a perfectly good conversation about my favorite wine! I'd love to hear more input from other members. Syrah is a subject I wouldn't mind going on and on about, especially when the discussion revolves around styles from one growing region to another.

                R. Jason Coulston

              2. re: vinosnob

                vinosnob- If you had simply asked for a list of producers, I agree. But you also asked "why" in addition to eliciting responses that wieghed things like climate and comparisons between CA and AUS. Simply providing a list of producers would have in fact ignored the rest of your post.

                Having said that, I think Jason's response was nothing short of a perfect answer to your post.

                I also think that responses like yours keep people from answering in the future. Jaons is obviously an expert on the topic and I personally look forward to his responses as it pertains to wine. You asked a great question and he gave a great answer. Dont ruin it.


                1. re: MunkeeCIAO

                  We had some amazing syrah's while down in Sonoma, our favorite being Peay Vineyards, they source from up there, I found it much closer to French syrah than Shiraz. I have become a huge fan of Syrah, all the complexity of a great old world wine with a bit of ooomph. I shied away for a while as I did not realize how completely different they are from Shiraz, but now I am a HUGE convert.

                2. re: vinosnob

                  What the _____?

                  OK, I'll confess that I missed the "What producers do you like and why?", and I shall be happy to provide them, though in fairness, I *did* provide you with one name, my favorite. However, and more to the point at hand, I do not understand what I may have said that elicited such a -- shall I say "forceful"? -- response.

                  Pierrot has it quite right. I was replying to the following sentence:
                  >>> Do the CA syrahs you like come from grapes grown in warmer climates (like Paso Robles) making a wine similar to Aussie shiraz or do you like cooler climates (Los Alamos, Sonoma Coast, etc.) that make a wine more in the style of an Hermitage? <<<

                  So when you go on to later write:
                  >>> I don't recall writing some an outlandish statement defining how Syrah must taste based on an appellation.<<<

                  I would simply say that it sounded to me as if you were saying EXACTLY that. Perhaps I misunderstood, and I do not want to put words in your mouth, but it certainly seemed to me that you were saying that grapes grown in warmer climates (like Paso Robles) make a wine similar to Aussie shiraz, while grapes from cooler climates (Los Alamos, Sonoma Coast, etc.) make a wine more in the style of an Hermitage.

                  Personally, I find no validity in that statement whatsoever. But like I say, perhaps I misunderstood. If so, I certainly apologize. Let's put that behind us, shall we?

                  To elaborate on what I said above, Edmunds St. John is one of the most "Rhône-like" producers (stylistically) in California, and most of grapes for Steve's wines come from in and around Paso Robles. Too, Steve Edmunds also gets grapes from El Dorado County, far from the coldest spot in California, and his Syrahs from there are much more "Rhône-like" than Aussie-like," in a broad, generalized character. If you haven't tried his wines, I highly recommend them. You can get more information at

                  Tablas Creek is a winery owned by the Pérrin brothers of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape fame, and also located in the general Paso Robles area. Their wines are hardly considered to be "Aussie-like"; on the contrary, they follow a more French path stylistically. They also happen to be quite good. Also highly recommended, more infor can be found at

                  Bill Easton -- Domaine de la Terre Rouge -- is also someone I think does an excellent job with Syrah and other "Rhône-ish" varieties up in the Sierra Foothills. You can find more info about his wines at

                  Cedarville Vineyard -- Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks -- are also in El Dorado County. Less "Rhône-ish" than either ESJ or Terre Rouge, they are nonetheless in that general direction stylistically, as opposed to being in the "Aussie Shiraz" style.

                  Lagier Meredith is high up on Mount Veeder in Napa, and produces excellent Syrah, abeit rather expensive, in a more French-like style.

                  On the other hand, I am not the biggest fan of wines like Saxum, Pax, and other wines in that style. But I definitely prefer wines from the Northern Rhône, and wines in that "style," to most of what comes out of South Australia. Vasse Felix, however, does I think an excellent job in the Margaret River --

                  AND I am a big fan of several of the Syrahs coming out of Washington State, but that's a different question.


                  1. re: zin1953

                    how does washington syrah compare to edmunds, terre rouge?

                    1. re: StephP

                      Broad generalizations, of course, but they fall somewhere in between the over-the-top, in-your-face, jammy style, and the generally more elegant, French-like style.

                      I find there is a characteristic cocoa note, and also a cola note, that transcends grape variety from the Columbia Valley -- Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah: it's always there.

                      Some producers, like Glen Fiona, use little or no wood for their basic Syrah, and more new oak on their higher-end wine. In addition, the wines tend to have a "thicker" texture, a fuller mouthfeel, than most California Syrahs BUT without feeling syrupy or cloying. In other words, they retain a firm balance and structure, generally have finely integrated tannins, and are fully ripened without being overripe and/or sweet.

                      In alphabetical order, here are some (among many others) to look for:

                      Columbia Winery (especially their Red Willow Syrah) --
                      DeLille Cellars --
                      Glen Fiona --
                      Isenhower --
                      K Vintners --
                      Reininger --


                      1. re: zin1953

                        thanks for the information!

                        i attended a tasting last saturday of edmunds st. john, terre rouge and unti vneyards. Of them all, I really loved edmunds st john's wines. I was hard-pressed to remember anyone else's wine in CA that I've liked more regardless of price or varietal. I was wondering if (1) you could suggest other people in CA based on that preference. (2) suggest other southern rhone producers to pursue (when I talked to Steve Edmunds he mentioned a Domaine St. Anne? any others?)

                        Thanks in advance

                        1. re: StephP

                          Domaine Ste. Anne is a long-time favorite of Steve's, and with good reason. They produce a superb white Côtes-du-Rhône (CdR) that's made from Viognier, and their red Côtes-du-Rhône Villages (CdRV) is excellent as well. I don't think they have their own website, but you can find out about them at

                          Other favorite producers include (in random order):

                          Domaine Grand Veneur -- -- great Châeauneuf-du-Pape (CdP) red, and an excellent white CdP that's all Roussanne; superb CdRV red, and more.
                          Domaine de la Mordorée -- -- stunning CdP and Lirac reds (especially their reserve bottlings), and my favorite producer of both Tavel and CdR rosé; CdR red and Lirac white is also worthwhile.
                          Château de Ségriès -- -- Lirac red, Tavel rose, and CdR red.

                          Of course there are many, many more.

                          Keep in mind that, although Domaine Ste. Anne DOES made a 100% Syrah CdR (among the many different CdR bottlings they offer), this type of cuvée is very unusual for producers in the south. Most are indeed Grenache-based.


                          1. re: zin1953


                            btw, have you tried either syrahs from loxton, failla, or b. kosuge and if you have, any comparisons with the other CA syrahs you mentioned -- eg. lagier, tablas, etc.

                            btw, i had 2005 HdV syrah fairly recently and thought it was fantastic. the winemaker mentioned failla and loxton, so thought i'd ping you for your thoughts on them.

                            1. re: StephP

                              Steph --

                              I've had a one or two wines from Loxton, one from Failla, and none from Kosuge (though I've had his wines at Saintsbury). But that's really not enough for me to form any sort of definitive opinion ("I love ________'s wines!"). So I'm really not much help here. Sorry.


                    2. re: zin1953

                      Jason -

                      Curious to hear your take on Pax. I've often seen them described as "Northern Rhone-like" and while some of their wines might lean toward the big high-alcohol ["Aussie-style"?] category, they have others that seem much more moderate in style (the last release of the Kobler and Majik vineyards were well under 13% ABV).

                      I have several cellared right now but have only opened a couple. Since I drink a lot more Southern Rhone than Northern I don't have an ideal point of comparison.

                      1. re: Frodnesor

                        A couple of points . . .

                        All Northern Rhône reds are overwhelmingly Syrah-dominant, if not 100 percent Syrah, as per the regulations of the specific appellation contrôllée. In contrast, there is no Southern Rhône red that is -- per the appellation contrôllée -- dominated by Syrah. Most reds in the south are Grenache-dominant, if not by regulations then by fact. There are a few specific exceptions where, for example, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer makes a special cuvée of Côtes-du-Rhône (known locally as "appellation generique") that may be 100 percent Syrah, but these ARE the exceptions.

                        I've only had a few of Pax Syrahs, and these have mostly been their "Cuvée Christine" (2003, 2004, 2005); I think I'vve had one other Syrah from Pax. My impression of these has been anything BUT "Northern Rhône-like," but -- again -- thats me and this specific wine.


                        1. re: zin1953

                          As for your first point distinguishing N. and S. Rhone, that's why I noted that I don't have an ideal point of comparison - most "real Rhone" that I've tried has been CDP or CDR and I have much less knowledge of the 100% syrah (or w/ co-fermented viognier) that comes from Cote Rotie, Hermitage etc. With one exception I'm aware of (the Moriah, which is a grenache blend) Pax are mostly 100% syrahs (some also get a dollop of viognier).

                          I believe the Cuvee Christine is produced primarily for restaurant sales and may be more fruit-forward than some of their other wines.

                          As for "Other Jason" - yeah, those huge bottles are cellar-hogs. Melville, you're guilty too.

                      2. re: zin1953

                        Sorry to revive an old thread, but we ate at Chez Panisse earlier this week while visiting my sister. I spotted an Edmunds St. John Syrah (the 2005 Wylie-Fenaughty) on the wine list, and remembering this thread, we tried it. The wine was excellent, and our first time tasting anything from this winery. We all really enjoyed it, especially with dinner. Just wanted to say "thanks" for pointing us toward something different. Now I just have to find a wine shop in Phoenix that sells it.


                        1. re: barry

                          No need to apologize . . . Glad you enjoyed the ESJ!

                          You may want to drop the winery an email or contact their Arizona distributor for finding where ESJ wines are sold in the Phoenix.

                          Edmunds St, John

                          Quench Fine Wines Ltd.
                          9319 N. 94th Way #600
                          Scottsdale, AZ 85250
                          (602) 402-0537


                          1. re: zin1953

                            Jason, Quench isn't much help re: Steve's wines here in Phoenix. Being a long time ESJ fan, when I moved here last year I sent them an email regarding availability and got a hand waving "maybe at such and such store" response that showed there was no interest in promoting.
                            The best bet for PHX is to just direct order with Steve.

                            Open invitation to anyone in the metro Phx area (particularly the E. Valley) that wants to order ESJ. Send me an email as I'm always looking to fill a case (or two) for an order.

                    3. re: zin1953


                      Any thoughts on how a 2001 Edmunds St. John will have weathered ? One of my local merchants had a few bottles of the Syrah (can't remember the exact vineyard designation) at $18.99. I thought they may have turned the corner after 7 years (I'm not a real big fan of wines that have pronounced "gaminess" and thought this may be the case with this wine. Maybe I was wrong ? Thanks in advance. However, I did pick up some Roshmabo "The Reverend" Zinfandel that sounded quite enjoyable......

                      1. re: TonyO

                        TonyO -

                        Jason would know the ESJ wines better than I because I have only been able to easily find these wines after moving to SOCAL 3+ years ago. Before that, it was hit and miss for me to find the wines. However, my local wine merchant had a mixed lot of ESJ wines from the early 80s thru 2001 marked down to half price. Like you, out of curiosity, I originally bought one from 1988 and one from 1997.

                        Here is what I said about the 1988 on the "What are you drinking right now " thread:

                        "Last night a science experiment: back at home after dinner out, watching the sunset and the stars rise - 1988 Edmunds St John Sonoma Valley Syrah. Picked up at my local wine shop earlier in the day. Still rocking after 19 years. Although I never had the wine when it was released, I doubt it is greatly improved by so many years of aging, but apparently it was not harmed by it either. Comparable to more recent releases by ESJ. Only 12.5 % ABV according to the label."

                        As best I could tell, the 1997 drank pretty much like the most current release I had tried.

                        Given the initial sucess rate (100%) and the relatively bargain price involved, I eventually bought a case of various vintages and vineyards. We have opened about half of the wines, and none of them have been spoiled (none were oxidized, corked, turned to vinegar or otherwise undrinkable and none have had what I would consider "gaminess" to them). All of the wines are the old world style that I associate with ESJ. The oldest was from the early eighties (an 82 or 85 if I recall correctly), and in my opinion, had passed its peak (although, in full disclosure, I never had the wine upon its release, so I do not actually have a point of reference). Although drinkable, it was somewhat flat and pretty much had no finish at all. The cork on this one was beginning to fail where it contacted the wine, but had not yet actually failed and let any wine escape or air into the bottle, but the bottom of the cork was somewhat soft and spongy.

                        My conclusion so far, is that if the wine is properly stored, it is probably good for ten to fifteen years from release, maybe longer under ideal conditions. With any luck, your 2001 would be fine.

                        Interestingly, the older vintages are not the same vineyards that you generally see today (Durell, Bassetti and Wylie-Fenaughty). Some are labeled simply "Sonoma" others "Sonoma Valley" and a few were labelled just "California".

                        I would be interested in your thoughts on the wine after you try it.

                        1. re: scrappydog

                          Thanks scrappydog. Hopefully it is still there when I go back. I'll be sure to file a report if I find it still available.

                        2. re: TonyO

                          Tony, I posted a reply in the other thread.


                      2. I am a fan of Qupe Bien Nacido Reserve Syrah from Santa Barbara. The ones I have had a chance to taste have been full, fruity and complex, and always interesting to drink.

                        I have also heard that Ojai does a nice Syrah.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: moh

                          Both Bob Lundquist at Qupé and Adam Tolmach at The Ojai Vineyard do superb jobs, and are largely responsible for putting Santa BarbaraSyrahs "on the map," so to speak.