Syrah can be broken down into two groups—warm climate and cool climate. If 24.5 brix is the standard for basic ripeness, cool-climate syrahs are defined by regions that struggle to get enough heat and degree days to achieve 24 brix before the canopy gives out. Santa Barbara, Monterey and the coastal areas of Sonoma and northern California are all cool climate regions, as are Washington state and the Northern Rhone region of France.
Cool climates produce a Syrah with loads of mid-palate spice and black pepper notes accompanied by a lean and racy mouthfeel with a tight finish, due to the relatively high acid content still remaining in the wines. These are stunning wines—like “Emma Peel”, dressed in a skin-tight bodysuit, driving a Jaguar E-Type. The secret agent. The international assassin. These wines age beautifully because of their acid balance and pair with gamey foods like lamb on the rack, but they’ve got a formidable bite.
Warm climate Syrahs are found in places like Paso Robles and the warmer parts of Australia. In these locations, there is plenty of heat and degree days so we have no problem reaching 26, 27 or even 28 brix. These very high sugars translate into big wines with high alcohol content. As the grape ripens, it’s gaining sugar and losing acid. When it approaches over-ripeness, the grape will hit a point where most of the acid drops out. The subsequent Ph is extremely high. This translates into a big, fat, silken mouthfeel in the finish of the wine. All the mid-palate spice and pepper are gone, and it becomes what I call a “J Lo wine" (full, sexy back end). These voluptuous wines sacrifice balance in exchange for a friendly, approachable mouthfeel. They're popular with many wine drinkers because the appeal is immediate. But without enough acid, the fruit becomes tired and, subsequently, does not age well.
Both warm climate and cool climate Syrahs have their advantages, and I have enjoyed them both on multiple occasions. But always, in the middle of that big sexy finish of a warm climate Syrah, I find myself longing for some mid-palate spice and pepper. And in turn, cooler climate Syrahs leave me wishing they had a more voluptuous finish. The perfect Syrah needs to be the best of both worlds. An ideal combination of mid-palate pepper and spice, married with a big sexy finish.
The fun thing about being a winemaker is—once you realize what you want—you can just make it. So I did.
Introducing Auspicious Omen: a blend of cool and warm climate fruit, joined together to produce the perfect Syrah.