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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Syrah was to be The Next Big Thing

Wine is a trendy business. Last year it was Moscato, this year it's Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. The problem is you can't just throw a few vines in the ground and have bottles of the next big wine ready to go in a few months. It takes a lot of money and many years before you're ready to hop on the bandwagon with the next hot wine.

Twenty-five years ago everybody was planting Syrah in California. It was going to be The Next Big Thing. One issue right off was: Were we going to make a "real" Syrah like out of the Rhone or maybe a simpler, more approachable one like those from Australia that were all the rage at the time? California Syrah is kind of a tweener and it didn't catch on to the extent people hoped.

The real problem IMO is "straight" Syrah isn't usually that interesting. It's better blended, however blends don't do well in American wine. Our wine labeling laws tend to push everything towards making varietals. That is, by law you must have at least 75% of Syrah  in a wine to be able to call it Syrah. If it's less than 75% in the blend there are no rules or standardization around what call it so you make up a name.

One combination of grapes for Syrah blends is known as GSM for Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Grenache, and especially Mourvedre, aren't exactly recognizable names in America let alone trying to pronounce Mourvedre (more VED rah). GSM is a Rhone-style blend meaning they blend Syrah this way in the Rhone region of France.

TJ's is on to the GSM blends
We actually have official names for Cabernet Sauvignon-type blends called Meritage though that term never really caught on well (for one, you have to pay a fee to use it). Maybe coming up with a free-to-use and easy-to-remember term for Syrah-based blends is the way to go though up until now this isn't something we've done in this country. So far, some have been using GSM and that works as long as those are the grapes in the blend and your targeted consumers are going to know what that means.

There are also white Rhone-type blends using even more obscure (to Americans) grapes. Both the red and white blends can be very nice wines. There are usually a lot more interesting, too, than your basic Chardonnay and Merlot.

If you wish to sample some of these wines start with the well-respected maker Tablas Creek of central California. If you have a local wine shop ask them about GSM blends. They come in all price ranges so you can find something. Maybe these Rhone-style blends will be the Next Big Thing -- if people know what they are when they see them on a store shelf.