In each issue of Wine&Spirits, our critics focus on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category that they've tasted in the past year.

     February 2008

Over the last twelve months,
Wine & Spirits tasted 371 syrah.

The following fourteen wines received the strongest praise from our critics.

94  I  Cooper-Garrod $24
2003 Santa Cruz Mountains Finley Vineyard Syrah
From four acres planted at an estate vineyard in 1999, this syrah grows at 750 to 800 feet on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We tasted two vintages of this wine, and the '03 showed a surety and balance that stood apart. It's neither overly fruity nor powerfully tannic, though the wine does have power at its core. As the tart black cherry flavors coast into the finish, the wine feels as cool as coastal fog lifting off a redwood forest. Then it leaves an impression of fresh figs-a little wild, a little smoky. Decant a bottle to serve with artisanal salumi. (312 cases) (W&S 2/08) Cooper-Garrod Vineyards, Saratoga, CA

94  I Star Lane $30
2004 Santa Ynez Valley Syrah
The wild blueberry flavor and mineral-edged tannin give this syrah the intensity of a great petite sirah, attained here with freshness and length that buzzes for minutes after each sip. The tannins explode with the dust of crushed granite while the fruit coasts along, delicious and lithe. For wild boar. (650 cases) (W&S 2/08) Star Lane, Santa Ynez, CA

93  I  Big Basin Vineyards $45
2005 Santa Lucia Highlands Fairview Ranch Syrah
The scent of mulberries and wild fruit gives this an untamed feel, spicy with crushed green peppercorn and lasting red berry flavors. The soft texture turns voluptuous as the wine takes on air, its structure based more on refreshing acidity than powerful tannin. A sleek red for squab with wild mushrooms. (220 cases) (W&S 2/08) Big Basin Vineyards, Boulder Creek, CA

93  I Cep $24
2005 Sonoma Coast Syrah
If you toasted white pepper and sea salt in an iron skillet and threw in some wildflowers, you would have something like the scent of this syrah. There's a lot of life in it-juicy, floral, spicy, its long flavors balanced for braised lamb with olives. (W&S 2/08) Cep Vineyards, Cloverdale, CA

93  I  Peay $45
2005 Sonoma Coast Les Titans Syrah
Meaty and packed with wild blueberry and mulberry flavors, this far-coast syrah balances all that fruit with potent tannins. Those tannins feel earthy for now, tense and edged in black, needing cellar time to relent. The wine as a whole feels rich and complete, finely ripened by its proximity to the Pacific. Check on this five or six years from the vintage. (285 cases) (W&S 2/08) Peay Vineyards, Annapolis, CA

93  I  Testarossa $54
2005 Santa Lucia Highlands Garys' Vineyard Syrah
This meaty syrah is juicy right in the middle, and the juiciness lasts. It tastes of ripe wild blueberries-a beauty, as sleek as a young Crozes-Hermitage with richer fruit. The elevation as well as the powerful winds from the Pacific make this vineyard, planted in 1997, a site to watch for cool-climate syrah. (218 cases) (W&S 12/07) Testarossa Vineyards, Los Gatos, CA

92  I  Beauregard $54
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Zayante Vineyard Syrah
The Beauregards, fourth-generation grape growers in the Santa Cruz Mountains, purchase fruit for this wine from a vineyard north of Felton. It's planted to the Hermitage clone and, in 2005, grew a rich, black syrah. Balanced and smooth, the wine develops a foresty, herbal scent as it opens, gaining redder fruit (strawberry) to last past the richness of the tannin. For the cellar. (200 cases) (W&S 2/08) Beauregard Vineyards, San Jose, CA

92  I  Beckmen $45
2005 Santa Ynez Valley Clone #1 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah
Clone #1 is the UC Davis shiraz clone, sourced from vines planted in 1868 at Best's Vineyard in Victoria, Australia. Biodynamically farmed on the limestone hillsides of Purisima Mountain, this grew a bold and flavorful syrah, packed with meaty flavor and espresso-black tannin. A cushioned, voluptuous red for long-braised lamb. (300 cases) (W&S 2/08) Beckmen Vineyards, Los Olivos, CA

92  I  Beckmen $25
2004 Santa Ynez Valley Syrah
The tart cherry flavors of this syrah have a succulence that keeps the wine fresh, even as the dark chocolate richness of the new French oak shows off a grander intention. It tastes real-peppery, luscious and smoky-perhaps best with lamb sausages. (1,500 cases) (W&S 8/07) Beckmen Vineyards, Los Olivos, CA

92  I  Big Basin Vineyards $54
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Rattlesnake Rock Vineyard Syrah
Bradley Brown began reclaiming an old vineyard site adjacent to Big Basin in 1998. He planted Rattlesnake Rock in 2000, at an elevation rising to 1,400 feet. Given the native yeast fermentation and the 100 percent new oak used in aging, you can expect the wine to be wild and powerful. It is, in fact, floral and black, with a meatiness to the aroma that one taster described as “blood sausage in a glass." The blueberry fruit is cut by sharp notes of conifer and black pepper, providing a tension to the wine that lasts. Decant it for roast venison or other game. (340 cases) (W&S 2/08) Big Basin Vineyards, Boulder Creek, CA

92  I  Peay $45
2005 Sonoma Coast La Bruma Syrah
Named for the fog that settles over this far-coast vineyard, you can sense the moisture that once glistened on the grape skins, now providing the beautiful freshness in this syrah. The aroma holds black and white pepper, along with something floral, like violets. That, and the pure textural pleasure, make the wine compelling. For now, the finish is shorter than its sibling, Les Titans, though it may lengthen with age. (460 cases) (W&S 2/08) Peay Vineyards, Annapolis, CA

92  I  Lagier Meredith $50
2005 Mount Veeder Napa Valley Syrah
This vintage from Steven Lagier and Carole Meredith's vineyard on Mount Veeder is fuller and deeper in tone than the previous two. It needs several hours in a decanter to spread beyond the confines of new oak and ripe fruit, yielding brighter crushed peppercorn scents. Cellar and then serve it with roast boar. (W&S 2/08) Lagier Meredith Winery, Napa, CA

92  I  Qupé $35
2005 Santa Barbara County Alisos Vineyard Syrah
There's tension between the vibrant blackberry fruit and the crushed black peppercorn spice in this wine's tannin. Focused on black, concentrated flavor, it's a mouthwatering red for a grilled bone-in pork chop. (108 cases) (W&S 2/08) Qupé Wine Cellars, Santa Maria, CA

92  I  Truchard $28
2003 Carneros Napa Valley Syrah
Decant this syrah to get past the initial scents of black fruit and smoke. A redder tone emerges, as does a gamey scent. The peppery spice of the tannin lengthens with the red fruit, capturing the silkiness of the texture and seeming to extend it. The Truchards consistently grow one of the more elegant syrahs in California. It's well suited to several years of age. (2,110 cases) (W&S 10/07) Truchard Vineyards, Napa, CA