There is a joke in the wine world that goes something like this: ‘What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of pneumonia?’

‘You can get rid of a case of pneumonia!’
Syrah sales have stagnated or dropped in the U.S. in recent years depending on how the research numbers are crunched. But everyone agrees Syrah never lived up to its ‘next-best thing’ potential.

Steve Cass

“Supermarket sales are down and you look and see Syrah sales are down,” said Steve Cass, Cass Winery, Paso Robles, CA. “But also take a look and you see Australian sales are down. There is a massive amount of Syrah or Shiraz (same grape) in this country going out at a fairly low price point. It’s not going out as premium wine.

“Our Syrah is our number-one selling red wine. I don’t think people are turned off by Syrah, maybe they’re turned off to cheap Syrah.”

Gary Eberle

California’s Syrah pioneer Gary Eberle agreed. “I think everybody is always looking for the new hot wine. When Merlot died I think everybody started looking for the next hot red wine and everybody jumped on Syrah. I just don’t think the consumer was ready for that much Syrah.”

Jason Hass of Tablas Creek Winery put numbers to the perception. “If you look at the planted acreage of Syrah over the course of the 1990s, 1992-2002, Syrah acreage went from just under 900 to more than 15,000 acres in California. Even though sales were growing really fast throughout that period there was just no way the market was going to absorb that much new Syrah.
“I don’t think you should confuse the fact there is extra Syrah on the market with the fact Syrah is not a varietal gaining popularity. It’s just a case of supply growing so fast it was going to overwhelm whatever demand was there any way.”

J.C. Diesenderfer

J.C. Diesenderfer, Hope Vineyards, said Syrah never found its market niche’. “We’re all really passionate about Syrah. We always felt Syrah was the next king of California. But it never found its spot. Syrah can be bright, mineral, soft and elegant. It can be a big bruiser. It can be anything in between.”

If you are a regular wine drinker you might recall grocery and liquor store shelves with plenty of Syrah. In recent months, you see far less Syrah or Shiraz. These prominent winemakers hit the nail right on the head during a seminar I attended last fall. The market was just flooded with cheap Shiraz, largely from Australia.
“I think Syrah does beautifully in Paso Robles,” Eberle said. “But I think Syrah does beautifully in a whole lot of different areas as well. In our tasting rooms we sell 1,000 cases of Syrah a year. There are people in this area making spectacular Syrah.

Terry Hoage

Then there is former NFL safety turned winemaker Terry Hoage who said Syrah sells when consumers are educated and they taste good Syrah. “I think it is a matter of education because it’s difficult for people to know what they’re getting. The largest hurdle we have to overcome in our industry is not dumbing down for the audience but making the audience feel comfortable that’s its ok to try new things. Push the envelope; just don’t go for a safe Cabernet. That is probably our biggest challenge.”

Howard’s Picks:
Central Coast Syrah is some of the best I’ve consumed. The winemakers quoted above all make incredible Syrah but at a higher price point ($20 and up) than I normally include in this column. There is plenty of Central Coast Syrah below $20 from makers like Qupe’. Washington State Syrah is often found at very reasonable prices with soft and balanced fruit.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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