Syrah: The New Pinot?

It’s easy to have pinot envy. Pinot noir is everywhere these days, as the world is discovering the luxurious wines of Santa Barbara County. But just over the hill from the famed Santa Rita Hills appellation, another star is emerging: Syrah. If the Wine Cask Futures Tasting event shows anything, it’s that syrah is poised to make pinot noir, and other wines, jealous.

Syrah (also called shiraz in other parts of the world) is hitting its stride here at home. Producers like Beckmen, Curran, Bedford-Thompson, Koehler, Shoestring, and others are hitting high notes and high scores. “Syrah is very hip,” said Joey Tensley, winemaker for both Carina Cellars and his own Tensley label. “The cool thing about syrah is that it adapts to various growing conditions very well.” Syrah grapes have thick skins and it thrives remarkably well in an assortment of different microclimates, from cool areas like Lompoc all the way to the oppressively hot Happy Canyon area, resulting in a wide field of flavors. As one of the best producers of the varietal in Santa Barbara County, Tensley understands that syrah can make excellent easy-drinking wines that don’t break the wallet.

Mike Carhartt, Carhartt Vineyards’ owner and winemaker, along with his wife, Brook, lauds the grape’s ability to thrive in unusual weather and adverse conditions. “It’s a very forgiving varietal,” he explained. “Even in difficult vintages, it still tastes great.” In part, that’s due to the fact that syrah so uniquely represents the soil which it came from. “What’s in the bottle is 90 percent of what’s in the vineyard,” Mike noted of syrah’s inclination to grow well with little oversight. “Will it replace pinot or cabernet? I don’t think so. Pinot here in Santa Barbara is king. But syrah definitely has its place. There’s something for everyone.”

4·1·1   No need to take our word for it. Taste for yourself at the Wine Cask’s Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting, this Saturday, April 22 from noon to 3 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit or call 966-9463.

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