That Syrah is tough to sell is an old wine business cliché, and as with most clichés, there’s some truth in it. For whatever reason, this beguiling, dark-skinned grape hasn’t captivated wine drinkers the way other varieties have. I think it’s because the best Syrahs somehow seem inscrutable. Instead of leaping out of the glass, they pull you in. They have interesting and unusual aromas, and are slightly off-kilter in an intriguing way, like the waltz in 5/4 time in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. If you happen to be a Syrah devotee, like me, you probably appreciate these qualities in your wine—and perhaps in your music as well.
Although everyone’s experience is different, I’d be willing to wager that for most Syrah lovers, the seminal Syrah experience was with a bottle from the northern Rhône. It’s an improbable combination of grape and place, with vineyards so steep and punishing to work that even the scions of famous domaines think twice about taking over from their hardworking parents. Louis Barruol traverses the slopes of Côte Rôtie—the northernmost appellation in the northern Rhône—for the most expressive parcels of Syrah. He vinifies each separately, and then Kermit tastes through every lot and assembles the final blends.
Farther south, at Domaine Gramenon, the terrain is a bit less forbidding and the Syrah a bit more extroverted. Proprietor Michèle Aubèry-Laurent skews natural in her farming and winemaking, and her wines are effortlessly enjoyable. Maybe you’re not in the mood for Tchaikovsky and would prefer some mischievous Stravinsky instead.
Don’t be thrown off by the appellation. This Côtes-du-Rhône is all Syrah: lots of flowers, dark berry fruit, and smoky notes for diligent sniffers to discover.