The Culture of Food and Drink

Home / Drinking  / A Syrah to Savor

A Syrah to Savor

Sometimes at a big tasting, as I’m sipping and spitting dozens of wines, one will just jump out with its sheer deliciousness.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2008 Edmunds St. John Syrah "Cuvée Fairbairn"

 Mendocino County, California
 100 percent syrah
 13.6 percent
 With succulent beef stew

That’s what happened when I sampled the 2008 Edmunds St. John Syrah “Cuvée Fairbairn,” a deep syrah with savory flavor notes of berries, pepper, and leather and aromas of lavender and smoke. This is maverick California winemaker Steve Edmunds’ first wine ever from biodynamic grapes.

Like Edmunds’ several other syrahs, it comes from a single vineyard. Fairbairn Ranch is in Hopland, on the west bank of the Russian River in Mendocino County, and has been farmed biodynamically since it was first planted in the early 1990s. Edmunds’ minimalist winemaking and use of used French oak barrels, then stainless steel, lets the very pure character of these grapes shine through.

One of the state’s syrah pioneers, Edmunds made his first one in 1985, the year he founded the winery with his wife Cornelia St. John. That first syrah wasn’t a success and was sold as a cheap red, but never mind. Things changed a year later, when they found better syrah vineyard sources. Since then they’ve specialized in Rhone varietals and gamay, purchasing grapes from vineyards in San Luis Obispo, Napa and El Dorado counties, then trucking them to the Audubon Cellars winery in Berkeley where they make their wines.

Most California syrah is a hard sell these days. But this wine has depth, structure and vibrancy. In style, it’s closer to the Northern Rhone than to the many powerful, too sweet, over-the-top California examples.

Full and juicy, it gives plenty of pleasure right now, but will get better and better with age — and it’s a bargain at this price.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”