Carnivores and grillers, a few reasons to love Syrah: it’s a fantastic wine for pairing with any roasted meats, especially red meats like beef and lamb, as well as wild game. It is often peppery and sometimes smoky, with a roasted fruit and/or roasted meat flavor profile that makes it a fine accompaniment to anything barbecued or grilled (even, ahem, vegetables of all kinds). It also tends to be a relative value, as high quality bottles can be found for as low as $20 to $35.
The following timely list highlights my top choices for Syrahs priced at less than $50, cherry-picked out of several hundred recent vintage Syrahs tasted over the past year. This includes wines primarily from cooler locations in California, like the Sonoma Coast and Santa Barbara County, as well as a South African Syrah and a Syrah-based Côtes-du-Rhône from one of the greatest producers in France’s Rhône region.
The rankings below are based first on my score. Then for those wines ranked, for example, at 93 points, I’ve listed the lower priced wines first. As you’ll see, there are a lot of relative bargains on this list: some very tasty, savory Syrahs, as low as $23 for one from Santa Barbara County’s Ballard Canyon area, which is a very up and coming location for distinctive Syrahs that you can expect to be hearing a lot more about in the coming years. And for a 95-point Syrah, the Dierberg at $34 is hard to beat. So find your favorite among my favorites, and get grilling!
1. Dierberg Syrah
Dierberg is a very impressive project founded by Jim and Mary Dierberg with the purchase and planting of their first vineyard in Santa Barbara County in 1997. Andy Alba, who has been on the winemaking team since the first vintage in 2001, is now the lead winemaker. This is simply an awesome wine that represents a terrific value for its quality at $34. You can enjoy it by itself, but it would be a memorable pairing with grilled steak or lamb.
Opaque, black-tinged purple red violet color; very appealing, roasted plum, black fruit, black pepper, espresso nose; rich, delicious, roasted black fruit, pepper, violets palate with good acidity; needs two to three years; long finish. 14.5% alcohol. 95 points
2. Saxon Brown
Jeff Gaffner is the owner/winemaker of Saxon Brown, which he started in 1997 as a showcase for favorite vineyard sites. He learned winemaking under Richard Arrowood at Chateau St. Jean, and has since gone on to become a sought after consulting winemaker.
Very dark ruby color; appealing, tart blackberry, tart black fruit, tar, black pepper, white pepper nose; tasty, roasted black fruit, black pepper, tar, violets, tart berry palate with depth; long finish. Shiraz clone 1 with 3-4% Viognier and a little Marsanne and Roussanne to help set color. 94 points
3. Rusack Syrah Ballard Canyon
Rusack is owned by Geoff and Alison Rusack, who replanted their estate vineyard in Ballard Canyon in 2003. The winemaker is the talented Steven Gerbac, who was recently named head winemaker after working at Rusack since 2003. With its roasted and dried cured meat aromas and flavors, this Syrah is a terrific value at $23.
Saturated, very dark ruby color; roasted black fruit, roasted meat, pepper, oregano nose; tight, dense, roasted black fruit, tart black fruit, savory, pepper, dried cured meat palate; medium-plus finish. 9% Petite Sirah; 2% American oak. 93+ points
4. Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray has been making delicious Syrahs and other Rhône varieties in Santa Barbara County for over 20 years. He is committed to value pricing, offering some of his Rhône blends for as low as $15. This peppery, single-vineyard Syrah would sing with any grilled red meat.
Opaque black-tinged purple red violet color; appealing, liquid pepper, roasted plum, roasted meat nose; rich, velvety textured, tart berry, tart black fruit, tar, pepper, black berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish. 14.9% alcohol. 93+ points
Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, pepper, tar, charcoal nose; tasty, poised, complex, pepper, roasted black fruit, mineral, tar palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish. With 4% co-fermented Viognier. 93 points
5. Halcón Vineyards
Paul and Valerie Gordon own Halcón Vineyard, planted primarily with heritage Syrah clones from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie and situated at 2500 feet at the top of Hawk’s Butte in Yorkville Highlands, at the eastern edge of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. Winemaker Scott Shapley was assistant winemaker for Novy, and then head winemaker at Crushpad. He is currently winemaker for Roessler Cellars as well as Halcón.
Opaque purple red violet color; lifted, lavender, violets, tart berry nose; delicious, tart berry, black fruit, tar, mineral palate; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish. 93+ points
6. Bedrock Wine Co.
Morgan Twain Peterson, son of Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson, founded this label which has rapidly gained renown for making characterful wines primarily from very old vineyards. The Bedrock mailing list quickly closed last year, but this wine has broader availability and would be delightful with a summer barbecue, or any grilled red meat.
Dark ruby color; very aromatic, berry, black plum, blackberry, creosote nose; tasty, tight, tart black fruit, pepper, creosote palate; medium-plus finish . Roughly 1/3 whole cluster, 20% new oak; fruit mainly from Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, with a little Griffin's Lair, Hudson and Old Lakeville. 93+ points
7. Westerhold Family Vineyards
Westerhold Family is a small producer of terrific, flavorful estate Syrahs made by the talented Russell Bevan. The vineyard, in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley AVA, is planted to the Alban clone 1 of Syrah. For those who like their Syrahs big and flavorful, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Opaque purple red violet color; tart black fruit, tar, licorice nose; tasty, intense, tart black fruit, tar, licorice palate; long finish. 22 months in French oak. 93+ points
Very dark purple red violet color; tart plum, tart black fruit, smoke, charcoal nose; tasty, plush, ripe berry, black fruit, violets palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
8. Bien Nacido Vineyards
Bien Nacido Vineyards comprises over 750 acres of vines in a beautiful canyon setting. The first plantings date back to 1973 and the vineyard encompasses everything from valley floor to hillside vineyards, some of which are farmed biodynamically for particular clients. Most of their fruit is sold to other wineries, but the Miller Family that owns Bien Nacido started making a small amount of wine under their own label in 2010. The winemaker is Trey Fletcher, who was previously assistant winemaker at Littorai.
Opaque black red violet color; appealing, lifted, roasted black fruit, black and white pepper, charcoal nose; tight, tasty, tart roasted black fruit, black and white pepper, mineral palate with purity and salinity; medium-plus finish. 14.5% alcohol; from Block Z, with about 5% interplanted Viognier, planted in late 1980s. 93+ points
9. Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard
Proprietor/winemaker Bob Lindquist started Qupé in 1982 by buying grapes and making his wine at Zaca Mesa. In 1989 Bob joined with Jim Clendenen (who had started Au Bon Climat in 1982) to build a winery facility of their own under a lease agreement with the Bien Nacido Vineyard. In 2005, Bob and his wife Louisa planted 40 acres at their 80-acre ranch in the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo, which is now the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. This is a pepper lover’s Syrah.
Medium cherry red color; hibiscus, tart red fruit, pepper nose; very peppery, cigar box, tobacco palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points
10. Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Qupé Syrah
See winery background under #9 above.
Medium ruby color; pepper, very savory, charcoal nose; tasty, savory, tart black fruit, tobacco, roasted meat palate; medium-plus finish. 93 points
See background under wine #2 above.
Very dark purple/red violet color; appealing, roasted black fruit, pepper, tar, incipient bacon fat, violets nose; tasty, firm, tart black fruit, roasted black fruit, black pepper, black olive palate with good acidity; needs one to two years; long finish. Durrell selection clone; 14.7% alcohol. 93 points
12. Mullineux Family Wines
The Mullineux Family consists of Chris and Andrea, who were previously at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (now Fable Wines) until they married in 2007 and decided to launch their own project. Syrah is their focus, and this is a delicious one, especially for those who love ripe black fruit in their Syrah, with touches of herbs.
Lavender, tart berry, black fruit nose; tasty, lavender, tart berry, black fruit, herbal palate; medium-plus finish. 20% whole cluster. 93 points
13. Domaine Auguste Clape
Auguste Clape has long been one of the most renowned producers in the Northern Rhone, especially for his Cornas from estate vineyards. Due to Clape’s reputation and commitment to traditional winemaking, this Côtes du Rhône is one of that appellation’s highest priced wines, but it’s a delicious offering that would be a superb accompaniment to a summer barbecue.
Opaque purple red violet color; nice tart black fruit, tar, licorice, black pepper nose; tight, coiled, concentrated, complex, tarry, tart black fruit, lovely herbs, licorice palate, medium-plus finish 93 points
14. Dragonette Cellars
The proprietors/winemakers of Dragonette are John and Steve Dragonette and their friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis. They source this Syrah-based blend, called Seven, from seven different vineyards in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley and York Mountain (west of Paso Robles).
Saturated very dark ruby color; roasted black fruit, pepper, charcoal nose; tasty, roasted black fruit, tar, charcoal, pepper palate; needs 4-plus years; medium-plus finish. 22 months in barrel, 45% new; 92% Syrah, 5% Grenache, 2% Mourvedre, 1% Viognier. 93 points
15. Zotovich Family
Steve Zotovich is the owner of Zotovich Family Vineyards, which is based on estate fruit grown in the relatively cool Sta. Rita Hills. The consulting winemaker for this vintage was Steve Brewer of Palmina and Brewer-Clifton. The roasted fruit and pepper flavors will make this an enjoyable pairing either for meats or grilled vegetables.
Very dark red color; reticent, roasted plum, light pepper nose; pepper, green peppercorn, tart roasted black fruit, mineral palate; medium-plus finish; clone 1. 93 points