Between the Vines is a biweekly column on wine and wine making in the Livermore Valley region. This column was contributed by members of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.

Each month, Livermore Valley wine country highlights a grape varietal grown in our region. May's featured varietal is syrah, a dark-skinned grape grown to create commanding red wines. Wines labeled syrah, or sometimes Shiraz, are popular all over the world and known to be bold, complex and long-lived.

"I grow syrah because of the incredible fruit-forward flavors and because it's a perfect fit for the weather and soil conditions of Livermore Valley," says Tom Heineman, the Bent Creek Winery owner who also sells syrah grapes to Charles R Vineyards. "Syrah grapes seem to flourish, require limited attention and thrive all on their own. Syrah loves the Livermore Valley."

Fourth-generation vintner John Concannon agrees that "the climate and soil of the Livermore Valley, particularly our rocky estate vineyard, is very similar to that of the Rhône Valley, of which the syrah grape is native. Syrah really thrives here and feels comfortably at home at Concannon Vineyard."

"The expresso and earthy truffle notes combined with savory always make syrah a good choice for California summertime alfresco dining," says winemaker Jim Frost, of AuburnJames. "Our 2009 Nelson Vineyard Syrah is a perfect pairing with pepper steak, grilled meats and vegetables, select semihard cheeses and truffles."

Winemaker Rhonda Wood, of Wood Family Vineyards, says that her "Syrah tends to pair very well with lamb dishes and comfort food such as cassoulet, beef stew, shepherds pie or meatballs and marinara."


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"We find flavors in syrah that vary between wine-soaked chocolate and roasted chocolate covered almonds with a similar aroma character," says William Westover Smyth, of Westover Winery in Castro Valley.

"The versatility of syrah wine is one of the things that makes it so special," notes Concannon, "No one aroma or flavor could really be called 'typical' of syrah, as these characteristics vary greatly. It is high in phenols, making it a big, rich, powerful wine with a fullness comparable to cabernet sauvignon, but it is somewhat lesser-known and therefore more surprising!"

Find syrah at these Livermore Valley wineries: AuburnJames, Bent Creek Winery, Big White House Winery, Bodegas Aguirre Winery, Charles R Vineyards, Concannon Vineyard, Crooked Vine Winery, Cuda Ridge Wines, Dante Robere, Darcie Kent Vineyards, Eckert Estate Winery, Fenestra Winery, Garré Vineyard and Winery, John Evan Cellars, Les Chenes Estate Vineyards, Longevity Wines, Mitchell Katz Winery, Nottingham Cellars, Occasio Winery, Page Mill Winery, Stony Ridge Winery, The Steven Kent Winery, Thomas Coyne Winery, Wente Vineyards, Westover Vineyards, White Crane Winery and Wood Family Vineyards.

To learn more, visit www.LVwine.org or www.discovercaliforniawines.com

Wine Country Events:

  • Father's Day Festivities at Murrieta's Well -- Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Murrieta's Well, 3005 Mines Road, Livermore, CA 94550; www.murrietaswell.com. Cost is $10. Bring Dad and enjoy live music and barbecue by Bart's Blazin Q. Special flight paired with featured barbecue pork slider. Visit early, limited to supply on hand. Wear your ugly tie and save $3. For information call 925-456-2395 or visit www.murrietaswell.com.

  • Evening in the Vineyards -- June 21 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Las Positas Vineyards, 1828 Wetmore Road, Livermore, CA 94550; www.laspositasvineyards.com. Cost is $30. Enjoy live music by Jack Quigley, dancing, a glass of wine and artisan pizzettas crafted by On the Vine Catering. Reservations are required, so call 925-449-9463 or email info@laspositasvineyards.com.