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Austin Hope Syrah, 2011

Austin Hope Syrah

I asked Ken to pass along a few words about a wine he recently came across. Austin Hope Syrah. He tasted the 2011, which might be difficult to find. But we thought you might appreciate having Austin Hope on your radar. We’ll include some links to help you track it down (or more likely the 2012 vintage). GREG

2011 Austin Hope Syrah

Why would you choose to drink something that brings sensations of dirt, leather and acid to mind? Balance it with intense dark berry flavors, a pleasing warmth, spice and a touch of vanilla and you might reconsider. Especially if you’re sitting down to a nibble of charred octopus followed by a heaping plate of grilled lamb chops and winter squash. With good friends.

We’re talking wine, of course. In this case, 2011 Austin Hope Syrah. Austin Hope is an actual person, a second-generation wine grower and Rhone varietal aficionado. His family had him helping out in the fields when he was eight years old, and it seems like he never left (except for a couple of wine pilgrimages here and abroad). Why would he?

Austin’s father Chuck placed a bet on Paso Robles in the late 1970’s, moving his farming family there from Bakersfield to plant their first vineyards. Good timing. California wine was coming into its own, with a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality. As a testament to the Hope family’s high standards, Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley sought out Hope Farm’s grapes for Liberty School, his second label wine. Mr. Wagner also played an important part in Austin Hope’s career, first as his employer and then as a mentor.

But Austin’s heart was in Paso Robles, not the glamorous Napa Valley. He took pride in the land and his family’s place in its development. His father was a key player in the formation of the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association. Austin saw parallels between the climate, weather and soil conditions in Paso and the Rhone Valley. He sought to express the unique “somewhereness” or terroir of his family’s land by replanting a portion of their vineyards to Rhone varietals in the 1990’s. By 2000 he’d launched the Austin Hope label to focus on premium, artisanal wines.

His Syrah is a prime example. Syrah is said to have originated in the northern Rhone Valley of eastern France. It’s a relatively hardy and versatile grape: exhibiting floral and deeply fruity aromas when young, and developing peppery, smoky and herbaceous notes with age. Though only three years old, the 2011 Austin Hope Syrah is sophisticated and complex– a rich dark ruby color with medium-plus body, earthy aromatics, spice and a tart taste of black raspberry and blackberry fruit, complemented by a slight bitterness (often found in Old World wines) followed by a nice long meaty finish. The structure provided by strong, fine tannins support the wisdom of buying an extra bottle or two to lay down for future enjoyment.

According to the Rhone Rangers, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting (and drinking?) American Rhone varietal wines, Syrah is this country’s fastest growing grape varietal.

Tastemakers and influencers have tired of the push for Pinot Noir (thanks to “Sideways”) and the astronomical prices of small-production hand-crafted California Cabernets. They want the next new thing, as long as it’s relatively rare and exquisitely made. (iPhone 6 anyone?)

Austin Hope SyrahAustin Hope would do well to stage a few events where he could tell his story and put his wine in a glass in front of these eager early adopters. His Syrah retails for $42 per bottle, with a mere 2,500 six-bottle cases produced. It’s SIP Certified. Tasting the wine’s powerful, yet nuanced flavors (paired with a few well chosen bites) justifies its premium pricing, the limited production creates a sense of urgency. Food bloggers, wine writers, sustainability consultants… all could help spread the word and build the buzz. Social media is a powerful tool: a simultaneous tasting in an Earth Day Tweet Up is just one way to create awareness for the latest release. Another idea would be wine sponsorship of a local “green” event, say one of the quarterly panel discussions put on by the LA Sustainability Business Council. Austin Hope, in his current position of winemaker and Vice Chair of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Board of Directors, could also promote his eponymous Syrah, and pay homage to his family’s hermitage (insider wine geek pun) by offering internships to the next generation of local winemakers. KEN

2011 Austin Hope Syrah

2012 Austin Hope Syrah

What to Drink Now: Cool Weather Reds

Price $42

  • Category Red Wine
  • Varietal Syrah
  • Region Paso Robles CA