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Austin Hope Syrah 2011, Paso Robles

Cost: $41-43

What: The holidays are a good time to splurge on wine. The meals tend to be extravagant, and the wine should be too.

The Austin Hope Syrah is just the wnie for those festive holiday meals or for sipping in front of the fire. Just add a nice beef roast and a bottle of port and you have a meal to remember.

Austin Hope Syrah.
Austin Hope Syrah.

The Austin Hope Syrah is the top of the line for Hope Family Wines, one of the pioneers of the Paso Robles region. The area where the Syrah grapes are grown is just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean, so it gets plenty of fog and cool breezes. Combine that with rocky clay and limestone soil and you have a perfect spot for growing Rhone varietals such as Syrah.

The wine is a gorgeous deep purple color in the glass. Earthy aromas of blackberry and dark fruit make the first sip so inviting. The taste doesn’t disappoint, with flavors of blueberry, blackberry and licorice. A lively acidity balances the rich fruit nicely and makes it a great food wine. The finish is long and smooth, with some herbal overtones.

The 100 percent Syrah is made from four different clones which helps give the wine some depth and complexity. The grapes are hand picked and fermented separately by vineyard block in open-top tanks.

The wine stays there for 10 days, with daily pump-overs for color and tannin extraction. Then it is aged for 10 months in primarily new French oak barrels. The winemaker then decides on the final blend and puts it back into barrels for another three months before bottling.

This is a powerful wine that is ready to drink now, but will continue to develop in the bottle for several more years.

We also tasted the Austin Hope Grenache while on a trip to Maggie Valley in the North Carolina mountains. We shared it with friends, and we all loved it. The wine is a deep red in the glass with aromas of raspberry and plum with touches of spice such as cinnamon and vanilla. The taste is rounded and balanced, with elegant flavors of cherry and strawberry with a hint of black pepper. The finish is long and smooth.
Like the Syrah, the Grenache is fermented for 10 days in open-top tanks before spending 10 months in oak barrels. It, too, will age well in the bottle for several years.

Austin Hope Grenache.
Austin Hope Grenache.

Winery: The Hope family started out in 1978 growing grapes in Paso Robles, roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They were among a handful of families who saw the potential to produce great wines in the Central Coast region, which now has a worldwide reputation for great wine.

Initially they sold their grapes to other winemakers, including Chuck Wagner who makes Caymus and other great wines. They started bottling their own wines in 1996 with Liberty School and Treana after buying the Liberty School label from Wagner.

Hope Family Wines now has five different labels, but the Austin Hope Syrah and Grenache are the only wines that carry the winemaker’s name and feature only estate-grown grapes, so you know they’re going to be special.

The other labels are Candor and Troublemaker. Each label has distinctive wines.

Liberty School produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, a red blend, and recently added a Pinot Noir and a Merlot. The wines are high quality at a reasonable price, and consistent in taste year after year.

The name Treana represents the three natural elements that make Paso Robles a great area for grapes: sun, soil and ocean elements. There are only two wines, a red blend and a white blend, both from Rhone varietals. The white is one of my favorite wines.

Candor offers a Zinfandel and a Merlot that showcase the winemaker’s skills. Each wine blends grapes from different vineyards and different vintages, allowing the winemaker to choose the best of the best.

Like Candor, Troublemaker is another wine that bends the rules. Each year the winemaker selects grapes from different varietals and vintages to produce a complex wine at a reasonable cost. This year’s blend is Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Zinfandel.

The Austin Hope label produces only spectacular, estate-grown Syrah and Grenache.

Austin Hope was named winemaker of the year by the California Mid-State Fair in 2009, three years after his father was named wine person of the year by the same fair.

The company, led by Austin Hope, is known for innovation and experimentation. When I met him a couple of years ago Austin said he was thinking about marketing some of his high end wine in plastic-lined boxes (which many people associate with cheap wine). So far he hasn’t tried that, but with Hope Family Wines, anything is possible.

Austin Hope Syrah with grilled ribs and baked potato.
Austin Hope Syrah with grilled ribs and baked potato.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had the Syrah with a hearty dinner of grilled ribs, baked potato, creamed corn, green beans and salad. It was a great combination, with the lively fruit flavors playing off the spices in the rib rub.

I make my own rub that makes a nice crust as I slowly cook the ribs. Then when we eat them I douse mine in one of my favorite sauces, usually Mumbo sauce or something from 12 Bones.

The wine will pair well with all kinds of meat on the grill, beef stew, lamb chops, Italian sausages, game such as venison and squab, and hearty cheese.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Martinez Reply

    We’re drinking this tonight. More fruit than forest floor, but a good example of cool climate Syrah and tasting very elegant tonight.

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