March-April 2011 | QUE SYRAH, SYRAH




A new Syrah arrives on the Eastern Shore compliments of the Worcester County Liquor Control Board

Written By: Nick Brandi

Due to hit the Eastern Shore in March is the latest Syrah from the vineyards of the Napa Valley. Produced by California winemaker Dave Guffy, of Guffy Family Wines, the new vintage is being brought to the region exclusively by the Worcester County Liquor Control Board.

The discovery is something of a coup for Lisa Valko, wine manager of the WCLCB. Valko first became aware of the product last year, when she’d attended a Wine Spectator tasting event in Washington, D.C. It was there that she reconnected with Don Hess, of the Hess family winery. After they had gotten to talking about – and ultimately sampling – Guffy’s homespun Syrah, Valko decided it would be an exciting new product to offer wine lovers on the Eastern Shore.

“It was at the Hess booth that I first experienced the Guffy Syrah,” Valko recalled, “and it immediately presented all my favorite qualities in a wine. The full-bodied fruits were at once captured on the palate but were followed by another favorite of mine: mocha chocolate! By this point, I was fully enchanted. I later told Don [Hess] that the WCLCB would be delighted to be the first to bring Guffy Syrah to Maryland. I feel very fortunate to have found such a treasure and proud to be able to share this wine with Maryland’s Eastern Shore. To me, it’s a work of art in a bottle.”

Though Syrah has been around a long time, its popularity among wine enthusiasts spiked when the Australian version, known as Shiraz (“Syrah” is the French name), started arriving on U.S. shores in droves following a dramatic expansion of
production due to government subsidies in the 1990s.

Whether one prefers to call it “Syrah” or “Shiraz,” the grape is heralded because of its general agreeability.

“It’s a very fruit-forward wine,” Guffy said. “It’s also a soft and giving wine, largely due to the low level of tannen, so it’s an extremely rich-colored grape that finishes round and supple. It can be enjoyed in a variety of contexts, including as accompaniment to foods such as duck and other roasted meats or just as a sipping wine, entirely independent of food.”

For his Syrah, Guffy decided to go old-school, which required every member of his nuclear family – and then some.

“My vineyard is literally in my backyard,” said Guffy, a winemaker with 27 years’ experience who not only has a self-named vineyard in the Napa Valley, he also functions as the director of winemaking for California’s esteemed Hess Collection. “I, my wife, Julie, and our daughters, Nicole and Jenny, all work the fields on a regular basis, or else this project never would have happened. I didn’t want a separate vintner and a separate bottler… I wanted a Guffy to do everything, hands-on, from beginning to end.

“I have even deployed Mittens and Mocha, our cats, to keep the gophers at bay,” he laughed, “and Sam, our black lab, to guard the cave and shoo away the deer.”

The result is an intimate vintage that is exceptionally fruitful and flavorful, owing largely to the comparatively consistent Napa Valley climate, which Guffy said contributes to the full ripening of the grape before its fermented. As silky smooth as it is darkly opulent, its maker promises gratifying nuances of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry to insinuate both the nose and the palate.

Since Guffy reports that almost all his vineyard’s current sales are from consumer-direct purchases, the WCLCB, for the time being, is the only authorized and official distributor of Guffy Family Wines’ Syrah in the entire U.S. Right now, only 40 cases exist on the Eastern Shore, but WCLCB spokespeople say they will be prepared to deliver on what they expect will be a rapidly escalating local demand.

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