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A few regions in the world are nearly synonymous with a particular wine or wine grape. Napa Valley and cabernet sauvignon. Burgundy and pinot noir. Australia’s Barossa Valley and shiraz. Champagne in France and, well, champagne. In the past 10 years, a new contender has arrived on the scene: California’s central coast and syrah. Compared to other more established regions, the central coast is a youngster with lots of new vineyards and winemaker experimentation. Oenologically speaking, the central coast runs from Monterey in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. This area contains a number of sub-regions with the ability to produce exceptional syrahs. A word of caution, however: Since these sub-regions and wineries are relative babies, the amount of wine made is pretty small. But they are worth searching out. At the northern edge of the region are the small, relatively new vineyards of Arroyo Seco, near Monterey. Wines like J.C. Cellars’ 2004 Ventana Vineyards syrah is showing the great things that can be done here. Bursting with red berries and cherries on the nose, the wine has bright acidity and long finish. A couple hours south, Paso Robles wines benefit from a growing season with warm days and cool nights. Summerwood Winery produces a range of syrahs, but look for their vineyard-specific syrahs. The 2004 Denner Vineyard syrah is a smooth and mellow fruit bomb. It smells of earth, red cherries, plums, and red berries and tastes like milk chocolate-covered cherries. The 2004 James Berry Vineyard syrah is the exact opposite. Aromas of nutmeg and dark fruits dominate the nose, while dark chocolate and blackberry flavors entertain the tongue. Firm tannins and high acidity give the wine a firm backbone. Both of these wines, while very different, are fantastic. Another player to watch is Denner Vineyards. A grape supplier to some of Paso Robles’ most cultish wineries (notably Linne Calodo and Villa Creek — both makers of blended wines), Denner now produces and bottles wine under its own label. Denner’s 2005 syrah explodes in the nose with vanilla, caramel, black cherries, and tamarind. A fair amount of oak on the palate is balanced by good acidity and flavors of dark fruit and a hint of charred meat. Two more newcomers to watch are Terry Hoage and Cass. Terry Hoage’s 2005 The Hedge syrah gushes with aromas of vanilla and spice, while sweet, dark fruit flavors linger in a low acid, medium-long finish. Cass’ 2004 estate syrah goes the other way, emphasizing pure fruit on the nose with just a touch of oak adding to the black fruit flavors, medium acidity, and smooth tannins. Santa Barbara is probably the most established region in the central coast. Beckman Vineyards makes a few syrahs, all worth checking out. The medium-bodied 2005 estate syrah mixes earth, gaminess, and black cherry on the nose with flavors of black fruits and vanilla and a medium finish. The 2005 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Clone No. 1 syrah takes it up a notch. Aromas of sage, rosemary, blueberry, and blackberry go nicely with the dark fruit-flavored core that is balanced with smooth tannins and a long, deep finish. Kunin Wine’s syrahs also don’t disappoint. The 2005 Santa Barbara syrah offers a big whiff of red fruits cherries, strawberries, with the same fruits on palate mixed with baking spices and leading to a clean finish. The more complex and elegant 2004 Alisos Vineyard syrah smells (pleasantly) of barnyard and meat. The black cherry and dark chocolate flavors linger in the finish. The wines from Curtis Winery offer more choices. The 2004 Crossroads syrah is a nice everyday wine with flavors of blackberries and vanilla. The 2004 Ambassador’s Road syrah is a little more interesting with notes of prunes and plums on the nose and smooth tannins, flavors of boysenberry and black raspberry in the mouth. Finally, newcomer McPrice Myers produces a great example of Santa Barbara syrah. The 2005 Colson Canyon syrah is well-balanced with aromas of red stewed fruits and white pepper giving way to raspberry and black cherry flavors. Ultimately, the region is a baby. In a few years the central coast will likely take its place with Napa and Burgundy. And you’ll be able to say you remember when it was still in diapers.
Phillip Dub� is a freelance writer living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and an attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff.

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