As our Rhone Ranger event approaches, Syrah has been a hot topic. The question is-How does the wine consumer perceive Syrah (or the unknown Rhone varietals)? Wine stores and restaurateurs have very different perceptions. Wine stores have growing difficulty selling Syrah vs the restaurateur finding Syrah to be a good seller. Does the ability to pair wine with food give the advantage to restaurants? Yes! The Rhones are food friendly wines but what can the industry do to help bridge the gap between the different points of sale?
The Rhone Ranger event has the distinguished honor of Barbara Hom-CIA and Gary Saperstein-The girl and the fig as a panelists. During our pre-event tasting for the seminar, they touched on this very topic. They both enjoy pairing food with Rhones and find them well received by their consumers. Does this allow consumers the chance to side step the intimidation factor they may feel when they come face to face with Syrah or uncharted waters? Personally, I believe so. I have a difficult time purchasing wines in stores that I haven't tasted especially when I'm unfamiliar with the blend or varietal. I don't drink a lot of Marsanne/Rousanne straight so I tend to not be daring/adventurous and purchase a bottle. I have the confidence that restaurants knowledge regarding their food and wine list that I always take the suggestions from the wine director and go out on a limb trying unfamiliar wines and brands. I guess the big question would be why I don't always take wine store employees suggestions to heart. There are some that I have great relationships with the managers and I do take their advice with no hesitation. But then again, I know they suggest wines they are very familiar with. Unfortunately, not all employees have the luxury of tasting all the wines that pass through their doors. Maybe wine shopping is like shopping for jewelry-one needs to build a relationship with company before you really turn to them for advice.
From the boutique wine owner point of view, I always want the consumers to come to the winery personally for purchase. For DCW, we know our product better than anyone. My staff understands our wines because they experience the product start to finish. Our education starts with staff learning about the vineyards, tasting fruit during different stages, tasting fruit when we bring it in for harvest. My winemakers take time having staff try the wine when it's juice though the stages of fermentation and while it's barrel aging as well. They really absorb what Kerry and Dan are trying to express in the fruit. Having access to winemakers that are willing to explain/education makes all the difference. Our DCW wine club family and customers buy our Syrah and Petite Sirah because they trust our advice. We sell our Syrah because we had the opportunity to turn on people to something they normally would not try unless they are in the right situation. Our customers are given suggestions of how to enjoy the wine with food pairings. They start of on the right foot with a Syrah experience which is enjoyable. That helps develop the passion. We all can remember not liking certain vegetables we hated as children but eat now. Maybe our early dislike of them had to do with the way they were prepared or with what they were paired with.
Bottom line until our discussion happens, it is the winery's responsibility to educate everyone who sells their wines. Too many times Syrah and other small lots wines get lost in the shuffle. If a winery makes it, they should be just as proud and excited about that product as the traditional wines such as Cabernet or Chardonnay. How we go about getting everyone up to speed about Syrah and Rhones is another problem. DCW, along with 21 other wineries, is trying to break through the unknown with the launch of the North Coast Chapter of the Rhone Rangers. Our seminar has as many participates as our general tasting. That goes to show people want to learn so they can enjoy wines they have been missing out on.