Lest we forget, I'm here to remind everyone that there is a lot more to California wine than just Napa and Sonoma. Although those areas get the bulk of the attention and retail shelf space, there are amazing winegrowing areas scattered throughout California, including one of my favorite little AVAs, the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Santa Lucia Highlands have been a home for vineyards since the Spanish missions, but they got their real commercial start in the 1970's when a few growers put down roots there. AVA status was achieved in 1991. Many of the vineyards are planted on the edge of the Santa Lucia mountain range, and they get plenty of sun but also get cool maritime breezes that make for a nice, long growing season that is not overly hot. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the stars here, but they now have almost 500 acres of Riesling and about 200 acres of Syrah as well as many other varietals. One of the pioneers in the Santa Lucia Highlands was the Smith family of Paraiso, who were the first to plant Syrah in the AVA in their Wedding Hill vineyard. I'm sure glad that they made that decision.
The 2005 Paraiso Vineyards Wedding Hill Syrah is opaque garnet red in your glass with a wonderful mix of blackberry, black pepper, game and a little smoke on the nose. In your mouth, the wine has surprisingly nice weight that is not too over the top for a wine that's 14.8% alcohol. There is nice fruit up front, but the fantastic acidity and soft tannins that go with it provide structure and a nice long finish. I picked this up on a clearance deal, and I don't think there is much left out there to be had, but I will definitely be looking into some more vintages and other Syrahs from Paraiso.
Pair this with grilled red meats. A venison steak or lamp chops would be perfect. It would also work really well with some slow cooked, smoky BBQ.