Years ago, when the Wine Curmudgeon was only a little crank, Cline Cellars made nifty cheap red and white blends called Cotes d'Oakley, a play on the French Cotes du Rhone wines. Sadly, Cotes d'Oakley went the way of too many inexpensive wines, and it's not available today.
And, frankly, Cline wasn't the same winery without it. Its wines went more upscale in price and style, becoming very post-modern — lots of fruit and lots of alcohol, and closer to $20 than $10. Or, as one comment on CellarTracker, the unofficial wine inventory software of the blog, said of the winery's 2009 syrah: "I may be wrong, but it is getting worse. Medicinal, industrial, uninspired effort."
Which is why I was intrigued when I recently received several samples from Cline, including the cool climate syrah ($18, sample). Cool climate is a wine term that implies a less alcoholic, less fruity wine, since grapes grown in a cooler region aren't supposed to get as ripe. (Whether this is true or not, given modern winemaking techniques, is a post for another day). In other words, this wasn't supposed to be a post-modern California wine.
And it isn't. Though the cool climate is not inexpensive, it is very well done. There is lots of dark fruit (plum?) and black pepper, and it's missing the sweetish, over the top fruit common to most Australian and California shirazes (syrah and shiraz being the same grape). And it's just 13 1/2 percent alcohol, which is about one point less than most shiraz-style wines.
The cool climate is not quite up to the level of the Randall Grahm syrah, which pioneered this more traditional style, but given the previously noted indifference with which so much syrah at this price is made, it's certainly worth drinking. Pair this with lighter red meat or smoked or roasted chicken.