“I’m not convinced about its place up here — but we had to give it a shot.”

That’s one of the first things winemaker Jonathan Oakes told me when I asked about his soon-to-be-released syrah.

Syrah is far from widely planted in the region, but most of what I’ve tasted has been delicious. And, after tasting Oakes’, I’m more convinced than ever at the grapes potential in and near the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

Aged in heavily toasted American oak — even if the majority was two and three years old — Leonard Oakes Estate Winery 2012 Reserve Series Syrah ($23) shows a lot of bacon-y oak on the nose and on the palate. Right after it’s opened, it’s a bit overwhelming, bludgeoning the fruit into submission. With a little time open though, the fruit and spice notes being to step forward, though still behind a smokey curtain of oak.

There is plenty of structure here with young, somewhat-astringent tannins and a fresh tickle of acidity, but also some nice, ripe fruit qualities with classic peppery syrah notes and a little black licorice.

It’s hard to know if that oak will integrate and allow the fruit to take center stage, but I don’t think it’s going to happen soon, if at all. If it does, this wine could become quite interesting and delicious.

By the way, don’t look the “New York State” on the label and assumed this is made from purchased fruit grown in other regions. The vineyards are simply outside of the Niagara Escarpment AVA and there isn’t a regional appellation — yet.

“We are currently trying to write a larger AVA to encompass the rest of the region,” Oakes told me. “I am sick of looking at that (New York AVA) map and having every other wine producing area being called a region and Niagara still being referred to as only the Escarpment. We have more potentially plantable acreage for Vinifera then all of the regions of New York State!”

This wine will be released soon, but I think it needs significant time in bottle before it may shed some of that wood and let the fruit and spice shine. I look forward to tasting it again, however.

Producer: Leonard Oakes Estate Winery
AVA: New York State
Blend: 100% syrah
ABV: 12.1%
Price: $23 (sample)

(2.5 out of 5, Average-to-Very Good)