MacLaren Wine Company
When Burns supper is on the menu, Syrah wine is not the first beverage that comes to mind. Celebrating the life and works of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns (perhaps best known for the song, “Auld Lang Syne”), Burns suppers are are held around Jan. 25, the poet’s birthday.
There are spirited toasts, poems, a little song, and don’t forget the “neeps” and “tatties” — that’s Scots for turnips and potatoes, side dishes for a main course of the national dish, haggis.
I understand that haggis contains something called “sheep's pluck,” and the less said about that the better.
But it does inspire my curiosity about what kind of alternative wine pairing might suit the occasion. And I happen to know just the Scotsman to ask.
New neebor in Sonoma
Steve Law found his fondness for wine, Syrah especially, when he relocated to picturesque Grenoble, France for an engineering job. Spending weekends discovering the Rhône Valley Wine Country was a habit he took with him to California.
He met up with kindred spirits in Sonoma County, worked a harvest at Talty Winery, and — with the support and understanding of his wife, who’s a grade school teacher — launched himself full time into the winemaking business — MacLaren Wine Company.
You’ll find him all the way at the end of “Vine Alley," off of the Sonoma Plaza, in a new tasting lounge where he shares his love of cool-climate, savory Syrah with intrepid wine tasters.
Take a cup o’ kindness
Law is game for a Burns supper wine pairing. “Traditionally, it is whisky,” he allowed, “but that may be due to the fact Scotland does not have vines more than the pairing prowess.”
“The better haggis always have a lovely pepper and spice to them and the lamb gives it a gamey quality,” Law said. “I would pair it with more of a fruit-forward Syrah, for example my 2010 Russian River Valley Syrah ($30), which also has a nice pepper and gamey quality to bring out the spices and lamb.”
I was right on track — Syrah with lamb is a classic pairing. Sourced from the great Saralee’s Vineyard, it is indeed elegant and compatible with a variety of foods — much like a claret, with blackberry liqueur notes.
The 2009 Judge Family ($40) might even be better — it’s what Law calls his “mushroom-seeking wine,” a Syrah of bright, wild raspberry highlights and forest undertones that makes excellent friends with wild mushroom dishes. The 2010 “Drouthy Neebors” ($30), a blend of Syrah lots chosen by democratic vote, translates as “thirsty neighbors.”
Hit the haggis
Not to worry about how to make the darn thing — Law said that he doesn’t know of anyone who makes their own. “I much prefer some nice Scottish salmon, cold smoked. Great with whisky and Syrah, of course.” There’s even a good brand of vegetarian haggis on the market, which is supposed to be quite good.
If you’re still thirsty for whisky, try Murphy’s Irish Pub, just off the east side of Sonoma Plaza. Yes, an Irish pub, but close enough, eh? Besides, Burns is also fondly remembered in parts of Ireland. Murphy’s is a cozy little local favorite, stocked with ale and a good selection of both Irish and Scotch single malts, and traditional … California pub fare: bacon-wrapped jalapeños, fish tacos and kale salad.
MacLaren Wine Company, 27 E. Napa St., Suite E, Sonoma. Open Monday–Thursday, noon–5 p.m.; Friday–Sunday, noon–6 p.m. Tasting fee, $15.