Nearly two decades ago, it was a sip of cool-climate Syrah that revealed to me the sensory magic of wine\u2014the way that fermented grape juice can taste more like cured meat, dried flowers and cracked pepper than just simple fruit and smoked wood. To this day, Syrah from cooler regions, whether the wind-whipped Northern Rh\u00f4ne or California\u2019s ocean-chilled Central Coast, still fascinates my palate most.\r\n\r\nSuch spice, game and floral notes aren\u2019t for everybody, and the style can be quite divisive at parties, with half loving the wine and the other half believing something ran afoul in the bottle. But for those who do opt for challenging complexity over casual comfort, Central Coast Syrahs offer this style in spades.\r\n\r\nThe most extreme example of this style is from Stolo Vineyards. Grown just miles from the rugged San Luis Obispo County coastline, Nicole Pope\u2019s wines are redolent with stunning pepper notes. The compound that causes these expressions is called rotundone, which also shows up in peppercorns and rosemary. Pope isn\u2019t sure why levels spike in cooler climates, but has heard they increase as grapes mature. \u201cMaybe because we have a much longer growing season, the rotundone levels could build up higher, before sugar and ripeness levels are reached,\u201d said Pope, who often picks her Syrah in mid- to late-November.\r\n\r\nIn Santa Barbara County\u2019s Sta. Rita Hills, producers such as Melville Winery have been interrupting the region\u2019s heavy flow of Pinot Noir with such Syrahs for decades. Chad Melville founded Samsara Winery in 2002 to push these extremes, and Winemaker Matt Brady continued that tradition when Melville sold the brand to Joan and Dave Szkutak in 2017. \u201cCooler growing regions allow us to get full physiological ripeness without excessive sugar, letting the savory and umami characteristics shine through,\u201d said Brady, whose customers gravitate toward his spicier wines. \u201cI\u2019m thinking about uni, and how much I love it, and the flavors you get from uni aren\u2019t conventional\u2014they\u2019re more singular, distinctive, unique, focused,\u201d he said. \u201cThat\u2019s how I feel about cool-climate Syrah. And now I want some uni.\u201d\r\n\r\nWinemaker Ernst Storm makes wine for a new Sta. Rita Hills property called Donnachadh Vineyard. \u201cJust like Pinot, Syrah is excellent at capturing site when picked at the right time, and more so at cooler sites,\u201d said Storm. \u201cI have been drinking a lot of Northern Rh\u00f4ne wines lately, and the drinkability, texture, and depth of some of the wines is what inspires me.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnd then there is the McPrice Myers Les Galets from the Arroyo Grande Valley, the first wine I\u2019ve ever scored at 98 points. Based today in Paso Robles, Myers typically produces richer wines than those listed above, but started his career in 2002 exploring cooler sites, including this Laetitia Winery-owned vineyard, which he\u2019s sourced since 2004.\r\n\r\n\u201cI could hang it out until Halloween, and the chemistry wouldn\u2019t change much, but the development I got was amazing,\u201d said Myers. \u201cAt the same time, the wine didn\u2019t lose any freshness or energy. I\u2019m looking for a certain flavor profile and a certain power. There\u2019s got to be something that intrigues me.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhen a winemaker who can exemplify the power of Syrah runs into a cool-climate vineyard, the sum seems greater than its parts. Unfortunately, the Les Galets block was ripped out after the 2017 harvest, making this bottling the last of its kind. All the more reason to discover the wonders of cool-climate Syrah today.\r\n\r\n\r\nCool-Climate Syrah to Look for\r\nMcPrice Myers 2017 Les Galets Syrah (Arroyo Grande Valley); $55, 98 points. This stunningly complex wine offers aromas of roasted lamb, soy, iodine and cracked pepper lifted by lavender and lilac on the nose. The palate explodes with cracked green peppercorns, roasted game, blackberry compote and a hint of espresso. Hedonistically rich, this is awash in savory style that will please any wine lover. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nStolo 2018 Syrah (San Luis Obispo County); $46, 97 points. This extremely cool-climate style of Syrah can be divisive, but this is a brilliant version for those who crave the savory experience. Aromas of underripe blackberry, seaweed, green peppercorn, rosemary, lavender and charred lamb lead into a palate that bursts with acidity. Flavors of violet, bay leaf, wet rocks and more pepper decorate the purple fruits. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nMelville 2018 Donna\u2019s Block Syrah (Sta. Rita Hills); $48, 96 points. Cracked black pepper, black currant and dark violet make for a cool-climate expression with tons of floral smoothness. There is heft to the sip, where black pepper, dried herbs and black fruits are sliced by a zesty acidity.\r\n\r\nSamsara 2017 OM Reserve Syrah (Santa Barbara County); $75, 96 points. Stunning aromas that are hallmarks of cool-climate Syrah show on the nose of this bottling, including black peppercorn, cracked asphalt, oozing tar and fresh black raspberry. It\u2019s as savory as can be on the palate, where cracked pepper, dried blueberry and purple-flower flavors combine with an iodine-like squid-ink element. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nCamins 2 Dreams 2018 Zotovich Vineyard Syrah (Sta. Rita Hills); $46, 95 points. Dense and dark aromas of black currant, black pepper and violet are brawny and lavish and yet extremely elegant on the nose of this single-vineyard, cool-climate expression of Syrah. The palate is smooth and creamy, with polished tannins that stand up just enough, allowing flavors of boysenberry, pepper and sagebrush to lead toward a lavender-dusted finish.\r\n\r\nFoxen 2017 Tinaquaic Vineyard Old Vines Dry Farmed Syrah (Santa Maria Valley); $56, 95 points. The dry-farmed, old-vine blocks of this vineyard made very compelling wines in this vintage. This bottling begins with stony aromas of chiseled slate as well as savory tones of thyme, rosemary, olive and black pepper, surrounding cassis in a fernet-like manner. The palate is tense with tannin, delivering flavors of black and green olive, cracked pepper and a violet-blackberry core. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nWaxwing 2018 Lester Family Vineyard Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains); $35, 95 points. The cooler climate of this vineyard presents dynamic aromas of peppercorn, bay leaf and charcoal alongside fresh plum and violet on the nose of this bottling. The high-acid palate falls in line accordingly, offering peppery spices against the tightly woven black-raspberry core.\r\n\r\nDonnachadh 2017 Syrah (Sta. Rita Hills); $45, 94 points. Bloody meats, squid ink, black raspberry, crushed rocks and char show on the nose of this bottling. The palate is loaded with dried herbs, lavender and black plum flavors, finishing with a pinch of white pepper.\r\n\r\nBeauregard 2016 Forager Series Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains); $35, 93 points. A lighter shade of ruby in the glass, this vintage is redolent with cool-climate hallmarks, showing singed tobacco, cracked pepper and cigar ash on the nose along with a brighter streak of lavender. The palate is also very savory, with underripe plums, sansho pepper and more ashy flavors.\r\n\r\nSolminer 2015 Delanda Vineyard Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley); $40, 90 points. Light red-currant and pomegranate-juice aromas are dusted with light herbs, cracked pepper and a hint of game on the nose of this bottling from the winery\u2019s home estate. The wine is tangy and bright on the palate, where green peppercorns, tart red fruit and penetrating acidity carry into the finish.