Washington winemakers take syrah to new heights
The rise of Syrah in Washington State has been rapid. First planted in 1986 at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, the grape almost immediately gained attention, with high-quality bottles like McCrea Cellars and Glen Fiona in the 1990s.
In 1997, Frenchman Christophe Baron planted the first of a series of vineyards on an old cobbled riverbed in the Walla Walla valley. At Cayuse Vineyards, Baron forever changed the fate of Syrah in the state, with a focus on terroir wines from a single vineyard. Two years later, Winemaker Charles Smith’s K Vintners had their first offers.
The success of these early advocates and others started an entire industry. Washington’s Syrah production was not even tracked until 1999. Today it is the third most produced red grape in the state and it produces many of the region’s finest wines.
The road to the crowning of Syrah in Washington, however, has not been without speed bumps. As producers jumped on the bandwagon in the early 2000s, many were producing poor quality wines.
Others who have largely focused on Bordeaux grape varieties have found Syrah difficult to sell. Some wineries and winemakers have started exploring other grape varieties in the state, which now has more than 100 varieties planted. Meanwhile, Cabernet Sauvignon production surged, leaving Syrah in the rearview mirror.
While Washington Syrah has yet to gain the greatest consumer awareness it deserves, growers and winegrowers continue to explore the variety’s full potential. Today’s wines show great finesse and diversity, with abundant appellations and differences linked to the vineyard. While Cayuse’s Walla Walla Valley offerings still set the standard for quality, other producers are now exploring areas like Horse Heaven Hills, Royal Slope and the upper parts of Red Mountain with exciting results.
King Cabernet will likely always dominate in a state where it accounts for almost 30% of production, but just look and you will find Syrah as Queen of Washington.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards 2018 Foothills Reserve Estate Foothills in the Sun Vignoble Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $ 90, 93 points. This wine comes from a vineyard at the foot of the Blue Mountains, an area few other producers have explored. The aromas are expressive, with hints of sea salt, olive brine, kelp, tapenade, smoked meat and peony. Soft, mellow and sophisticated flavors follow. It shows a lot of grip time on the tasty and flowery finish. editors Choice.
WT Vintners 2018 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $ 49, 93 points. Aromas burst out of the glass, with painfully pure and well-defined notes of pomegranate, dried herbs, lingonberry and violet. On the palate, there is an immediately noticeable perception of low alcohol content, with the flavors providing much of the feel, texture and structure. While it does not have the roundness that alcohol brings, it does not lack intensity and depth of flavor. It’s quite fascinating and enjoyable to boot, requiring food to be enjoyed. editors Choice.
Canvasback 2018 Red Mountain Syrah (Red Mountain); $ 50, 92 points. Canvasback is a Washington offering from Napa Valley’s Duckhorn. The aromas offer notes of plum, flower and olive. The palate is rich, with homogeneous flavors of black fruits that continue on the finish. It’s a potent, unrestricted supply of this strain, raised on the hedonism scale.
Syrah DeLille 2018 Signature Series (Yakima Valley); $ 46, 92 points. Aromas of blue fruits burst from the glass, followed by notes of lingonberry, spices, coffee and herbs. It saturates the palate, covering it from start to finish with aromas of blue and purple fruits that sail through the finish. It has a big, almost irresistible yum factor with fruit and barrel both playing a big part in the show. editors Choice.
XOBC 2018 Catherine Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $ 40, 92 points. Hailing from the Rocks District, this wine from singer Brandi Carlile brings aromas of wet rock, funk, blue fruit, dried orange peel, black olive and sea breeze. Sweet and abundant savory flavors follow. It’s rich but still brings a lot of sophistication. editors Choice.
Amavi 2018 Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $ 33, 91 points. This wine is a blend of 32% Stone Valley, 25% Les Collines, 23% Seven Hills, 13% Summit View and 7% Pepper Bridge fruit. Expressive aromas of blueberry, blueberry, coffee, smoked meat and herbs lead to full blue fruit flavors. It’s downright delicious. Give it some time in the cellar to see it at its best. editors Choice.
2019 The Silence Rockgarden Vineyard Syrah Foundation (Walla Walla Valley); $ 38, 91 points. This wine is unmistakably from the Rocks District. The stem influence is straightforward, with hints of grilled asparagus, Stargazer lily, fresh parsley and florals before black and green olives. The palate brings an abundance of savory flavors, with hints of gravel on the finish. Like many wines from this vintage, there is finesse to the touch.
Gramercy 2018 Les Collines Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $ 60, 91 points. This wine comes from one of the best Syrah sites in the valley. Lively aromas of fresh herbs are prominent, as well as violet. Beyond are notes of whole orange, tobacco leaf and hints of smoked meat. The palate is elegant and sumptuous. Serve with a pan-seared flank steak.
Revelry 2018 Aerial Series Block 18 Weinbau Vineyard Syrah (Pente Wahluke); $ 48, 91 points. These are clone 174 vines planted in 2005. The aromas are like smelling a glass of wet stones. Behind it are notes of cask spice, coffee, smoked ham and scorched earth. The palate has restrained savory flavors, showing a lot of sophistication.
Efeste 2018 Ceidleigh Estate Syrah (Red Mountain); $ 45, 90 points. This wine still captures a flavorful aspect of this grape on Red Mountain that few others do. The aromas are expressive, with hints of smoked meat, hearth and olive. The palate is smooth and mellow, offering convincing texture and structure.
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