To Syrah, With Love

It’s too early to call it, but lots of folks are speculating syrah will be Washington’s next hot wine varietal.

Growers say it’s a dream to cultivate, more winter-hardy than merlot and easy to harvest. And wineries are always on the lookout for the next big trend.

“Everyone wants to have a darling. And syrah is hot right now,” said David Forsyth, Hogue’s winemaker.

No matter what the pundits predict, I’m sold on this red wine’s winning character. It’s got bright, concentrated flavors - fruit and a bit of spice. It drinks smooth, even when it’s young. Kind of like a pinot, but with more muscle than finesse.

The syrah grape has roots in the northern Rhone region of France, where it has been made into some very famous wines. The best-known syrah producing appellations there include Hermitage and Cote-Rotie.

In Australia (and now parts of California), syrah is also known as shiraz. Some of the vines planted in this country came from down under and have a slightly different character than their French cousins.

The first syrah was planted in Washington in 1985 and the space dedicated to it grows every year.

Still, only a handful of producers in this state make syrah. Naturally, because there’s a limited amount of wine, that means it tends to be pricey.

The homegrown syrahs I’ve sampled have been well worth the splurge, though.

The ‘95 syrah in Hogue’s new Genesis series is bursting with blackberry and cherry flavors. It’s got a touch of cabernet and lemberger in the mix, which adds a subtle layer of spice. It’s gutsy enough to drink with a steak, but can stand alone, too. Look for the Genesis syrah in a cool bottle with an artsy “G.” It sells for around $14.

Grape grower/winemaker Paul Portteus specializes in offbeat varieties. He also makes the state’s only zinfandel and a cabernet franc. The Portteus ‘95 syrah is velvet smooth with ripe fruit. I really liked this one. It’s around $21.

Columbia Crest’s first syrah (the ‘95) was the only disappointment in the bunch. It was slightly thin and dried out. Maybe I got a bad bottle. But at $27 a crack, I’m not inclined to try it again until the next vintage.

Columbia Winery has the longest track record in the state with syrah, working with the Red Willow vineyard near Yakima since the late ‘80s to produce a knockout wine with a slightly earthy quality. It’s more of a French style than a easy-drinking American wine. It goes for around $25.

Other Washington wineries producing syrah include McCrea and Glen Fiona, made by Rusty Figgins, Gary (Mr. Leonetti Cellars) Figgins’ brother. But forget about finding any of the Glen Fiona. The limited supply vanished after it was named the best wine at this summer’s Pacific Northwest Enological competition in Seattle.

More red ravings

I’ve been on a roll with reds. ‘Tis the season, right?

At a couple of recent tastings, I bypassed the whites to concentrate on some interesting new red releases.

The standouts included a couple of unusual and affordable Spanish numbers: a ‘95 Guelbenzu Tinto ($10), which is a blend of tempernillo grapes, cabernet and merlot along with a little grenache, and the ‘96 Carchelo monastrell from Spain’s Murcia region. (That grape varietal is also known as mouvedre or mataro.) Both had concentrated smoky, rustic flavors that were so different and a little exotic.

I was wowed by the ‘95 Marietta zinfandel, the ‘96 sangiovese from Forest Glen and a merlot from Chile called Santa Ema, all under $10.

I’m also nuts about Woodward Canyon’s pinot noir - a lovely wine with zippy cherry and berry flavors made from Walla Walla fruit. But it’s hard to find and it’s $27. There might be a few bottles available through the winery’s tasting room. Call (509) 525-4129.

Beaujolais buzz begins

Speaking of reds, the first ‘97 is due out in days. The Beaujolais nouveau will be released in France toward the end of November and will arrive in Spokane a few days later.

The Bayou Brewing Company will be among the first pouring this fresh, fruity wine. Nouveau from renowned Beaujolais producer Georges Duboeuf will flow on Nov. 21, as part of the Bayou’s special spotlight on wine next month.

Beginning Nov. 5, The Bayou’s Voodoo Lounge will be transformed into a wine bar, with special guest servers that will include local winemakers.

For details, call 484-4818.

Good starting point

If you’re still trying to master some of the basics of wine appreciation, check out the informative spread in the October issue of Consumer Reports.

It helps demystify the sometimes confusing business of ordering wine in a restaurant (no, you don’t need to sniff the cork), sheds light on how wine is made and gives the lowdown on a bunch of good wines for $10 and under.

Among the Washington wines that fared well in the Consumer Reports tasting were the Columbia Crest and the Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay (both from the 1995 vintage) and the ‘94 cab from Ste. Michelle.

The top buy was a Chilean merlot from Walnut Creek, which sells for around $5 and was described as full-flavored and slightly fruitier than most.

Get the juicy details

You can chat on-line with Rex Hill (Oregon) winemaker Lynn PennerAsh at 6 p.m. Nov. 18.

She’ll be dishing the dirt on winemaking trials and triumphs as well as discussing how to select the perfect match for your meal.

It all happens on CuisineNet, a site that fancies itself a food and restaurant resource. Check it out at www.cuisinenet.com.

, DataTimes MEMO: Grapevine is a monthly feature of IN Food. Write to: Grapevine, Features Department, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Call 459-5486, fax 459-5098 or e-mail to lesliek@spokesman.com

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Grapevine is a monthly feature of IN Food. Write to: Grapevine, Features Department, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Call 459-5486, fax 459-5098 or e-mail to lesliek@spokesman.com

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Leslie Kelly The Spokesman-Review

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