Syrah in Washington’s Columbia Valley and Idaho’s Snake River Valley continues to defy conventional wisdom.
Across America, syrah is a tough sale, thanks primarily to cheaper Australia shiraz flooding grocery stores the past decade.
Yet syrah continues to grow in Washington. Last fall, Washington winemakers brought in more than 21,000 tons of syrah, a record level for the state. Syrah certainly plays an important role in Washington red blends, but it stands alone pretty well, too.
Syrah is most famous for being from France’s Rhône Valley. It’s a relative johnny-come-lately in Washington, having first been planted at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley in 1985. Since then, it has caught the imagination of winemakers and fans alike, growing to become Washington’s No. 3 grape, following only cabernet sauvignon and merlot in acreage and tonnage.
Here are a few delicious examples of Washington syrah and a couple of Idaho examples we’ve tasted lately. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the wineries directly.
Avennia 2014 Boushey Vineyard Arnaut Syrah, Yakima Valley, $50: Woodinville winemaker Chris Peterson and grower Dick Boushey continue their remarkable connection with syrah, and this marks the second consecutive vintage in which Avennia has earned our top rating for this annual tribute to Arnaut Daniel, a medieval French lyrical poet. The subtle use of new French oak (15 percent) over 16 months offers aromas of blueberry jam on toast with Western serviceberry and dusty minerality. It’s downright yummy with creamy and smooth flavors of Marionberry and elderberry amid a structure that’s bold and balanced within a long finish. It’s been released at the new Avennia tasting room just off Highway 522. (14.8 percent alcohol)
H/H Estates 2012 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Buck Reserve Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $38: Rancher-turned-vintner Mike Andrews brands his reserve Syrah with the name of prized bull Buck, whose hard work sired the herd that once roamed this spread in the Horse Heaven Hills. This syrah from a classic vintage in Washington offers a theme of dried blueberry and black currant with leather and meat. Fine-grained tannins make this an easy drink capped by a pinch of juniper berry. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Noviello Vineyards 2014 Syrah, Red Mountain, $48: Charlie “Wine Boss” Hoppes works with Fredric and Ana Stern on their young project near the Columbia River resort community of Orondo, Wash., and the Richland winemaker pulled from rising star Red Heaven Vineyard for this chocolaty syrah. The 22-month program in both French and American oak builds aromas of Chukar Cherry, blackberry and cola, which lead to bright flavors of boysenberry, blueberry and pomegranate seeds wrapped in bittersweet chocolate. These wines can be found at a couple locations in the Seattle area and at the fun Lone Pine Fruit & Espresso along Highway 97 near Orondo. (15.02 percent alcohol)
Owen Roe 2013 Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block Syrah, Yakima Valley, $55: One of the Northwest’s most acclaimed vintners, David O’Reilly, moved his family a few years ago to the western edge of the Yakima Valley for a variety of reasons. Among those was to be closer to Mike Sauer’s Red Willow Vineyard in Mount Adams foothills. Sauer’s Chapel Block is considered the historic epicenter for syrah in Washington, and O’Reilly took his top 16 barrels (seven of which were new French oak) from this historically hot vintage to create this bottling. The nose is reminiscent of a candy store, with hints of caramel corn and Marionberry taffy, joined by plum and violets. It’s a delicious and plush drink of sweet brambleberries, finished with juicy acidity, restrained tannins and toast. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Telaya Wine Co. 2014 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $30: The Sullivans continue to grow their program in Idaho’s Snake River Valley, and they doubled production of their dark and savory Syrah off Sawtooth Vineyard for the 2014 vintage. The fragrant nose of mocha, salted caramel and cola includes black olive, sandalwood and toast – signs of the 20 months in French oak. Its pleasing structure of dark blue fruit, akin to black currant, plum and blueberry, includes the late arrival of tannins reminiscent of espresso grounds. These wines are widely available throughout Boise, including Bodo restaurants such as Capitol Cellars, Chandler’s Fork, Juniper and recent James Beard House performer Mai Thai. (14 percent alcohol)
Fujishin Family Cellars 2014 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $25: Snake River Valley native Martin Fujishin has displayed a knack for blending that has earned him national attention with his Rhône-inspired Amatino. However, the 2014 vintage prompted him to release a standalone syrah, something he doesn’t do every year. Polo Cove, a large block adjacent to acclaimed Fraser Vineyard, is a core of the Fujishin syrah program, and it accounts for fresh and fun aromas of cherry juice, anise and cedar. The focus remains on the fruit throughout, making for approachable flavors of sweet blueberry and pomegranate with supple tannins and a pinch of clove in the finish. (14.6 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.