During the past few years, syrah has been receiving a lot of grief.
It's somewhat inexplicable, because the red grape often associated with France's Northern Rhône Valley can make such delicious and approachable wines.
Yet sales have suffered in the past half-decade, particularly with Australian shiraz (another name for syrah).
In Washington state, however, syrah is not slowing down. Last year, Washington grape growers harvested 15,300 tons of syrah, a nearly 30 percent increase over 2012 (which was a then-record high 11,800 tons).
Certainly, a great deal of syrah is finding its way into red blends, which is the largest category of Washington wine — as it should because syrah can add a rich suppleness to other reds. A bit of syrah in the blend can provide subtle jamminess to a wine's midpalate and round out the tannins. Winemakers love its versatility.
At the lower end of the price scale (and the higher end of production), wineries have trouble moving syrah. Ironically, those winemakers who specialize in high-quality, small-production and high-priced syrah can't seem to make enough to please fans.
Here are a few luscious syrahs we've tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Ethos Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley, $48: Here is an oak-lovers syrah, which features aromas of dark toast, blackberry, candied blueberry and hints of charcuterie. It is bold and brawny with a theme of roasted coffee, boysenberry and blueberry. Serve with T-bone topped with blue cheese, lamb or a roast rubbed with rosemary and thyme. (14.9 percent alcohol)
Mannina Cellars 2012 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32: This Walla Walla airport winery captures classic gaminess starting in the nose, which includes blackberry, black cherry, black licorice and pepper. There’s more cured meat in the mouth feel, along with a steady stream of black plum, black currant and blackberry. Its creaminess also carries flavors of dark chocolate, coffee, black olive and a pinch of mint, yet there’s the critical backing of blueberry acidity. (14.5% alc.)
Northwest Cellars 2010 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $32: This starts with aromas of baked brownie, black cherry, sizzling ham, marshmallow, vanilla cream and cracked black pepper. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, black currant and sarsaparilla in a structure that pushes raspberry acidity well beyond tannin. (14.1% alc.)
Koenig Vineyards 2011 Three Vineyard Cuvée Syrah, Snake River Valley, $20: Beautiful floral notes of sage, lilac and lavender are joined by blackberry, blueberry, vanilla bean and black pepper. There’s a delicious approach of purple fruit flavors with blackberry, plum and ripe blueberry, backed by Earl Grey tea tannins, moist earth and graphite. On the finish comes a bite of black olive. (14.2% alc.)
Swiftwater Cellars 2010 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35: Opening with aromas of blackberry, plums, cherry juice, toast, white pepper and bacon, this luscious syrah gives way to a rich entry of blackberry and plum, followed by boysenberry acidity and elderberry skin tannins. (14.8% alc.)
Walter Dacon Wines 2009 C'est Syrah Beaux, Columbia Valley, $38: This winery near Shelton, Wash., is dedicated to Rhône varieties — particularly syrah. The aromas feature dried blueberry, black cherry, black licorice, black pepper, roasted coffee and chalkboard dust. Inside, it’s rich and juicy as Marionberry flavors jump into the lead, while pleasing textures of bittersweet chocolate and black licorice serve as the sendoff. (15.4% alc.)
Helix by Reininger 2010 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $30: Here's an elegant and lighter approach toward syrah, starting with aromas of Marionberry, black cherry and boysenberry with mere hints of violet, cigar box, white pepper and dark chocolate in the background. Flavors tilt toward boysenberry, fresh plum, cherry and red currant in front of lovely tannins and graphite-like minerality. (14.5% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.