As interest in syrah (and shiraz, as it’s called in Australia,) has diminished the past few years, Washington syrah production continues to hold steady and even increase.
Last fall, Washington winemakers crushed 16,000 tons of syrah — the most ever. This is up from 8,000 tons just 10 years ago.
In fact, this spring marks the 30th anniversary of the first syrah being planted in Washington, when it went into the soil at Red Willow Vineyard in the western Yakima Valley.
Syrah is the third-most-popular red wine grape in Washington, after cabernet sauvignon and merlot. And it is No. 5 overall, with chardonnay and riesling being the top white wine grapes.
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Here are several superb syrahs, all of which earned gold medals at this spring’s Cascadia Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Pondera Winery 2012 Stillwater Creek Syrah, Columbia Valley, $38: Woodinville, winemaker Shane Howard has been crafting wine for his Pondera brand since 2005. This luscious syrah offers aromas of dark chocolate, ripe plum and black cherry, followed by flavors of dark chocolate, ripe blackberry and crushed dried herbs. It’s all backed by juicy acidity and firm tannins. (14.3% alc.)
Barili Cellars 2013 Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills, $24: Based in Spokane, this winery brought in grapes from Dineen Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills district of the Yakima Valley. The resulting wine is filled with aromas of toasted oak, smoked ham and plum reduction sauce, followed by flavors of dried salami, maple syrup and boysenberry sauce. It is a complex yet approachable red. (14.2% alc.)
Davenport Cellars 2012 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $28: Jeff and Sheila Jirka set up their winery in Woodinville in 2007, and this luscious syrah is a great example of their progression. Its theme of smoked sausage, dried herbs, ripe Bing cherry and dark chocolate shavings is gorgeous and generous as dark fruit flavors are backed with complex acidity and moderate tannins. (14.9% alc.)
William Grassie Wine Estates 2013 Liberation Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35: Owner/winemaker Bill Grassie produces his wines in Woodinville. Aromas of blackberry cobbler, lightly toasted oak and a hint of black licorice gives way to flavors of racy dark fruit, dark chocolate and espresso, all backed by just-right tannins that lead to a memorable finish. (14.3% alc.)
L’Ecole No 41 2013 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25: L’Ecole No. 41, the Walla Walla Valley’s famous schoolhouse winery, had compiled a consistent record of A-list syrahs over decades. Fresh game, plum, blueberry and blackberry aromas lead off, followed by more of the same fruit as flavors, leading to well-managed blueberry tannins and graphite at the close. (15% alc.)
Kontos Cellars 2013 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $40: The Kontos brothers didn’t have to travel far from their Walla Walla winery for the Les Collines Vineyard grapes they made into this luscious syrah. Its aromas and flavors sport plums, blackberries and blueberries, while the close is earthy, deep and abundantly tannic. (14.4% alc.)
Stottle Winery 2012 Elerding 6 Prong Vineyard Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $32: Northwest Wine Academy grad Josh Stottlemyre of Lacey reached east into the Horse Heaven Hills for his syrah grapes from the warm 2012 vintage. It’s a wine with blackberry, blueberry and cured meat aromas that lead into flavors of plum, blackberry and cassis. The finish of dark chocolate, black tea and kalamata olive pit mixes nicely with abundant tannins. (14.9% alc.)
Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Scorched Earth Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley, $32: In the hands of homegrown winemaker Rich Cushman, Scorched Earth syrah grapes result in a luscious wine with distinctive aromas of black licorice, chalkboard dust and black cherry, followed by plush flavors of blackberry compote and maple syrup. (14.5% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.