Food & Drink

Northwest Wine: Washington Syrah poised for greatness

Syrah grapes ripen in a vineyard in the Columbia Gorge near Goldendale, Wash., on cliffs overlooking the Columbia River.
Syrah grapes ripen in a vineyard in the Columbia Gorge near Goldendale, Wash., on cliffs overlooking the Columbia River. Great Northwest Wine

Is Syrah poised for a comeback? Sales of Syrah tanked in recent years, thanks in no small part to Australia flooding the U.S. (and other world markets) with cheap Shiraz (another name for Syrah).

With sales of those types of wines flattening, it appears consumers are turning back to domestic Syrahs, and that is good news for Washington, where Syrah is the No. 3 red grape in the state, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Syrahs are so interesting in Washington because of the grape’s transparency depending on where it’s planted. Thus, cult followings have sprung up around the region’s high-end producers who have chosen to specialize in Syrah.

In 1999, there were 1,500 acres of Syrah established across Washington state, and that represented 6 percent of the 24,000 acres planted. Last year, the acreage devoted to Syrah stood at 4,572 acres, which accounted for 8 percent of the state’s nearly 56,000 acres of wine grape vines.

A good portion of that Syrah ends up being blended with other wines, which tends to give those wines a boost in flavor and jamminess. So it could be said that Syrah benefits the Washington wine industry not only with interesting wines, but also elevating other wines.

Here are five examples of Syrah made in Washington we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Columbia Crest 2016 Grand Estates Syrah, Columbia Valley, $12: Proud Argentine winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca continues to make the case that “Crest is best,” particularly when it comes to the price point for Columbia Crest’s Grand Estates program. Classic notes of Syrah akin to blackberry, blueberry and cola include hints of baking spices from the 10 percent new oak. Jammy blue fruit flavors are balanced by black tea and savoriness akin to Kalamata olive. There’s great depth and mouth feel, which finishes with cocoa and black licorice. This wine, which is co-fermented with Viognier and incorporates Grenache into the final blend, earned a double gold medal and best of class at the 35th Washington State Wine Competition.

Sin Banderas Wines 2015 Syrah 80 percent Mourvèdre 20 percent, Yakima Valley, $32: Jacki Evans, a winemaker at vaunted Owen Roe, has partnered with Bordeaux-trained Francois Dereeper, Washington native Brandon Dietrich and Owen Roe vineyard manager Jose “Nacho” Licea on their own boutique project. They’ve dubbed the brand Sin Banderas, a Spanish phrase for “without flags.” That record-warm vintage of 2015 ripened their Syrah at nearby Outlook Vineyard by Aug. 24, a month prior to the Mourvèdre from prized Olsen Vineyard in Prosser. A hint of toast stays behind the nose of plum, blueberry and clove comes with a whiff of cured meats. There’s richness and great mouth feel to the dusty tannins that allow for full enjoyment of blackberry jam and elderberry flavors.

Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2015 Syrah, Washington, $19: These wines are viewed as “little brothers” to the Dusted Valley Vintners lineup, and fruit from the bountiful Wahluke Slope is the secret sauce for Boomtown and its winemaking trio of Chad Johnson, Corey Braunel and Griffin Frey. Aromas of blueberry, huckleberry, elderberry, light toast, tar and clove are matched on the vibrant palate as the injection of Grenache (4 percent) adds to the acidity that will play deliciously with grilled portobello mushrooms.

Lobo Hills Wine Co. 2014 Spilya Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, $30: Northwest Wine Academy product Tony Dollar produces multiple vineyard-designate Syrahs, and he’s been working with Larry Pearson’s Spilya Vineyard for several vintages. While Pearson’s claim to fame is his estate Tapteil Vineyard on Red Mountain, this planting just west of that famous growing region, still reflects the power of Red Mountain. It offers gorgeous Syrah aromas of blackberry and blueberry, backed by clove and nutmeg from the 30 percent new French oak Saury medium-plus barrels. Those tones carry onto the palate where the structure is sinewy, juicy and cellar-worthy. In the meantime, enjoy with a well-marbled steak or pork ribs.

Sovereign Cellars 2015 Syrah, Red Mountain, $35: Retired science teacher Dennis Gross credits the Williams family of Kiona Vineyards — and their fruit — for much of the success he’s enjoyed as a boutique winemaker in the South Puget Sound. Its fruit-fruit profile opens with blueberry, blackcurrant, Bing cherry, black pepper and bittersweet chocolate. Broad yet fine-grained tannins akin to cherry skins and pomegranate acidity lead to a finish that includes a dusting of cocoa powder and dried blueberry. This earned a gold medal at the 2018 Capital Food and Wine Festival Wine Competition.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com

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