And build a reputation they have. Our blind judging in February of 147 Syrahs proved that, with 11 of the 17 top-ranked wines coming from the Walla Walla Valley.
In the past, one criticism of Walla Walla Valley wineries is that they use grapes from outside of the region, relying on fruit from the broad Columbia Valley instead. While that was true as recently as five years ago, it is not so today, as seven of those 11 top wines used Walla Walla Valley grapes.
"I love Syrah," said Chad Johnson, co-owner of Dusted Valley Vintners. "It is definitely one of our focuses."
Johnson and co-owner Corey Braunel have made as many as five different Syrahs under their Dusted Valley label (and another with their Boomtown brand). While they have backed off slightly from that, they did submit six wines, including multiple vintages of current releases. And three of their Syrahs earned our top "Outstanding" rating, proving their prowess with the grape most closely associated with France's Rhône Valley. Saviah Cellars, another Walla Walla winery, won two top ratings for its Syrahs.
Why is the Walla Walla Valley so strong with Syrah? A couple of reasons are apparent. First, winemakers in the region are talented.
"For us, the bar was set pretty high when we got here to take winemaking seriously," Johnson said.
In other words, there is pressure to perform so as to uphold the reputation of the region, not unlike Napa Valley.
Second, the Walla Walla Valley is more mild than other regions of the Columbia Valley. Syrah tends to be fascinating in somewhat cooler areas, and that seems to be true in this case.
This week, we will look at top Syrahs from Walla Walla Valley grapes, while next week, we will review Syrahs from wineries elsewhere in the Northwest.
Ask for these wines at your favorite merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Dumas Station Wines 2009 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $30: This opens with aromas of cured meats, porcini mushrooms, blackberries and blueberries, followed by plush flavors of boysenberries and Marionberries. The ripe fruit is integrated with mild oak and approachable tannins.
Zerba Cellars 2007 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $30: This Syrah reveals a deft touch, opening with aromas of mincemeat, peppered jerky, purple fruit and hints of chocolate. It's equally complex on the palate, with flavors of ripe Saskatoon berries, boysenberries and Marionberries. It's beautifully textured and is showing a bit of maturity that adds to its depth.
Saviah Cellars 2009 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32: Owner/winemaker Rich Funk's big Syrah shows youthful exuberance from the first whiff, with aromas of ripe cherries and plump purple fruit. On the palate, it reveals aromas of Rainier cherries, black licorice and a rich mouth feel. It is so delicious now, yet has a ton of potential ahead.
Dusted Valley Vintners 2009 Tall Tales Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $53: This Syrah includes 9 percent co-fermented Viognier. The result is a big, fragrant wine with aromas of berries, chocolate, spices and smoked ham, followed by plush, delicious flavors of chocolate-covered blueberries and ripe plums. It's a big, yummy wine with a long finish.
Adamant Cellars 2009 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $25: This gorgeous Syrah opens with aromas of blueberries, blackberries and dark chocolate, followed by plush flavors of black tea, ripe blackberries and exotic spices. This is a complete wine.
Otis Kenyon Wine 2008 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $30: This opens with aromas of wonderful blackberries, plums, sage and lavender, followed by delicious flavors of ripe black fruit, black licorice, dark chocolate and espresso. It provides nice weight on the palate that gives way to a memorable finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. Read the freshest reviews at www.winepressnw.com/freshpress.
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