Griffin Frey (left) and co-founders Corey Braunel (center) and Chad Johnson (right) head up the winemaking team at Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla. (Richard Duval Images)

Griffin Frey (left) and co-founders Corey Braunel (center) and Chad Johnson (right) head up the winemaking team at Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla. (Richard Duval Images)

Syrah firmly established in Washington as No. 3 red grape

The very first vines of the Rhone Valley variety were planted in 1986 at Red Willow Vineyard near Yakima.

When Mike Sauer planted Washington’s first syrah vines in 1986, he likely had no idea Red Willow Vineyard was launching a revolution that would alter the landscape for winemakers and growers throughout the state.

His winemaking friend at Columbia Winery, the late David Lake, made arrangements to get plant material from California in 1984. Sauer tended to them in his nursery in 1985, then established 3 acres of syrah at Red Willow.

“I paid $1 a cutting, which was a pretty good price for just sticks,” Sauer said. “That was a big purchase for us.”

Lake, a master of wine who was born in London to Canadian parents, proved prescient. He died at 66 in 2009, but thanks to the spark created by that historic winemaker/grower collaboration, the most famous variety from France’s Rhone Valley is the Evergreen State’s No. 3 red grape — behind cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Syrah shows up not only by itself as a standalone variety but also as a key component in some of the state’s most delicious blends. Tamarack Cellars in Walla Walla was among the first with its Firehouse Red, which used syrah to make a more supple blend in 2000.

Today, Washington winemakers have branched out, making wines from many of the red Rhone grapes planted in the Columbia Valley. Here are five delicious syrahs from Washington — as well as one from Idaho — that we have tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the winery.

Dusted Valley Vintners 2017 Stained Tooth Syrah, Columbia Valley, $36: Legend has it that winemaker Chad Johnson’s father, a dentist, subscribes to the notion that “Life is too short to stain your teeth on cheap wine.” Well, there are many syrahs that are more expensive that the Stained Tooth, but few are its equal. And it starts with two prized sites — StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope and the Stoney Vine Vineyard, which the Johnson and Braunel families established in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater in Oregon. It is reminiscent of a Belgian waffle with raspberry sauce, as well as dried currant, crushed dried herbs and elegant minerality.

Ste. Chapelle 2016 Panoramic Idaho Syrah, Snake River Valley, $25: Boise native Meredith Smith took over the winemaking duties at Idaho’s largest winery ahead of veraison in 2016, and her love of syrah shows with this expression from her first vintage at Ste. Chapelle. Pulled during September from Sawtooth and Skyline vineyards, she poured it into all French oak barrels, 30% new, for 20 months. Yet, it opens with whiffs of game meat and blackberry, spice and celery leaf, following with plum, blackberry and blueberry flavors. There’s a pleasing job of tannin management that allows for a long and rewarding finish.

Sol Stone Winery 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $32: For their syrah program, the Buckinghams work with viticulturist Lacey Lybeck, who manages two of Washington’s oldest vineyards in Sagemoor and Weinbau. They invested in Quintessence domestic oak barrels, and that shows in the toasty introduction to the dark purple fruit expression that’s enjoyable with blackberry, black cherry and plum, backed by cured meat.

Elephant Seven Wine 2016 Yellow Bird Vineyard Block 3 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Rising talent Joshua West has made Yellow Bird Vineyard a focus of his syrah program, and the bottling of clone 174 represents a single-block, two-barrel expression from a cooler site within a renowned neighborhood along Mill Creek Road. He co-fermented with viognier (8%) and did so with whole clusters during a three-day cold soak. It’s undeniably syrah with the gamy nose that also offers blueberry, tapenade and toast from the 21 months in 50% new French oak. Inside, there are spoonfuls of purple fruit akin to marionberry and blueberry.

Maison Bleue Winery 2016 Voyageur Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $50: At one point, Jon Meuret had no plans to produce wines from the 2016 vintage for his Maison Bleue brand with Willamette Valley Vineyards. Fortunately, the triathlete changed his mind, and his melange from Les Collines, Stone Valley and Yellow Jacket vineyards ranks among the best of his final efforts before leaving the Northwest after a decade of acclaimed winemaking and moving to Kansas to become a fitness coach. The 2016 Voyageur remains quite youthful as a cool-climate example of syrah with prominent pomegranate, blueberry and fleshy plum notes. Classic touches of smoked meat and black pepper add to its firm approach and seductive dash of cinnamon at the finish.

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

Talk to us

More in Life

Darlene Love, Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer  performed in concert at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on Sept. 12, 2015.
Pandemic’s not stopping Christmas Queen Darlene Love

The singer best known for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will perform her annual holiday concert online this year.

roses
A gardener’s to-do list for winterizing the yard — Part 2

Try to accomplish most of these chores, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get them all done.

Caleb Sanders and Ashley Dougherty help decorate for the Trees of Christmas event at the Everett Bible Baptist Church. (Maria Lara)
Church keeps Christmas tradition alive with drive-thru event

Everett Bible Baptist Church hosts Trees of Christmas, with music, narration and special treats for the family.

Mexican sedum is an excellent groundcover plant, forming a dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Sedum kimnachii aka Mexican sedum

An excellent groundcover plant, this variety forms a flat, dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves.

Make holidays brighter with energy saving tips and gifts

Snohomish County PUD shares five smart ways to find joy in the season that use less electricity.

John Spadam owner, at Spada Farmhouse Brewery in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Spada ready to show off new bar and restaurant in Snohomish

During the pandemic, the Spada family has been busy renovating an old building on First Street.

Precept Wine, the largest privately-owned wine company in Washington, recruited Seattle native Sarah Cabot to take over its pinot noir production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2014. (Precept Wine)
Six examples of award-winning pinot noir in the Northwest

The Willamette Valley of Oregon has a reputation for the red wine, but there are other success stories in the area.

To deposit a coin in the Bonzo bank, you had to push his tummy. His tongue would come out of his mouth to deposit the coin inside. Many similar banks were made picturing other comic characters. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Mechanical bank of the first famous Bonzo sells for $1,800

The dog decorating the front of the tin bank was a comic cartoon star from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Design elements of the M235i Gran Coupe include angled headlights, four-eyed halo daytime running lights, and BMW’s traditional kidney grille. (Manufacturer photo)
BMW’s compact 2 Series Gran Coupe is all new to the 2020 lineup

A turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and 8-speed automatic transmission are standard on both versions.

Most Read