Moody Vineyard near the confluence of the Deschutes and Columbia rivers provides Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, Ore., with Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Zinfandel. (Photo courtesy of Cathedral Ridge Winery)

Syrah plays key role in Northwest red blends

After Australia flooded the U.S. market with inexpensive and uninteresting shiraz, syrah has been a tough sell with consumers.

Yet acreage and tonnage of syrah continues to increase year after year. Last year, Washington winemakers harvested more than 20,000 tons of the red wine grape for the first time in state history.

There are two main reasons for this.

First of all, syrah is an early ripening grape. Winemakers can bring it in before Labor Day, have it crushed and begin turning it into wine in their fermentation rooms while other varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and mourvèdre are still hanging on the vine.

Second of all, it’s a delicious blending grape often able to add midpalate heft and weight to a wine without adding to its tannin levels. Winemakers can often bevel out the harsh edges of cabernet sauvignon and merlot with just a bit of syrah in the blend.

Here are a few delicious Washington red blends that include syrah. Ask for them to your favorite wine merchant or contact wineries directly.

Abacela NV Estate Vintner’s Blend #16, Umpqua Valley, $18: The robust Spanish grape tempranillo is the historic headliner at storied Abacela in southern Oregon, and it makes up nearly half of this Mediterranean-style blend that calls upon 11 varieties. Syrah is the next grape up for winemaker Andrew Wenzl, who used it to create remarkable balance while toning down the tannins. Aromas of black currant, cherry and lingonberry include hints of oregano and a caramel corn shop. Inside, blackberry jam and bittersweet chocolate flavors are joined by tannins reminiscent of espresso grounds, which are led out by a raspberry cream finish. (13.7 percent alcohol)

Buty Winery 2013 Phinny Hill Vineyard Columbia Rediviva Red Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: Buty claims to be the first in Washington state to blend cabernet sauvignon and syrah into high-end reds, and this Walla Walla Valley winery continues to use a bit of syrah to flesh out the cabernet sauvignon in this bottling. There’s a theme of cherry jam and dark plum with chocolate-covered blueberries, while the influence of the syrah shows by softening the tannin structure that’s accompanied raspberry acidity. (14.7%)

Cairdeas Winery 2014 Consonance Red Wine Blend, Yakima Valley, $42: Charlie Lybecker, the Rhône Ranger of Lake Chelan, blends petite sirah and syrah with counoise and mourvèdre. Think of a basket full of ripe Chelan cherries and plum with dried strawberry, orange sherbet and pomegranate, capped by late arriving tannins and tangy acidity. (14.5%)

Cathedral Ridge Winery 2012 Reserve Rusty Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $44: Sonoma winemaker Michael Sebastiani focuses on two Oregon vineyards sites near the Columbia River for this blend of syrah and zinfandel. Aromas and flavors of Christmas spices, cherries, cassis and orange zest include tannins akin to espresso grounds. Enjoy with molasses marinated flank steak. (14.2%)

Owen Roe 2015 Sinister Hand Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $28: This Yakima Valley winemaker references an Irish legend in which a member of the O’Neill clan severs his own hand and tosses it ashore toward the end of a rowing race in order to cleverly be the first to touch — and claim — a prized parcel of land ahead of the rival O’Reillys. This young and vibrant GSM-style blend leads with grenache and follows with syrah. Engaging aromas of plump marionberry, Chukar Cherry, lavender and white pepper are matched on the palate. The structure is velvety yet juicy with a trail of elderberry. (14.1%)

William Church Winery 2014 PJ’s Vintage Bishop’s Blend Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $25: The Balsleys work with Woodinville winemaker Noah Fox Reed for their flagship red bottling of Bordeaux varieties that includes a significant amount of syrah. Dusty aromas of marionberry, plum and mint lead to flavors of blueberry, dark chocolate and tobacco, backed by raspberry acidity and ample tannins. (14.3%)

Ryan Patrick Vineyards 2015 Redhead Red Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $15: A trio of Wahluke Slope vineyards provided WSU grad Jeremy Santo with the material for this fleshy and juicy crowd-pleasing red. Cabernet sauvignon dominates the blend with additives of syrah, merlot and petit verdot to create a super fruity drink of cherry and blueberry engaged by sandy tannins that build slowly and are joined by pomegranate acidity. (13.5%)

Truth Teller Winery 2014 The Madman Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $40: Woodinville vintner Chris Loeliger pushes syrah into the lead with this blend that opens up with gorgeous aromas of cherry juice, plum and mocha. Delicious acidity arrives early and leads to a blossoming of tannins among long flavors of black currant and president plum. (14.8%)

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

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