Syrah has become a mainstay across the Pacific Northwest.
The classic red wine grape from France’s Rhône Valley was introduced to our region in Washington’s Yakima Valley in 1986 by acclaimed winemaker David Lake and grower Mike Sauer at Red Willow Vineyard.
Today, it is Washington state’s No. 3 red grape after cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Last year, Washington winemakers brought in more than 20,000 tons, and they find it adds a lot to red blends, softening tannins and adding oomph to midpalate flavor.
In Oregon, most of the syrah is grown in the warmer Southern Oregon region, as well as in the Walla Walla Valley. Oregon brings in about 2,000 tons of syrah annually. Idaho wineries are now finding that Rhône varieties do well in the Snake River Valley, where vineyards are warm and reach 3,000 feet in elevation.
Here are nine examples of syrah from across the Northwest, all of which won gold medals at this spring’s Cascadia International Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the wineries.
Saviah Cellars 2016 The Jack Syrah, Columbia Valley, $18: Walla Walla’s Richard Funk continues to offer fans of syrah a remarkable value within his entry-level tier, and while The Jack is 80 percent syrah, it could also qualify as a GSM blend with its use of grenache (12 percent) and mourvedre. That urbanity shows up in aromas of blackberry, plum and a bit of pomegranate, which are mirrored on the palate. Black currant and a bit of black olive pit emerge within its tannin profile.
Palencia Winery 2015 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $36: Victor Palencia reached to his Yakima Valley roots and his first winemaking mentor — David Minick of Willow Crest — for his syrah. The 14 months in French oak helped pave the way for a supple wine with suave blackberry, plum and blueberry aromas and flavors, then peppery tannins and a nip of bittersweet chocolate in the finish.
Quady North 2014 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah, Applegate Valley, $32: Herb Quady returns each year to this prized source for syrah near the Applegate River in Southern Oregon. The vineyard work by Ron Burley allows Quady to craft spicy aromatics of blackberries and plum that bring boisterous blackberry, black plum and black currant flavors to the party. It closes with supple tannins and a hint of clove.
Colter’s Creek Winery 2015 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $17: This husband-wife team in the tiny Lewis-Clark Valley town of Juliaetta, Idaho, works with syrah from Southern Idaho to produce a bottling that’s gamy and plummy, with smooth and supple tannins that are backed by blackberry and pomegranate juiciness. These folks recently opened a satellite tasting room is Moscow near the campus of the University of Idaho.
Owen Roe 2015 Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block Syrah, Yakima Valley, $55: One of the reasons David O’Reilly moved from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to Washington’s Yakima Valley was to be near the Sauer family’s iconic vineyard in the foothills of Mount Adams. Beautiful barrel influences meld with the blackberry and plum aromas that lead into deep blue and black fruit flavors, finishing with black tea and smooth tannins.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 The Estates Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $42: Two decades ago, the Milbrandt brothers saw the Wahluke Slope’s potential to produce award-winning syrah, which includes this perfectly balanced, fruit-forward and spicy syrah. The blueberry and blackberry mix pleases the nose and palate as earthy, savory and warm tones provide continued encouragement.
Burnt Bridge Cellars 2015 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $35: The impressive pedigree of Les Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley delivers in this wine that’s vinified and poured in downtown Vancouver, Washington. It’s spicy right from the start, with black pepper and a hint of jalapeno. Bright acid supports the fruitiness, allowing blackberry jam to shine through.
Maryhill Winery 2015 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $36: Yet another dynamite syrah from winemaker Richard Batchelor, this lights the fuse for an explosion of pepper and blackberry throughout, balanced with spicy tannins and a finishing layer of blackberry.
Longship Cellars 2016 Ginger Man Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32: Kyle Welch, a rising star Washington, strikes the right balance in the cellar with fruit and oak to show off blueberries, leather, clean straw and cherry tobacco. Silky tannins and a finishing lick of strawberry round this out beautifully, and these wines are poured a stone’s throw from the Columbia River in downtown Richland.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.