Not all great NW Syrah comes from Walla Walla

By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, Northwest Wine April 4, 2012 

Our recent blind tasting of 147 Northwest Syrahs proved the Walla Walla Valley is a great place to grow and make Syrah. But great Syrah is not confined to that region of the Northwest.

In fact, the noble grape of France's Rhne Valley adapts well throughout the Pacific Northwest. Many winemakers have said to us over the years that Syrah tends to be more susceptible to changes in its location that many other grapes.

For example, Syrah planted in a warm area such as Red Mountain or the western Wahluke Slope will provide rich, bold, plummy flavors. But plant that same grape in a cooler area, such as the Yakima Valley, and it might provide wonderful notes of spices and bacon fat.

We have found fascinating versions of Syrah in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley that reveal aromas of sandalwood.

In Idaho's Snake River Valley, the high-elevation vineyards provide the opportunity for Syrahs with higher acidity. And Syrahs from Oregon's Rogue Valley will show off ripe flavors of blackberries and sweet spices.

Below, we picked out Syrahs from a few different areas of Washington, Oregon and Idaho that showed well in our recent big Syrah blind tasting, each revealing something about the region they are from.

Ask for these wines from your favorite wine merchant, or order directly from the wineries.

Bunnell Family Cellars 2007 Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, $44: The grapes for this superb wine came from a high-elevation vineyard in the Yakima Valley that is farmed by one of Washington's best growers. In fact, Dick Boushey's Syrah grapes are highly prized across the state, and this is further evidence of his greatness. This opens with aromas of blackberries, raspberries, chocolate and even a hint of coconut. On the palate, it's a gorgeous wine with a rich mouth feel and flavors of boysenberries, blackberries, plums and slate.

Smasne Cellars 2008 Lawrence Vineyard Block 3 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35: The grapes for this wine come from the Royal Slope, an area of the Columbia Valley that probably deserves its own AVA designation. This Syrah opens with inviting aromas of blackberry jam, black currants and black pepper, followed by flavors of plum jam, blackberries and a dusting of cocoa on the finish.

Barnard Griffin 2010 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $17: Owner/winemaker Rob Griffin refers to Desert Aire Vineyard as "the Côte-Rôtie of Washington," and he brings in all the Syrah from the 15-acre vineyard for his "Tulip" label Syrah. This young wine opens with luscious aromas of blackberries, plums and sweet oak, followed by wonderful flavors of dense black fruit, tobacco leaf, bright acidity and a long, plush finish.

Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden 2008 Reserve Estate Syrah, Applegate Valley, $45: As one might surmise from the name, Cowhorn is a biodynamic grower and producer. This wine is as complex as it is delicious, with aromas of blackberry jam, leather, black pepper and exotic spices, followed by layered flavors of dense black fruit, coffee beans and peppercorns on the lengthy finish.

Koenig Vineyards 2009 Three Vineyard Cuvee Syrah, Snake River Valley, $20: Greg Koenig is one of the Gem State's best and most prolific winemakers, so it's no wonder he crafted the top Idaho wine in our judging. This offers pleasing aromas of black cherries, black olives and cigar, followed by rich flavors of black cherries and black currants. It's beautifully balanced from beginning to end.

Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2009 Syrah, Lake Chelan, $29: Winemaker Scott Benson crafts wines for his family operation on the north shore of Washington's Lake Chelan. Using estate grapes, he has produced a Syrah with aromas of blueberries, cherries and barbecue potato chip spices. On the palate, it's an easy approach with delicate flavors of black currants and blueberries. It's a lighter-colored wine, but don't let that fool you into thinking it isn't a big wine.

*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For the freshest reviews, go to www.winepressnw.com/freshpress.

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