Thursday, October 7, 2010

Washington and the Hermitage grape

The Syrah grape has found a welcome home, from a viticultural standpoint anyway, in the greater Columbia Valley. Plantings of Syrah are very still very young, with the oldest vines dating back to 1986 at the Red Willow vineyard. Considering that the Washington wine industry is so young, and Syrah plantings are just coming of age, our state has turned out some of the greatest examples of any new world wine region.

Of course Washington was not the first new world producer to popularize varietal labeled Syrah. Australia has been doing this for 50 plus years and experienced a heyday in the 90's with it's Shiraz. It took a lot longer for the US to catch on to the fact that the Syrah grape was capable of producing great wines. Part of the problem was the Syrah vines we had to choose from in the US were of questionable origin at best. In the 80's vines from the Rhone Valley were imported and this began a whole new chapter for the Syrah grape in the US.

Here in Washington the Syrah grape has shown that it is very sensitive to soil and especially climate. While producers of great Washington Cabernet Sauvignon (Betz PDF, Quilceda Creek Cabernet) like to blend from vineyards all over the State to produce the most complex wine, the best Syrah is most often from a single vineyard.

A handful of producers have created examples of Syrah that rival any new world bottling. Cayuse has become a cult wine with a number of offerings from his estate vineyards that are consistently scoring in the high 90's. Bob Betz has three different Syrah's that each highlight a different part of the Columbia Valley; La Serenne (Boushey vineyard), La Cote Rousse (Ceil du Cheval vineyard), and La Cote Patriarche (Red Willow vineyard). Charles Smith has brought considerable attention to Washington State with his range of single vineyard bottlings.

If you haven't explored the wide selection of Washington State Syrah, come in and give one a try. These wines are very friendly when young and don't need the time in bottle that so many Cabernets demand.


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