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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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of Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal



Wines of the Week Archive
Archived March 12, 2012
Published February 20, 2012

Syrah and Petite Sirah – Wines for Spicy Food
Part 1 of a 3-Part Series (See Part 2) (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

For our first go at Syrah for 2012, let’s clarify that Syrah and Petite Sirah are closely related varietals.  Long a source of confusion, Petite Sirah was identified as the French variety Durif.  It was not until 1996, however, that Dr. Carole Meredith at UC Davis – using advanced DNA techniques – showed that Durif was a genetic cross between Syrah and the minor French variety Peloursin.  That established, one can see that the two varieties might share similar characteristics in aroma and flavor, and indeed do on many occasions. 

These rich and fruity wines paired nicely with spicy barbecue including ribs, brisket and pulled pork.  The juicy palate of most Syrahs and blends makes for lip-smacking sipping and an improved impression of both wine and food.  A note: these rich, young wines are – for the most part - reluctant to give up bold, forward aromas when first poured.  Breathing time helps the wines open up.    

Alexandria Nicole Cellars
2009 Petite Sirah, Mr. Big
Destiny Ridge Vineyard

Best before planting Alexandria Nicole Cellars’ estate vineyard, Destiny Ridge, Jarrod Boyle learned the ropes of Yakima Valley grape growing under the tutelage of some of the region’s best.  Jarrod’s wines are unique and highly sought after and are made in small quantities.  Mr. Big is the Estate Petite Sirah offering aromas and flavors of smoky berry, black fruits, vanilla and toasty oak – a big wine for carnivores. 

Spangler Vineyards
2009 Petite Sirah, The Terraces
Southern Oregon

Pat and Loree Spangler will soon (2014) be celebrating the 10th anniversary of their winery-owning dream, and they continue their string of successes with Petite Sirah from The Terraces vineyard in Southern Oregon.  This wine offers added complexity and a little less power than past vintages.  Look for delicious aromas and flavors of blackberry, raspberry, dried red fruits and vanilla.  It can accompany a wide variety of savory fare from grilled steaks to pasta to chicken. 

Patterson Cellars
2008 Syrah/Sirah
Columbia Valley

With the similarity of the two varietals, it is surprising that more blends of Syrah and Petite Sirah arenot available.  Winemaker John Patterson of the Woodinville winery crafted this tasty blend of 56% Syrah and 44% Petite Sirah.  The grapes were sourced from Chandler Reach, Red Haven and McIntire Farms, all in the Yakima Valley.  Spicy aromas of berry, toast and baking spices lead to a lip-smacking palate with juicy red fruit and dried plum flavors. 

Agate Ridge Vineyard
2008 Petite Sirah, Estate
Rogue Valley

The Kinderman Family added winemaker Brian Denner to the staff during 2011 bringing his experience from both California and Chile to Southern Oregon.  Agate Ridge Petite Sirah offers ripe blackberry and huckleberry with notes of mineral and field herbs – a great pairing with meats from the grill and spicy ethnic takeout. 

Ded. Reckoning
2010 Plunder Syrah
Yakima Valley

If you are in the western part of Washington State, you owe yourself a visit to Compass Wines in the port city of Anacortes on north Puget Sound.  Doug Charles parlayed his 30 years of restaurant wine experience into a fabulous wine shop that specializes in Washington bottlings that include the rarest of the rare.  Not content to sit on his laurels, Doug became a negociant winemaker and created the Ded. Reckoning brand of wines crafted by some of Washington’s most noted vintners.  As for this wine, hoist up the skull and crossbones and shout “Arrrrrrgh” as you tip back a flavorful glass offering juicy-jammy berry and cherry with notes of smoky oak and spice. 

Coeur d’Alene Cellars
2007 Syrah
Boushey Vineyard
Yakima Valley

CdA Cellars (the approved abbreviation for the oft-misspelled Coeur d’Alene) specializes in Rhone varietals and has been featured in our Syrah columns many times.  The winery’s close proximity to the winegrowing areas of Eastern Washington affords access to prime fruit from prime vineyards.  For example, Syrah from Dick Boushey’s is renowned and the CdA bottling is full and rich with all the aromas and flavors one seeks in Washington Syrah.  Look for blackberry, smoky cherry, earth, vanilla and notes of boysenberry, cassis, plum and anise. 

Spangler Vineyards
2009 Syrah, Serenade Vineyard
Southern Oregon

The character from this vineyard high in the hills above Ashland, Oregon shows the potential for terroir-driven wines from this southern part of the state.  Complex aromas and flavors are the hallmark of Pat Spangler’s winemaking, and this wine shows what he can do with characterful fruit.  Look for raspberry, blackberry, anise, dried cherry, toasty oak and fresh herbs.

L’Ecole No 41
2009 Syrah, Estate
Seven Hills Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley

One of the owners of Seven Hills Vineyard near the Oregon/Washington border in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, Marty Clubb of L’Ecole No 41, makes several vineyard-designated wines from Seven Hills fruit.  This estate-bottled Syrah brings forth the classic Walla Walla style of Syrah with rich, ripe fruit flavors and aromas and a corral of toasty oak lending toasty caramel, vanilla and sweet cherry on the finish.  Tasty with grilled meat and other hearty fare. 

Quady North
2008 Syrah, Steelhead Run Vineyard
Applegate Valley, OR

After working as associate winemaker at California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard, Herb Quady was convinced that the truly compelling wines of his time were being made in cooler regions.  After founding Quady North, Herb specializes in Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Viognier from Southern Oregon.  This wine improved dramatically with breathing, showing aromas and flavors of lean cherry and plum, spice box and cedar, and notes of herbs, smoke and cocoa. 

Quady North
2009 Syrah, Serenade Vineyard
Southern Oregon

Another wine from the Rhone-focused Herb Quady, this bottling is crafted from the same vineyard as the Spangler Vineyards wine above.  The nose offers ripe boysenberry with complex and intense oak character showing toasty vanilla, caramel, coconut and spice.  The palate adds flavors of red cherry, herbs and toasty cedar. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle – Ethos
2007 Syrah Reserve
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Bob Bertheau crafted this reserve-style wine from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley AVA with 50% coming from the Wahluke Slope.  Barrel aging included 72% new oak – a mix of French (67%), American (5%) and other sources.  The rich and ripe character shows aromas and flavors of black cherry, caramel, smoky earth, boysenberry, leather, cocoa, dried cherry and toasty espresso notes.  It is a fine pairing with rich foods, especially beef and hearth sauces.

Eight Bells
2009 Syrah
Yakima Valley

Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michiels founded Eight Bells winery in 2009.  Tim and Andy still work for NOAA and hence the nautical name of Eight Bells signifying the end of a sailor’s watch aboard ship.  This Yakima Valley Syrah from their first commercial vintage is a delicious wine offering rich berry, earth and toast aromas leading to a spicy palate of cherry, dark chocolate, toasty oak and vanilla.  Nice with rich meats and hearty sauces.  

Delfino Vineyards
2009 Syrah
Umpqua Valley, OR

Delfino Vineyards and guest cottage is just southwest of Roseburg, Oregon and is operated by Jim and Terri Delfino.  They farm an 18-acre vineyard on their 160-acre spread planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetto, Merlot, Mueller Thurgau, Syrah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.  Look for aromas and flavors of juicy berry, dusty spices, cherry and light vanilla. 

Volcano Vineyards
2009 Syrah
Lakeside Vineyard
Rogue Valley

Scott and Liz Ratcliff came north from culinary careers in California to open Volcano Vineyards winery in Bend, Oregon.  They source grapes predominantly from Southern Oregon including fruit for this wine from Lakeside Vineyard in the Rogue Valley AVA.  Look for bright aromas of blackberry with floral and tangy citrus notes, and hints of white pepper.  The palate offers flavors of spicy cherry candy, light toasty notes and vanilla. 

Milbrandt Vineyards
2009 Syrah, Traditions
Columbia Valley

The Milbrandt brothers’ entry level Traditions line includes this tasty Syrah offering initial aromas of toasty oak that with breathing yields to blackberry, bacon and peppery spice.  The palate is medium-bodied and juicy with berry fruit flavors and a finish of meaty earth and toasty vanilla.

2009 Syrah
Columbia Valley

Forgeron Cellars recently introduced their Blacksmith line of value-priced wines including this rich and flavorful Syrah that is a very good value.  The wine is inky purple in hue and invites a sniff to reveal cran-cherry, citrus and smoky/earthy notes.  The palate opens with cran-cherry and toasty vanilla flavors and finishes with ripe raspberry.  This is a lip-smacking red wine at a bargain price that will certainly add complexity with additional bottle age.

Snoqualmie Vineyards
2008 Syrah
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Joy Andersen crafts superb, value-priced wines under the Snoqualmie Vineyards label.  This vintage of Syrah offers aromas of cherry, vanilla, floral perfume and some notes of smoky bacon.  The palate is medium to light bodied with juicy cherry and berry flavors.

Wines from other areas: 

Clayhouse Estate
2009 Petite Sirah, Old Vines
Red Cedar Vineyard
Paso Robles

Leading the way for others to follow, this Petite Sirah was the belle of the ball at our recent tasting with its balance of complex fruit and just enough oak influence to provide structure and additional complexity.  Tasters exclaimed over its aromas of blackberry and plum with notes of white pepper, spice and toast.  The palate follows the nose with additional flavors of mint, cocoa and smoky bacon.  Excellent with spicy meat dishes as well as elegant beef roast or steak.

Guglielmo Winery
2008 Petite Sirah, Private Reserve
Santa Clara Valley

As one of Northern California’s pioneer vintners, Guglielmo Winery (founded in 1925) celebrates its Italian heritage through three generations.  The tasting room in Morgan Hill (one hour south of San Francisco) is vintage Italian-wine-cellar offering specialty food products, gifts and award-winning wines.  The Petite Sirah was a favorite with our tasters and offers aromas and flavors of berry pie, white pepper, toasty earth and vanilla – an ideal accompaniment to richly sauced pasta or spicy carne asada. 

Black Box Wines
Shiraz, Central Coast, CA
$25.00/3 liter

If you don’t bring the box to the table, no one will know that this isn’t a fine Shiraz costing three times what you paid for it.  The signature juicy style is thankfully low on oak intensity and pairs well with everything from Tex Mex to pasta to pork chops from the grill.  Look for aromas and flavors of blackberry, dried cherry, earthy bacon and light smoky cedar.

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