By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
As I wrap up the Red Rhones for 2013, I’ll share with you a wide selection of Syrahs along with a few more wines blended from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and other varietals. We enjoyed these wines in tasting sessions that paired them with Salvadoran steak and (we couldn’t resist) juicy hot dogs from the grill. If you haven’t tried all beef dogs from Nathan’s or Hebrew National, you owe yourself a chomp of these two top-rated tube steaks. An added local competitor was smoky beef hot dogs from Piggyback Deli in Lynnwood, Washington; they make their own Chorizo and Merguez sausage links, too.
“Here at Hightower Cellars, we believe dogs to be integral to the winemaking operation. Although we aren’t sure where the expression ‘work like a dog’ came from.” Tim and Kelly Hightower continue to be part of the Red Mountain success story, honoring winery dog Murray with his own Syrah bottling. The playful pup says his wine offers brambly fruit of berries and cherries complemented by a nice amount of barrel spice, cocoa and leather.
Made in the big Walla Walla style, this wine features rich, ripe fruit and 22 months aging in 40% new French oak. Winemaker Philip Mackey crafted his 2009 Syrah from grapes grown at his estate Mackey Vineyard (76.7%), at Les Collines (16.7%) and at Bacchus (6.6%). The powerful wine offers complex aromas of black cherry, cassis, spicy earth, vanilla and meaty bacon. The palate is rich with flavors of dark fruits, spicy oak, vanilla and floral notes. You need a meaty grilled beef steak to keep up with this big wine.
This is probably the best value of any Washington Syrah, showing appealing fruit, great balance and style, and a moderate alcohol level. Grapes came primarily from the Wahluke Slope and were crushed and fermented leaving 10% whole berries. Winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca describes the wine as I did, “Elegant smoky tones lead to notes of currant, dried herbs and hints of pepper. The supple texture is complemented by flavors of cedar and dark fruits.”
Bergevin Lane Vineyards
Bergevin Lane notes that the fruit from the 2009 vintage was fast ripening and harvested earlier than in most years. All of the grapes came from Francisca’s Vineyard, south of Walla Walla east of Pepper Bridge, just a stone’s throw from the Oregon border. The wine is highly extracted with an inky hue and a restrained nose of blueberry, smoked meats and floral perfume. The palate is rich with flavors of black fruits and earth with toasty oak notes, dark chocolate and earthy herbs. It needs pairing with a rich grilled meat and would benefit from some additional bottle age.
Wedge Mountain Winery
Wedge Mountain Winery is owned and operated by Charlie and Mary Ann McKee. The winery is located five miles east of Leavenworth on the Wenatchee River where the McKees replaced apple and pear orchard with vineyards beginning in 1999. The owners encourage visitors Friday through Monday, 10am to 5pm. Charlie crafted this Syrah from grapes grown at Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Look for ripe aromas and flavors of bing cherry and plum with notes of cocoa and spicy oak. Firm tannins on the finish pair well with rich red meat from the grill.
Winemaker Alphonse de Klerk crafts wines made from grapes grown at Washington’s Snipes Mountain (AVA) at his small artisan winery on Bainbridge Island across Puget Sound from Seattle. Each vintage from Rolling Bay shows improvement and the 2010 Syrah marks a new summit for that varietal quest. Aromas and flavors of black currant and cherry mingle with notes of earthy mineral, violets and hints of dark chocolate and vanilla.
Kyle Johnson was the winemaker at the Olsen Estates winery before that venture called it quits in 2010. He now uses fruit from the Olsen Vineyards and other top quality estates to craft wines under his own Purple Star label. This is among the first 2011 Syrahs to cross my palate and it has a lot to offer. Sixty percent whole berries were retained in the fermentation yielding a juicy, fresh wine with aromas and flavors of cassis, plum, pepper and smoky earth. Nice hints of pepper, vanilla and bright red fruits highlight the wine.
Bridgeview Vineyards was founded in Oregon in 1986 with the planting of the estate vineyard in the Illinois Valley. Grapes for this wine came from its newest estate vineyard in the Applegate Valley planted in 1998. The owners, Bob and Lelo Kerivan, also operate the nearby Kerbyville Inn featuring wine-themed suites to accommodate southern Oregon tourists. Aromas and flavors of blackberry and cherry with earthy and toasty notes make this wine a tasty accompaniment to steaks from the grill.
Walla Walla Vintners
The winemakers at Walla Walla Vintners continue to produce superb wines with each vintage release a little better than the last. Grapes for this wine came from their estate vineyard featuring plantings of Joseph Phelps and Tablas Creek clones of Syrah, and from the respected Morrison Lane vineyard. Look for aromas of ripe berry (whole berry fermentation adds a lot to the nose!) mingled with smoky mineral and baking spices. The palate is spicy with black pepper and clove with jammy berry wrapped in fresh herbs and toasty cedar.
DiStefano Winery can be your first stop on a Woodinville wine tour, with their location just north of the junction of NE 175th St. and Highway 202. The winery offers delectable food bites for purchase on their deck or in the cellar room. The 2008 Syrah R is a ripe and rich wine with aromas and flavors of black cherry and blueberry mingling with notes of toffee and cocoa.
Cathedral Ridge Winery
For wine lovers traveling in the Northwest there is no more beautiful place than the Columbia Gorge with its dramatic vistas and fast-growing wine region. This is a great time of year to get out into the Hood River Valley and enjoy the scenery and fine wines. Cathedral Ridge Winery offers many amenities for wine tourists and a wide selection of wines for tasting. The Reserve Syrah offers aromas and flavors of black currant, earthy herbs, caramel and coffee with notes of toasty oak and vanilla.
Ash Hollow Winery
Ash Hollow Winery was founded in Walla Walla in 1998 and now farms two estate vineyards within the Walla Walla AVA; the Ash Hollow Vineyard is on the western edge of the AVA and the Bella Terra Vineyard is just east of downtown Walla Walla. The 2010 Syrah shows varietal character with some of the power of the Walla Walla heritage. Look for aromas and flavors of blueberry and raspberry with notes of tobacco, earthy spice and smoky cedar.
Agate Ridge Vineyard
The folks at Agate Ridge Vineyard suggest pairing their 2010 Syrah with steaks from the grill, and it fills that bill quite nicely. Crafted from estate fruit in vineyard block 16, the wine offers ripe dark fruit aromas and flavors with complementary notes of lead pencil, spicy oak and vanilla. Additional note: Agate Ridge continues its Saturday winery concerts, Rockin’ at the Ridge, through August.
Herb Quady’s Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah has been bottled as a single vineyard wine in every vintage from 2006. He believes that the Syrah varietal matches the site conditions almost perfectly. This Syrah is on the lighter side, showing distinct varietal character with aromas and flavors of raspberry, peppery spice, dark chocolate and hints of violets and vanilla.
Named after contractions of the owners’ children’s names, AniChe Cellars is located west of the Columbia Gorge town of Underwood, Washington. The winery is a synthesis of the owners’ art and science interests with winemaker/owner Rachael Horn holding down the science side and offering discussions of wine topics in her blog: Geek Out with Rachael. Her Moth Love blend of 48% Syrah, 34% Mourvedre and 18% Grenache tempted my tasters with aromas and flavors of dark cherry, cassis, pepper and smoky meat notes. Pairs well with smoky meats also.
Four generations of the Miller family have farmed in the Yakima Valley. Grapes were planted for commercial production in 1971, though at the time, other crops were of much greater commercial value. After decades of selling grapes to large Washington wineries, Airfield Estates winery was founded in 2007. This recent release of their Mustang blend features 72% Syrah, 18% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. Look for aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, white pepper and toasty cedar. Supple tannins pair well with grilled meats and richly sauced pastas.
Todd Newhouse named his Rhone blend after Julian Steenbergen who was the cellarmaster and chemist of Upland Winery from 1938 to 1948. These were the very early days of the Washington wine industry. This soft and approachable blend is crafted from 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre. Aromas and flavors of red cherry, baking spice and white pepper are complemented by medium tannins and a juicy finish.
Wines from other areas:
This fresh red blend is a great choice for lighter meat like pork or fowl and for rich fish like salmon. Made primarily from grapes grown at Cline Cellars’ vineyards in Contra Costa County, the blend includes Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah. Look for aromas of cherry and raspberry with notes of chocolate and spice, leading to flavors of red currant and plum with a soft tannin finish.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
The Patelin de Tablas wines were launched in 2010 with bottlings that included fruit from Tablas Creek and other top Rhone vineyards in Paso Robles. (Patelin in French means “village” or “area.”) These bright fresh wines – one red blend, one white blend and a rosť – are intended to offer exceptional value. This red blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise shows aromas of earthy spice, red cherry and pepper with fresh fruit flavors of red currant, plum and melon.