Syrah finds its flavorful mark as a stand-alone wine and in blends

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 4, 2014 

Last February I wrote about the virtues of Washington syrah, a somewhat underappreciated varietal that still takes a back seat to cabernet sauvignon and merlot as a distant third in the state’s red wine production.

That isn’t to say the grape hasn’t continued to grow in popularity and earn its share of recognition. There has been slow but steady increase in production over the past five years, and I think it’s safe to say that syrah has found its niche among Washington winemakers.

You may not always find the grape as a stand-alone varietal, but syrah has increasingly become a staple for blending purposes, particularly as an enhancement to a cabernet base.

Syrah is generally characterized as medium- to full-bodied with low to medium acidity and medium to high tannins. Compared to other red wine grapes, its ultra-dark color and flavor intensity level often set it apart.

Syrah frequently carries a nice smoky, spicy quality in addition to a number of dark, berry-like fruit flavors. That makes it an excellent choice to pair up with lamb, burgers, or just about anything barbequed.

Here are a few Washington syrahs and red blends with syrah I think you'll enjoy:

Gingko Forest Winery 2010 Gingko Red (about $15) — Sourced from estate vineyards in the Wahluke Slope, winemaker Mike Thiede hits all the right notes with this combination of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.

Darker cherry and black plum flavors lead off and then transition into brighter notes of red currant and raspberry. What impressed me most about this wine, other than its incredibly reasonable price, was the seamless balance of fruit, acidity, soft tannins and trace of minerality it displayed. An extremely fine effort, this wine is a must-buy.

Lost River Winery 2010 Côte Wall Syrah (about $26) — Winemaker John Morgan continues to impress with this seductive, inky interpretation of Washington syrah. Black currant, espresso, and bittersweet chocolate glide into a lengthy finish, capped with a whisper of black pepper. Co-fermentation with 8 percent viognier provides a lovely fragrance of stone fruit on the bouquet.

Mackey Vineyards 2009 Syrah (about $32) and 2009 Concordia (about $38) — The Walla Walla area has earned its reputation as a notable producer of Washington syrah. Brothers Philip and Roger Mackey currently offer a couple of choices sourced primarily from their own vineyards.

The 100 percent syrah shows understated flavors of blackberry, vanilla and a pleasant note of oatmeal stout on the extreme finish.

The Concordia is comprised of 77 percent syrah along with some grenache and mourvèdre. Its smoky blueberry base is supported within a framework of dark chocolate and pleasant notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice throughout. Tasty, complex, and completely over-the-top.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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