Living Columns & Blogs

Northwest Wines: Northwest Syrah ripe with Old World complexity

It’s been 30 years since the first Syrah grapes were planted in Washington. Since then, the red grape has become a favorite in the country’s second-largest wine-producing state.

In the Pacific Northwest, Syrah becomes a fascinating grape. Because of the Columbia Valley’s consistent heat, Syrah enjoys New World ripeness similar to California and Australia. And because of cool nights and our region’s northern latitude, the resulting wine can take on a complex wildness akin to what comes out of such French regions as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage.

The crossroad of classic and young wine regions makes Northwest Syrah — particularly Washington — so fascinating.

Here are several Syrahs we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Waterbrook Winery 2014 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $15: There’s a fruit-forward, minimal-oak theme throughout, starting with a nose of Marionberry taffy, red plum, Bing cherry and pipe tobacco. It’s lively on the palate with an easy and spicy approach of cherry juice, elderberry and blueberry with just enough grip to the mild tannin structure. Hints of anise and white pepper add complexity to the back end. (13.4% alc.)

Lone Birch 2012 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $13: This second label for Airfield Estates opens to engaging aromas of blackberry, dark blueberry, lilac and lavender with a whiff of smoky bacon, spice and cedar. It follows with juicy flavors of blackberry, blueberry and dark cherry. Nicely managed tannins, a pinch of herbs and elderberry in the finish make this an easy drinker. (14.1% alc.)

Avennia 2013 Boushey Vineyard Arnaut Syrah, Yakima Valley, $50: University of Washington alum Chris Peterson crafts scents of sizzling back bacon, delicious dark purple fruit, toast, sweet herbs, minerality and forest floor earthiness. On the palate, it’s smooth, clean and round with plum, blackberry, black cherry and espresso. Satiny tannins, huckleberry acidity, a touch of gaminess and pinch of baking spices make for a stunning finish. (15% alc.)

Tertulia Cellars 2012 Rivière Galets Vineyard Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $35: The nose features blackberry, caramel and baking spices. Inside, the fruit hints at black currant, and Chelan cherries with charming vanilla notes. Its structure is a theme that emphasizes acidity over tannin, making it a lighter style because of its smooth and approachable angle to the palate. (13.8% alc.)

Co Dinn Cellars 2013 Roskamp Vineyard Block Two Syrah, Snipes Mountain, $50: Prosser winemaker Coman Dinn develops aromas of chocolate-covered blueberries, dark plum, mint, molasses and a dash of black pepper. It follows with a plush and focused delivery of sweet blue fruit amid a medium structure of sandy tannins, Marionberry acidity and a lick of back bacon. (14.2% alc.)

Sawtooth Winery 2012 Trout Trilogy Syrah, Snake River Valley, $35: One of Idaho’s historic vineyards helps create aromatic hints of roasted coffee, smoky blackberry, toast, anise and blueberry pie. On the palate, it showcases dark purple fruit flavors of Marionberry and blueberry with touches of mocha, cocoa powder and lingering pomegranate juice. Enjoy with smoked pork ribs or duck confit. (13.5% alc.)

William Church Winery 2013 Red Willow Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, $40: This is a dark, focused and youthful expression from one of Washington’s oldest vineyards, offering aromas of dusty blueberry, Western serviceberry, cocoa powder, vanilla and baking spice. On the attack, it’s dark and plush with blackberry and plum, framed by fine-grained tannins and delicious Marionberry acidity. That structure makes for a penetrating and long finish of purple fruit. (14.5% alc.)

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah, Umpqua Valley, $39: This young release flashes purple fruit aromas of blueberry, plum and elderberry along with dark toast, spice and venison. That wild gaminess comes through to the palate with some plummy hedonism, framed by lingering blueberry skin tannins. Its long finish hints at Western serviceberry and more elderberry. (13.9% alc.)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at