Washington Syrah: A Tasting of Terroir (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday's post on our tasting of four 2006 Syrah from four of Washington's finest AVAs and vineyards. Our first two Syrahs were from Fielding Hills in the Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley's K Vintners Morrison Lane Syrah.

Our third Syrah moved west from Walla Walla Valley deeper into Yakima Valley to Laurelhurst and their Boushey Vineyards Syrah. The Boushey Vineyards, which are nearly smack dab in the middle of the Yakima Valley, have a more moderate climate than the vineyards of the Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain. The Boushey Vineyards are mostly a sand and loam soil combination and the Boushey fruit is sought after and is often looked at as fruit that personifies what Washington Wine can and should be.

The Laurelhurst Cellars Syrah ($37) had aromatics of earth tones and oak with cherry notes and an earthen quality which is typical of Boushey fruit. We also noted the definitive dark cherry and pepper notes that we have come to expect of a Washington Syrah. Most of us also picked up on the vanilla accents in the wine, which Craig guessed came from their use of new oak. Laurelhurst winemaker Gabe Warner later confirmed that the Syrah spent 22 months in 100% new French oak. The wine was the "hottest" of the four initially but the alcohol quickly breathed off, revealing a well balanced Syrah with good acidity. Laurelhurst Cellars is a relatively new urban winery located in South Seattle, producing wine in small lots, and using tight grain French oak to accent the wines.

Our final wine of the evening was DeLille's Doyenne Gran Ciel Vineyard Syrah ($72) from Red Mountain. Red Mountain, Washington's smallest AVA at 600 planted acres, is so named because of the red color of the cheat grass that covers the area. The Red Mountain is marked by a gravelly soil high in alkaline and is primarily planted with classic Washington red varietals: Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot on southwestern-facing slopes that get more sunlight hours than any other Washington AVA.

The DeLille Syrah 98% Syrah was blended with 2% Viognier to emulate the Rhone style. Craig explained that the blend creates an "ethereal" kind of result that combines the dark fruits and pepper of the Syrah with a floral and citrus element of the Viognier. This wine was built to lay down but was already displaying loads of character and nuance. The Doyenne GC Syrah had by far the most interesting and complex finish of the wines we tasted. The Syrah was big and jammy, with blackberry and plum flavors, and you could certainly detect the Viognier in what Gwynne referred to as orange blossom. This wine made it clear that it was going to go from delicious to extraordinary. The acidity and structure of this wine make one daydream of what it will be in ten years.

All of these wines were delicious. Sampling wines with 100% single vineyard fruit allowed us to really appreciate the character of the varying terroirs of Washington state. The variety and subtlety of the sources of the grapes allowed us experience how soils and climate can show up in the wine, through the nose and the taste. Most premium wines are made in a similar manner, though there are variances in oak and time spent in the bottle. What we taste in well-crafted wine is the ability of the winemaker to highlight the fruit and terroir that makes it special.

They say that the wine is made in the vineyard. I think these four wines proved that in the hands of a good winemaker, great fruit can become better wine.

The wineries:
Fielding Hills
K Vintners
Laurelhurst Cellars
DeLille Cellars