There is a buzz going on in the wine industry and the buzzing is about the Syrahs from Walla Walla Valley. Wine retailers and others are making claims that Walla Walla is making world-class Syrahs that are complex and aromatic. As a fan of Syrah, I couldn't agree more. These Syrah's are designed for wine drinkers who are looking for a rich, dense, yet low in tannins, and very fragrant wine.
ACNielsen reports that sales of Washington's Syrah are up 41 percent from a year ago, while Walla Walla Syrahs are up a huge 269 percent. California Syrah sales were up just 19 percent. Some wine retailers feel the difference between the two states is that Washington, especially Walla Walla, Syrahs seem to have more depth and earthier.
Walla Walla winemaker, Rusty Figgins was the "grandfather" (a young one) of this special grape. In 1993, he convinced a local vineyard to plant a block of Syrah. Later, a founder of Glenn Fiona, Figgins co-fermented the Syrah with Viognier, as done in classic Côte Rôties. Since that time, Syrah's have taken off in the valley. In 1996, French winemaker Christophe Baron used Syrah as his flagship grape for his Walla Walla winery, Cayuse.
Some of my favorite valley Syrah's? Where do I start?
Cayuse is one of the finest to have hit these lips. But good luck finding it. At this point, Christophe is providing Syrah to those on his wine club list. My bottles of Cayuse are swaddled in fine cloths of velvet and linen. After that, I am torn between any Syrah that comes from the Morrison Lane Vineyards, K-Vintners (voted top 10 Syrah in America), and Forgeron Cellars. Morrison Lane Winery of course, has their estate Syrah and also contract grapes to K-Vintners for a designated vineyard Syrah. Forgeron Cellars is so aromatic with a beautiful inky color! I have referred to it as my "breakfast wine." Why breakfast? The nose is deep and earthy like fresh ground coffee with the smell of toast in the background. The taste is like a lush mouthful of fresh blueberries and smokey like bacon. Very traditional aromas and tastes.
A few harvests back, I had the opportunity to know and work with one of the assistants at Glenn Fiona. Every so often he would bring me a sample of how their Syrah was coming along after their crush. The color was gorgeous! Deep and rich in dark fruit and often I would find a hint of violets in the nose. It impressed me so much, that I still remember.
Other Syrahs from the area I would recommend is Isenhower (the "Wild Alfalfa" has very generous dark fruit and spicy), Basel Cellars (very aromatic), most definitely Rulo (excellent prices and hospitality), Fort Walla Walla (elegant and traditional with Viognier added) and most recently Zerba Cellars (big and smokey). After this is printed, I know I will remember others that I enjoyed or that are not in my notes. These in particular have really made an impression on me.
A Syrah to keep an eye on in the valley is John Duval's "Sequel" from Longshadows. John is no stranger to Syrah, being he was a winemaker for Penfold's Grange in Australia. This is a Syrah I would definitely age for awhile. That is exactly what I plan on doing with mine.
Find out how sexy Syrah can be at the fifth annual "Sexy Syrah Festival", March 21 at http://www.saltys.com/seattle/"Salty's On Alki" in Seattle, celebrating Washington state's Syrahs.