Tag Archives: syrah

Top 10 Washington Wines that will WOW you

If you have not been enjoying the bounty of Washington State wines on your table, it’s time to give them a try. The 2nd largest wine producer in the US – just after California – Washington utilizes its ideal weather and soil to craft some of the most exceptional wines in the world. And these wines come in at a fraction of the price of some of their French and California counterparts.

Diversity is a strength here, from crisp and refreshing Riesling to dense and spicy Syrah. The one consistent factor is quality. Here are the top 10 Washington wines to “wow” your palate.

Eroica Riesling 2015
Riesling has found a unique identity in Washington, with crisp acidity, juicy fruit and an underlying lip-smacking minerality that begs for another sip. Eroica is a classic year after year with its impeccable balance. A favorite with Thai or Asian food with a hint of spice.

L’Ecole 41 Chenin Blanc 2016
L’Ecole is one of our favorite producers, so it’s hard to pick just one of their offerings to suggest, but the Chenin Blanc is such an incredible wine at an even better price. Fresh & lively fruit flavors of nectarine, tangerine and lemon shine through. Bright acidity backs a medium-bodied texture. One of those wines that pleases nearly every palate.

Sixto Uncovered Chardonnay 2015
If you think Uncovered means un-oaked, you would be wrong here. This barrel-fermented Chardonnay is a rich and creamy style, but with excellent acidity and character to give it an uplifting finish and feel. Comes in at a fraction of it’s Napa Valley Chardonnay counterparts and it excels in quality.

Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot 2014
If you’re wondering where to find quality Merlot, look no further than Washington State. Structured, yet silky smooth, Washington Merlot offer extraordinary balance and complexity. Woodward Canyon is one of the oldest wineries in the state. Their Merlot is age-worthy (I’ve had a 1980 that is still holding up!) and offers fruit, spice and earth in perfect harmony.

Substance Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
This has to be one of our favorite Cabernet values from anywhere. If you’ve ever been disappointed in an under $20 Cabernet that tastes only like fruit and alcohol, give this wine a try. I recommend it for any Cabernet-lover on a budget because it offers a rich, full-bodied texture with cassis, blackberry, tobacco and a touch of spice. It’s such a full expression of Cabernet.

Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
On the opposite end of the value of Substance, the Leonetti is one for the cellar. Excelling in wines for the cellar, this Cabernet offer an explosion of flavors like anise, lavendar, cassis, blackberry, mocha and of course the classic dark fruit of Cabernet. Structured, with fine-grained tannins to help this go two or three decades if you are patient enough.

Spring Valley Frederick Estate Red 2014
When you have such great success with Merlot and Cabernet, Bordeaux Blends will not be far behind. Spring Valley crafts a delicious blend, mostly Cabernet, with dark fruit, cedar, spice, and an incredible full-bodied texture that lingers on the palate. Yes, you can save this for a while, but it’s terrible delicious now as well. If you want another Spring Valley treat, try the Uriah blend – another favorite!

DeLille D2 Estate Red 2015
An expert in the Bordeaux blend, both white and red, the D2 red is primarily Merlot, offering softer red and black fruits like cherry and plum. Approachable now, the silky texture and lingering finish will keep you coming back for more.

Tenet Wine The Pundit Syrah 2015
A best-seller and a wine you should keep on-hand at all times, The Pundit Syrah delivers that perfect blend of spice, smoke and juicy, dark berry fruit. Easy drinking and full-bodied, it’s a perfect match for grilled meat or burgers.  And you cannot beat the price.

L’Ecole 41 Columbia Valley Syrah 2015
I once found a L’Ecole Syrah in my cellar that was 7 years old. It was incredible, getting better as it opened up. With a bit more structure, spice and tannin than the Pundit, L’Ecole Syrah is more Rhone-like, the spice and smoke subtly integrated into the overall structure.  That said, 2015 was a super warm vintage, so more jam comes through with this particular year.

 

Roads of the Rhone

The Rhone Valley is one of my favorite wine growing regions in the world. Perhaps part of this reason is because I have the privilege of visiting the area almost every summer. Not only are there delicious warm summers with fields of wild lavender and rosemary wafting to your nose, but there’s some pretty spectacular wine as well.

Two things that make the Rhone stand out to me – diversity and quality. The northern and southern Rhone are so distinctly separate, both in geography and style, that were there not a river to connect them, they would easily be two separate appellations.

I drink more southern Rhone wines by far, which I assume is true for most people. Northern Rhone wines are known for being a bit more structured, age-worthy, collectible and expensive. Thus our value-driven wallets and drink-it-now palates are drawn to the south, where these styles of wine abound. And yet, the northern Rhone has some excellent wines that could be considered great values.


A quick northern Rhone cheat sheet: Syrah is the exclusive red grape, though most regions can blend a small percentage of white grapes into the wines (except Cornas, which is 100% Syrah). Viognier is the exclusive grape of Condrieu, while Marsanne and Roussanne join Viognier in most other northern Rhone white wine blends. Vines are trained high on steep, terraced slopes with granite-based, gravelly soils.

A few gems to look out for in the north:
Crozes-Hermitage – the little step-sibling to Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage is a great way to introduce your palate to the northern Rhone style, at a lower price tag. Guigal and Delas make some excellent examples.

St.-Joseph -Though Cornas is one of the more talked-about regions in the north, I love to find a good St.-Joseph. Sometimes they are a bit less… rustic than a Cornas and more approachable. They can range from great value to slightly collectible (see Guigal).


Southern Rhone cheat sheet:Grenache is the primary red grape, though almost all wines are blends, and include red grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Whites are more rare, but are also blends, with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette leading the make up of most blends. Vines are often bush trained over flat terrain, with a warmer climate than the north.

Gems of the south:
Yes, I love a great Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a refreshing Tavel or a spicy Gigondas. But a few others I look out for are:
Cairenne – I think Cairenne will eventually be elevated to “cru” status, just as the Cotes-du_Rhone Villages Vinsobres was in 2004. Cairenne, one of the 18 Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages, is totally worthy of a try – it has the depth and complexity of many cru wines from the southern Rhone, but often with a lower price tag. Domaine Alary is a favorite of mine, but most Cairenne labels deliver beyond expectations.

Cotes-du-Ventoux – move over Cotes-du-Rhone, this is where you can find the new values! Offering refreshing and fruit-driven whites as well as rich and fruit-driven reds, this is a region I am watching. Loving that more and more wines are coming in from here.

It is Rhone Week at Wine.com, so it's a good time to stock up.

No matter what your palate, the Rhone most likely has something to satisfy it.

 

Wine Education Wednesday: Syrah vs. Shiraz

 Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is,  'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer – Nothing!  In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz.  The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.

Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France.  Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal.  Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular.  Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines.   Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.

French Syrah

French Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône.   Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines.  Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas.

The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre.  In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother.  Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes.

Notable Producers:  E. Guigal, Jean-Luc Columbo, M. Chapoutier, Chateau Beaucastel

Shiraz

Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region.  Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon).  These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity.  The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines.  The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?

Notable producers:  Penley Estate, Penfolds, Hewitson, Tait, Peter Lehmann

My Picks

Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2007 ($9.99). Contains soft tannins with smoky aromas of black pepper and burnt brown sugar.  Pair with roast chicken. A steal at $9.99!


Tait The Ball Buster 2007.  Luscious dark fruit with cocoa nuances.  Pair with steak or roasted lamb.