For many, many years, Syrah was France’s little secret — a grape grown almost exclusively in the Northern Rhone Valley, producing scant bottles of legendary wines such as Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. Even after migrating to Australia in the 1830s, Syrah still wasn’t nearly as popular as, for example, Cabernet and Merlot from Bordeaux, Pinot Noir from Burgundy, or Tempranillo from Rioja.
Over the last 25 years, however, Syrah has become more prominent in the US thanks to, ironically, the marketing of Australian Shiraz. In the late 1980s and 1990s, brands such as Lindemans, Penfolds, and Rosemount began infiltrating the market with Shiraz (previously labeled down under as “Hermitage”), and gradually impressed American wine drinkers with an alternative to Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfinadel. All hell broke loose when Wine Spectator put Penfolds Grange 1998 on their cover, rating it a nearly perfect 99 points — soon everyone was rushing to get Shiraz or Syrah to the masses.
The very best examples of the grape still come from the Northern Rhone, but there are plenty of other wonderful Syrah/Shiraz wines coming from other areas of France, Australia, the US, South Africa, and South America. Syrah needs a hot, hot climate to flourish, and the eventual wine tends to pick up the character of its vineyard soil. That said, Syrah flavors can vary depending on its origin; the one thing I find common, however, is that regardless of where it’s from, a Syrah-based wine leaves you with a black tongue (not unlike that of a Chow Chow).
Though there’s been a lot of press surrounding the “Rhone Rangers“, the best American Syrah may come from Washington State. The mountainous regions of the state allow for ideal, sun-facing, hillside vineyards, and offer soils saturated with complex minerals. Winemaker David Lake of Columbia Winery (NOT to be confused with Columbia Crest) was the first to grow and bottle Syrah in Washington, back in 1985, and remains one of the most highly respected producers in that state, if not the country.
Columbia Winery’s “entry level” bottle is a fine example of American Syrah, offering distinction, complexity, and character — a stark contrast from the myriad labels of “me-too” Shiraz flooding retail shelves. Forward, ripe aromas of blackberry, raspberry, some earth, vanilla, and a hint of cloves fill the nose. In the mouth it is full of superripe black and red raspberry, blackberry, and plum. Very jammy, but not overbearingly so. Supple, good weight, with a smooth, almost creamy texture. Acidity is medium to medium high, tannins are ripe and medium. Mild sweet earth and a spicy component (maybe vanilla?) are apparent in the midpalate. More black fruits abound in the finish, which is fairly well balanced and could get better as it matures. Finishes just a touch hot, but thatâ€™s to be expected for a wine with this kind of ripeness. People who like Aussie Shiraz will find this enjoyable, and more polished, clean, and less over-the-top. Bold and jammy yet elegant and classy. Though it may develop after a few years in the cellar, itâ€™s very enjoyable now, especially if you like ripe and jammy wines. A fine match for steak, burgers, medium bold cheeses, anything blackened. At around $15-16, it is appropriately priced and a good value.
a-9 t-8 b-8 fc-8 v-7 ~ 90 Points
produced by Columbia Winery