Category Archives: Syrah

The Head, The Heart, The Slurp

I recently attended an Oregon Syrah tasting with a trio of Willamette Valley winemakers and a few other industry compatriots. We tasted through seven different Oregon Syrahs, including a vertical from Dion Vineyard in the Willamette Valley produced by Anne Hubatch of Helioterra. Violet-blue in color, the 2013 Dion grabbed me by the shoulders and force-focused my energy directly into the glass. Confident white pepper aromatics lead, followed by spice, blueberry, and boysenberry. Floral undertones add a lovely, gentle layer. This wine will excite those who respect and value Rhone Syrah—a mentally stimulating experience.

Other Syrahs from southern Oregon, especially the 2012 Cowhorn Syrah from the Applegate Valley, luxuriously warmed the heart with New World fruit. The Cowhorn Syrah danced a laser-line between density and buoyancy, fruit leather and black pepper. Wines this thick often fail to inspire, but Cowhorn manages to add layers of nuance into the folds of fruit.

Admittedly, Oregon winemakers and viticulturists have only now entered the dawn of this Syr-era. Few have plumbed current or potential vineyard sites with an eye for Syrah gold. The varietal has, however, found a home in Oregon, and the cool-climate Willamette Valley within. I expect to taste starlight from the misty cave depths once it settles into the embrace of well-selected Oregon vineyards.

A few days later, I dined with family at a casual mid-week gathering. My mother-in-law, a bargain wine shopper, opened a bottle of 2014 Blackstone Merlot from California. This sweet, grape slurpee of a wine lacked everything that makes wine sing. It declared itself robotically, centuries away from passing the Turing Test—Mass Market at its worst. It served as a reminder that $10 Washington flattens $10 California every time. Biased as I am, I challenge you: Apothic Red v. Two Vines, Menage a Trois v. Columbia Crest Grand Estates,  Bogle Essential Red v. Lone Birch Red. Let me know your results.

Cheers to wines that stir the head and the heart.

Bombs Away: Syrah in the Willamette

As mentioned in my last post, I have two significant memories from my summer of tasting through the Willamette Valley. Stoller Family Estate provides the second provocative impression. After tasting through six wines at Stoller, all truly respectable, I find myself wanting more. . . syrah from the Willamette Valley.

Stoller’s Single Acre Estate Syrah brought one eye brow up, and forced a second glance at the label. Syrah from the Willamette? Syrah brings most minds to the hot climes of the world–the Hunter Valley of Australia or the much closer Wahluke Slope of Washington. Unfortunately, these warm locations can too often create fruit bombs lacking complexity, balance, or length. Stoller’s syrah, however, balanced beautifully with acid and medium weight, while looming large enough to show classic syrah spice and fruit. If this single experiment from Stoller does not convince, perhaps the Northern Rhone should, as the climates of both valleys share plenty of similarities if you choose the vineyard site appropriately. Remember, the Northern Rhone borders Burgundy, the epicenter of Pinot Noir. Wineries with lower elevation, south-facing acreage within the Willamette Valley, like Stoller Family Estate, take note. Bombs away–balance and perspective rise up. Perhaps this message should carry beyond the caves and cellars to the halls of capitals.

While you’re beating down the doors of those in power, pick up a bottle of 2013 Pinot Noir Rose from Stoller Family Estate as well. I have tasted a good plenty of roses from a plethora of grape varieties from Wa-gon country, and this takes the cake. Delicious.

*Newcomers, Wa-gon = Washington and Oregon