At the third annual Judgment of Geyserville, syrah wines grown in cool climates showed well.
FOR THE PAST half-decade, syrah has been a tough sell. Part of that has to do with Australian shiraz (the same grape as syrah) flooding the U.S. market. A lot of it is because syrah can be, well, boring.
But syrah grown in the right location can transform into a fascinating wine.
Since being introduced to Washington in the mid-1980s, syrah has thrived. In fact, syrah is a special grape here because Washington is a viticultural crossroads between the Old World (France’s cooler northern Rhône Valley) and the New World (Australia and warmer areas of California). Washington grape growers have no issue ripening syrah, but getting it too ripe can be an issue because the grape can go from a fascinating and complex wine to something that is just big, jammy and ordinary.
Three to try
Drew 2013 Valenti Ranch syrah, Mendocino Ridge, $45: A stunning wine with complex aromas and flavors of black pepper; mint; and bright, focused dark fruit. It’s all backed by lively acidity and underlying minerality.
Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Winemaker’s Reserve syrah, Umpqua Valley, $39: Aromas of black cherry, blackberry and dark chocolate give way to flavors of gorgeous dark fruit, caramel and complex gaminess. Moderate but persistent tannins give this beautiful structure.
Ross Andrew Winery 2010 Boushey Vineyard syrah, Columbia Valley, $40: Complex aromas of huckleberry, maple syrup and cranberry lead to elegant flavors of purple and black fruit backed by energetic acidity and moderate tannins.
One reason syrahs grown in France’s northern Rhône Valley are so great is the cooler climate — and the complexity of aromas and flavors that follows. With that in mind, a few fellow wine professionals decided the theme of this year’s third annual Judgment of Geyserville would focus on cool-climate syrahs from the West Coast of North America.
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The Judgment of Geyserville — so named because we hold the tasting in this tiny community in Sonoma County — features Mike Dunne of The Sacramento Bee; Eric Degerman of Great Northwest Wine; wine judge Ellen Landis of Vancouver, Wash.; and sommelier/wine blogger Ron Washam (the HoseMaster of Wine) of Healdsburg, Calif. Each of us is responsible for selecting wines we believe will represent a region well.
This year’s theme turned out to be particularly fascinating, with a dozen syrahs selected from California to British Columbia. Perhaps surprisingly, the California wines turned out to be shining examples. I say “surprisingly” because we don’t think of California as a cool climate, thanks to areas such as Napa Valley, Lodi and Paso Robles. But Dunne provided examples from cool coastal regions, with one from Mendocino Ridge coming out as the best syrah.
That’s not to say that Northwest wines didn’t show well (they did). In fact, the three examples from Washington all used grapes grown in the relatively cool areas north of Grandview and Prosser in the lower Yakima Valley.
Seeking complex syrahs? Look for cooler areas.