Spring 2020

Tasting Results: Syrah takes on beautiful chameleon-like qualities

By Eric Degerman

Winemaking in the Walla Walla Valley seems to have been the destiny of Cameron Baker Kontos, and while he’s best known for his work with Bordeaux varieties and the beautifully distinctive dragonfly logo on the bottle, he soars with Syrah, too.

It’s no surprise the top entry in Wine Press Northwest’s recent regional tasting of Syrah was grown and crafted in the Walla Walla Valley, an arena where so many winemakers have made Syrah a focus and source of pride on an international scale.

“Syrah is what is making the valley become more and more discovered every year,” Kontos said. “It’s found its niche in our different soils, and the interest in Syrah has the valley blowing up.”

The Kontos Cellars 2016 Les Collines Vineyard Tate Syrah finished atop our regional tasting of Syrah that generated 169 entries from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The kaleidoscope of examples merely confirmed how diverse this sophisticated Rhône Valley red can be, and Kontos said it would not be farfetched to view Syrah as the Columbia Valley’s answer to Pinot Noir — only much more pliable.

“Syrah has such a wide range of flavor profiles,” Kontos said. “Winemakers can do whatever they want and take it in any direction. That’s what makes it so fun to work with.”

Back in 1999, Tamarack Cellars in Walla Walla began using Syrah to bring ripeness and build midpalate mouth feel in its trendsetting Firehouse Red. And while there are crass jokes about Syrah’s lack of marketability, in many cases, the entries represented here reflect the best lots of Syrah that each winery works with. That was indicated in the 36 examples receiving an “Outstanding!” — Wine Press Northwest’s top rating — a rate of 21 percent.

Winemakers and viticulturists in Idaho routinely look at Syrah as their signature grape, and they’ve come to appreciate it for many of the same reasons as their counterparts in Oregon and Washington, especially for its reliability.

Main Photo - syrah wine maker
Winemaker Cameron Baker Kontos, shown here during the 2017 harvest at Kontos Cellars in Walla Walla, earned top honors recently in Wine Press Northwest’s blind tasting of 169 Northwest Syrahs. RICHARD DUVAL

“Syrah is a world-class wine on a massive scale, and the fact that it ripens in Idaho is pretty cool for us,” said Greg Koenig, founder of Koenig Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho, and winemaker for nearby Williamson Vineyards.

“It’s an early ripener, and it gets ripe every year,” Koenig said. “In 2016, it was late September, and in 2018 it was around Oct. 1. We always have nice weather at that time of year, and the Syrah comes in easy and super ripe.

“If I had to plant just one thing, that would be Syrah,” he added. “When it comes to Syrah in Idaho, everybody makes a good one. We take Washington’s lead on everything, and we’ve got the climate and the soils to excel with Syrah.”

Among the interesting facets to this tasting, believed to be one of the largest snapshots of Northwest Syrah, is that it showed that Red Mountain is more than the land of Cabernet Sauvignon. Six of the “Outstanding!” examples were pulled from Red Mountain vineyards, and only one wine in the tasting scored higher than the DeLille Cellars 2016 Grand Ciel Syrah. In fact, four of the top wines were rooted in vineyards spearheaded by pioneering Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval fame.

And while Red Mountain is nested within the Yakima Valley, technically the American Viticultural Area contributed five additional wines that earned the equivalent of a gold medal. Lake Chelan accounted for a trio of top wines.

Once again, Southern Oregon proved that its vineyards offer winemakers throughout the state award-winning potential as the Applegate, Rogue and Umpqua valleys combined to amass seven “Outstanding!” ratings.

Vineyards not far from Oregon are what Cameron Kontos has come to rely on for Syrah, and winemaking seems to be in his blood. His father, Cliff, founded Fort Walla Walla Cellars, and then rather than go to Walla Walla Community College to learn more about winemaking, Cameron landed a job working at Forgeron Cellars for acclaimed Marie-Eve Gilla.

After eight years, Cameron and his brother, Chris, launched Kontos Cellars in 2010. Success stories seem to be woven into their DNA — the sixth generation of a Walla Walla Valley family that built a railroad, sold it for 12 times the investment and founded Baker Boyer Bank.

The Kontos wines, with an annual production of just 2,500 cases, are highly allocated. They sell 95 percent out of their downtown tasting room in the historic Jones Building, which is owned by family and overlooks Mill Creek. They’ve maxed out two levels of their wine club, and the waiting list stands at 400.

“My brother and sister-in-law designed a beautiful tasting room,” Cameron said. “I just try to make sure that I put out a good product to sell there.”

Added pressure comes with Cameron’s reserve Syrah, which is part of the Progeny tier and always named after a family member. Chris’s daughter gets bragging rights for the 2016 vintage. So why, with the 2016 Tate already in limited production and with supply nearly spent, was her uncle pouring it at a consumer event in Portland?

“That’s how I get my wine club signups — it’s my own little tease,” Cameron said with a chuckle.

This tasting was staged Jan. 30 at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash. Judges were Tamara Belgard, journalist, Portland, Ore.; Glenn Grabiec, sommelier/general manager, Bartholomew Winery, Kennewick; Chris Loeliger, winemaker, TruthTeller Winery, Walla Walla, Wash.; JD Nolan, owner/wine buyer, Fat Olives Restaurant & Catering, Richland, Wash; Ryan Raber, winemaker, Tertulia Cellars, Walla Walla; Mike Rader, panelist, Great Northwest Wine, Kennewick; Ken Robertson, columnist, Wine Press Northwest, Kennewick; Tanya Woodley, winemaker/co-owner, SuLei Cellars, Walla Walla; and Courtney Zihlman, marketing/communications specialist, Liberty Lake, Wash. Panel moderators were Eric Degerman of Great Northwest Wine; Richard Larsen, retired research winemaker, Richland; and Jerry Hug, Publisher, Wine Press Northwest.

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Unanimously Outstanding!

Kontos Cellars 2016 Les Collines Vineyard Tate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $63

Walla Walla native Cameron Kontos didn’t stray far from home — the foothills of the Blue Mountains — for this stunning example of Syrah that topped the field of 169 submissions. Les Collines, a French phrase that means “the foothills,” ranks as one of the cooler sites in the Walla Walla Valley, and Kontos employed a fermentation of 75% whole cluster to achieve remarkable results. Aromas of blackberry, anise and dried herbs lead to a complex, approachable yet age-worthy example of Syrah that shows remarkable extraction and an abundance of blueberry and blackberry flavors. (96 cases, 14.7% alc.)

DeLille Cellars 2016 Grand Ciel Syrah, Red Mountain • $75

While Cab is king on Red Mountain, Jason Gorski shows that Syrah also shines there, using Clone 383 berries from DeLille’s Grand Ciel Estate Vineyard to state his case. Of the seven French oak barrels in this lot, two were new, but enticing toast doesn’t get in the way of the black pepper, blackberry and lavender aromas. There’s a fistful of raspberry and blackberry flavors that lead into a sturdy framework akin to black olive skins, which transitions into a long finish of Red Vines licorice and juniper berry. (175 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Plaisance Ranch 2017 Papa Joe’s Private Stash Syrah, Applegate Valley • $35

Pioneering viticulturist Joe Ginet broke ground in the United States for his work with French red variety Mondeuse. Since the obscure variety is closely related to Syrah, it makes perfect sense that Ginet excelled in this Northwest judging. He also interplanted Viognier within the Syrah block at his multi-generation ranch in Southern Oregon, and he co-fermented the Syrah for this wine with about 3% Viognier. There’s no new oak involved, so the focus is on the purple fruit from start to finish, picking up baking spices, cured meat and tobacco along the way. Blackberry acidity and excellent tannin management create the tremendous mouth feel and structure. (400 cases, 13.4% alc.)

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2014 Red Heaven Vineyard Syrah, Red Mountain • $44

Back in 2009, Ron Bunnell produced two of that judging’s top examples of Syrah from the 2004 vintage. A decade later, the former head man at Chateau Ste. Michelle matches that performance. Here is his snapshot of Red Heaven Vineyard, a coveted parcel high on the west slope of Red Mountain. It’s a complex and juicy delivery of boysenberry and Craisins backed by a sandy structure allowing for long and lingering layers of eucalyptus and mocha. (115 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Tsillan Cellars 2017 Estate Reserve Syrah, Lake Chelan • $38

Ray Sandidge’s work with fruit on the south shore of Lake Chelan continues to serve as validation of Dr. Bob Jankelson’s vision for Lake Chelan as a grape-growing region. This lot represents 16 barrels of its finest Syrah, and it’s yummy and pretty with plum and black cherry with Craisin acidity and a long and soft finish of blueberries, offering pleasing complexity. (396 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Wapato Point Cellars 2016 Cougar Ridge Vineyard Syrah, Lake Chelan • $35

Jonathon Kludt’s parents became pioneers in the Lake Chelan Valley when they began to transition their Red Delicious apple orchards into vineyard on the north shore of the lake. Cougar Ridge Vineyard was established in 1998 with a south-facing aspect at 1,300 feet elevation, which means these 4 acres receive not only exposure to the sun but also the morning sun’s reflection from the lake. After 21 months in barrel, the results offer delicious notes of dark cherry and plum with mild oak toast. Velvety medium-bodied tannins allow for a finish of red licorice, sassafras and black pepper. (300 cases, 13.4% alc.)

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Barrister Winery 2016 Sagemoor Syrah, Columbia Valley • $35

It’s now the trio of founders Greg Lipsker and Michael White with Tyler Walters at the wheel of this Spokane landmark, and they continue to rely on historic Sagemoor Vineyards for much of their program. Bacchus and Weinbau vineyards are blended with Petit Verdot (5%) from Dionysus and aged 31 months in an assortment of French (38%), American (26%) and Hungarian oak. And yet, that barrel program does not get in the way of the essence of Syrah, producing a classic theme of cured meat, black currant, blueberry and blackberry with touches of Earl Grey tea and cracked pepper. Complex and balanced, it’s a full package. (280 cases, 16% alc.)

Telaya Wine Co. 2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Syrah, Washington State • $40

Red Mountain pioneer Jim Holmes established Ciel du Cheval in 1975, and while his vineyard might be best known for age-worthy Cab, the continued success with Rhône varieties is impressive. That’s why Earl and Carrie Sullivan of Wine Press Northwest’s 2016 Idaho Winery of the Year drive all the way from Boise to buy these grapes in their effort to simply make the best wine they can. And this Syrah ranks among the best in the Northwest. Aromas of black plum, cured meat and pomegranate transition to a deep and lovely fruit expression with flavors of more plum, blackberry and blueberry. There’s great weight to the structure, capped by a long and smooth finish. (150 cases, 14.3% alc.)

RoxyAnn Winery 2016 Single Vineyard Estate Syrah, Rogue Valley • $28

This century farm has been known as Hillcrest Orchard and renowned for pear production across its 120 acres near Roxy Ann Peak in Medford, Ore., but more than half of that acreage is dedicated to grape vines that lead to an annual production of 15,000 cases. This marks the third vintage for winemaker Kent Barthman since his recruitment from Sonoma, and it’s a remarkable effort. Fanciful notes of baked cherry pie, cola and sassafras are wrapped in a medium body of velvety tannins and dusted with mocha, backed by age-worthy acidity. (185 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Harbinger Winery 2015 Sagemoor & Elephant Mountain Vineyards Vintner’s Pick Syrah, Washington State • $32

Sagemoor, one of Washington’s most venerable sites, is blended here with fruit from Joe Hattrup’s rising star Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley, and the results by Olympic Peninsula winemaker Sara Gagnon are exceptional. It’s rather floral with hints of vanilla and violet, fruity with flavors of blackberry and black cherry, and enjoyable with milk chocolaty tannins and boysenberry acidity. It offers great maturity and delicious density. (132 cases, 14% alc.)

Jones of Washington 2015 Estate Vineyards Syrah, Wahluke Slope • $15

Best Buy! Victor Palencia’s reign as the winemaker for the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year ends with this issue, but the hits will keep coming, as evidenced by this stellar effort on behalf of the Jones family. The 2012 Washington Winery of the Year should have no problem blowing through the rest of this bottling, particularly at its young tasting room inside the Quincy Public Market. The nose of black licorice, leather and plum lead to an elegant profile of red plum and strawberry, and the medium body allows for a long and supple finish. (1,317 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Williamson Vineyards 2016 Reserve Syrah, Snake River Valley • $40

One of the Pacific Northwest wine industry’s top tandems is winemaker Greg Koenig working with fruit grown in Idaho’s Sunnyslope Wine District by the Williamson family. These four barrels of estate Syrah create a profile of plum, blackberry and roasted coffee as touches of caramel, pomegranate and wet stone make for nice intensity. (102 cases, 14.5% alc.)

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Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2018 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $40

One of the cult producers along the Columbia Gorge is Robert Lorkowski, and while one of his calling cards is the assortment of Italian varieties that he excels with, this youthful Syrah serves as another example of talent. It’s hedonistic, fruity and fleshy with dark cherry and plum notes, backed by blackberry acidity, which makes for a rather yummy wine. (325 cases, 16% alc.)

Williamson Vineyards 2018 Syrah, Snake River Valley • $28

One of the youngest examples in this snapshot of Northwest Syrah also ranks among the best as Greg Koenig provides a glimpse into the future with this debutant for the Williamson family. Vineyard managers Mike Williamson and his cousin, Patrick, continue to place award-winning fruit on Koenig’s crush pad just a few hundred yards away. Aromas and flavors of sweet black cherries and plum pick up touches of sweet herbs and leather as raspberry acidity and smooth tannins make for a nice texture. (140 cases, 15% alc.)

Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2018 Winemaker’s Select Syrah, Red Mountain • $50

Red Mountain growers continue to earn acclaim for more than “King Cab,” as evidenced by Robert Lorkowski in the Columbia Gorge community of Wishram, Wash. Rich notes of lavender, cherry, plum and cigar leaf lead to firm yet pliable tannins. The success and following for Lorkowski’s wines have prompted him to launch satellite tasting rooms in Hood River, Ore., Woodinville, Wash., and the Georgetown district of Seattle. (188 cases, 16% alc.)

Nine Hats Wines 2015 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $25

Lots that didn’t quite fit in the Long Shadows Vintners program for Aussie rock star John Duval and his Sequel project make their way into the Nine Hats label, which explains the delicious pedigree for this Syrah that includes Mourvèdre (18%) and Grenache (2%). The continued wizardry of Gilles Nicault led to one of the best values of this Syrah study, which reflects spicy plum, blackberry, floral and minerality. Its superb balance is capped by a long finish of anise. (700 cases, 14.8% alc.)

L’Ecole No 41 2017 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $25

Mike Sharon, working with Marty Clubb, had the luxury of pulling in hand-harvested grapes from vineyards such as Sagemoor’s Bacchus, StoneTree and Candy Mountain as well as Summit View and Seven Hills in the Walla Walla Valley. They racked these largely neutral oak barrels four times during the course of 18 months, and the bench trials led to a blend of Syrah (77%), Grenache (21%) and Mourvèdre. It’s filled with character and evolves in the glass for an experience filled with raspberry, violets, light toast and sarsaparilla that’s rounded off by bittersweet chocolaty tannins. (3,100 cases, 15% alc.)

Maryhill Winery 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $26

The Leutholds have been awarded eight career Platinums for their bottlings of Syrah, and they’ve all come within the past decade. Their first was for the 2009 vintage, which marked the arrival of New Zealand winemaker Richard Batchelor from Napa. As a result, it was no surprise to see Maryhill rank so highly in this tasting. It’s fruit-forward yet crunchy as blackberry and black cherry come with a bite of blueberry, making for a lingering finish. (968 cases, 14.1% alc.)

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Quady North 2015 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah, Southern Oregon • $32

It’s no surprise to see the talented Herb Quady grab a gold medal from any competition in the country, particularly with Syrah. Steelhead Run was established a stone’s throw from the Applegate River in 1993, a decade prior to Quady’s arrival in Southern Oregon. Clones 470, 877 and Hermitage are featured, and Quady has been producing vineyard-designate Syrah from Laura and Ron Burley’s site since 2006. This offers classic notes of blackberry, black currant and black pepper, backed by blueberry acidity and a smooth finish of cola. (125 cases, 13% alc.)

Schooler Nolan Winery 2016 Syrah, Red Mountain • $25

The Nolan family’s relationship with the Hedges family on Red Mountain began with wine list placement at Fat Olives in Homer, Alaska — the flagship restaurant for the Schooler and Nolan families. Pete Hedges has handed off the winemaking duties to his niece, Sarah Goedhart, and she works with Tablas Creek and Joseph Phelps clone fruit planted at her family’s Les Gosses Vineyard for this delicious bottling for Tiny Nolan and his son, JD. Classic notes of black pepper, dark cherry and smoky oak come through for a nice finish. Looks for this at Fat Olives in Richland, where the wine is on the list as well as available for bottle purchases to take home. (112 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Time & Direction 2017 Old School Syrah, Columbia Valley • $40

This follow-up effort by Steve Wells to his highly acclaimed 2016 debut vintage proves that this erstwhile New York City sommelier is well on his way. A product of Walla Walla Community College’s famed winemaking school, he works for Aryn Morell, who not only encouraged Wells to launch his own brand, but also introduced him to the Lawrence family’s Solaksen planting in the proposed Frenchman Hills appellation. Wells blended it with fruit from emerging Éritage Vineyard near “The Big House” in Walla Walla. Dark purple fruit, baking spices and gamy aromas lead to flavors of blackcurrant and blueberry, backed by age-worthy tannins. (160 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Youngberg Hill 2015 Oregon Syrah, Rogue Valley • $35

Grower/vintner Wayne Bailey owns one of the most picturesque wine country destinations in North Willamette Valley, and he rightfully focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Youngberg Hill near McMinnville. Here, however, he works with 10-acre Daisy Creek Vineyard near Jacksonville for this stunning Syrah. Russ and Margaret Lyon’s longtime passion and vision for wines inspired by the Rhône is realized in this wine, which opens with dark cherry, plum and tapenade aromas. It deliciously features Bing cherry and blueberry juice, backed by black currant skin tannins and a finish of elderberry. (267 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Fly Rod Cellars 2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Salmonfly Syrah, Red Mountain • $35

Troy Mandeville and John Richardson work for Scott Greenberg of Convergence Zone Cellars in North Bend, Wash., but they call all the shots when it comes to their own label — Fly Rod Cellars. Here’s another example of Red Mountain’s amazing Syrah, and this two-barrel lot is an exquisite expression, offering an experience with black plum, blueberry and Bing cherry, framed by a skillfully presented structure. (48 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2017 Les Vignes Le Tendre Syrah, Yakima Valley • $32

This young planting west of Benton City, Wash., by Greg Letendre is paying quick dividends for winemaker Andrew Martinez, who grew up in the Horse Heaven Hills surrounded by historic Cabernet Sauvignon vines. There’s little doubt these three barrels of Syrah will find an audience at the Winemaker’s Loft in Prosser as bright blue fruit notes are crafted into one of this tasting’s most quaffable entries, resulting in an approachable yet balanced drink. (75 cases, 14% alc.)

Owen Roe 2016 Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block Syrah, Yakima Valley • $55

It’s especially fitting for Owen Roe’s work with historic Red Willow Vineyard to earn one of this tasting’s top accolades considering that the late David Lake encouraged Mike Sauer to be the first in Washington to plant Syrah in 1986. Three decades later, David O’Reilly continues to pay homage in delicious fashion. Its charming nose and dark complexion of blackberry and blueberry offers verve, lusciousness and pleasing balance. O’Reilly recently sold Owen Roe to Vintage Wine Estates, and by all accounts, the brand is in ideal hands with VWE founder/CEO Pat Roney in charge. (300 cases, 14.1% alc.)

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The Bunnell Family Cellar 2015 Syrah, Snipes Mountain • $44

It’s been a long and deep relationship between winemaker Ron Bunnell and the Newhouse family, who farm Upland Vineyard and much of Snipes Mountain in the heart of the Yakima Valley. In fact, Bunnell crafts the wines for the Newhouses. In this case, they grew the grapes that produced this two-barrel lot. There’s a fair bit of hedonism in store for those who acquire this limited bottling as blackberry jam, cocoa powder and cocoa butter only begin to describe this deep purple drink that finishes with a rush of juiciness. (48 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Ott & Hunter Wines 2016 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills, $35

What began as Swede Hills Cellars and morphed into Ott & Murphy is now Ott & Hunter, with Chris Hunter making these wines for his in-laws — David Ott and Diane Kaufman. This ultra-boutique Whidbey Island winery began to transition from hobby beer brewing to wine production in 2002, and their transition was the result of Syrah. This single barrel of gravity-flow Syrah from one of Washington’s premier vineyards received beautiful treatment and is redolent of black plums, blueberry and caramel, supported by Craisins and finishing with a long trail of butterscotch. (25 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Dunham Cellars 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $35

A decade ago, the late Eric Dunham used Lewis Vineyard fruit to produce one of the top wines in our Syrah judging. He handed the baton to David Wampfler who passed it along to Robert Campisi, who is continuing the lofty standards and delivering high scores. Now, acclaimed Phinny Hill in the Horse Heaven Hills and Kenny Hill Estate Vineyard is part of the program. The combination of neutral puncheons and new French oak barriques leads to classic Syrah notes of blackberry, white pepper and cured meat that pick up rich hints of toffee and vanilla. Blueberry acidity and fine-grained espresso ground tannins make for a great finish. (416 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Naumes Family Vineyards 2016 Syrah, Rogue Valley • $35

The Naumes family, famous in Washington, Oregon and California for orchard fruit, only began producing wine in 2015, and their estate vineyards were not online yet, so Chris Graves worked with Pebblestone Cellars’s Ellis Vineyards for this stellar Syrah. Graves, a product of University of California-Davis, divided these lots. One was done whole-berry in stainless steel while the other was crushed and fermented in new French oak. Both were harvested Oct. 13, and in a fascinating twist, Graves included 2017 Viognier that was fermented in a concrete egg. That process led to a fascinating and expressive Syrah, exhibiting notes of blackberry, cured meat and black olive as touches of cardamom and Baker’s chocolate make for a drink that’s inviting from start to finish. (85 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Two Mountain Winery 2017 Copeland Vineyard Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills • $25

On an estate site for the Rawn brothers, Patrick grows the grapes for his brother, Matthew, who teamed up with their uncle, Ron Schmidt, to establish Copeland Vineyard in 2000. It proved to be one of the most distinctive Syrahs in the tasting, offering earthiness, smoked ham and leather to the blue fruit notes. The structure shows impeccable balance. (437 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Goose Ridge Vineyards 2016 Cellar Select Artist Series Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley • $46

When your estate vineyard — Goose Ridge at 2,000 acres — is the one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest, it helps explain how Andrew Wilson’s reserve program is produced on the scale that this is. Among the interesting features to this is the influence of Petite Sirah (10%). It is unmistakably Syrah from the start as its berry-filled nose led to the same on the palate. A nibble of golden raspberry and charming finish makes for an all-around nice wine. (724 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Quady North 2015 Mae’s Vineyard Syrah, Applegate Valley, $65

On the inside of Herb Quady’s left forearm is a tattoo that reads, “I will not make bad wine.” His flagship Syrah from the estate Mae’s Vineyard near Jacksonville, Ore., is one more testament to that fact. This small lot is loaded with sweet blackberry, black currant and blueberry, with touches of toasted oak and baking spices. (62 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Tagaris Winery 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $34

Frank Roth learned winemaking at the elbow of two titans in the Pacific Northwest — the late Harry McWatters and the dean of Washington winemakers, Rob Griffin. This vintage signaled the start of Roth’s second decade as the head winemaker for Michael Taggares, and he builds these wines with the Taverna Tagaris in mind, creating them in a fruit-forward style with minimal oak, high acidity and low alcohol. A blend of estate vineyards Arete, Alice and Taggares, it’s complex yet lithe in its offering of Rainier cherry and ripe plum. A pinch of horehound with jasmine leads to a juicy farewell of blueberry and black pepper spice. Suggested pairings include a grilled pork chop, Bacon Blue Cheeseburger or Cheese Garlic Pasta. (150 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Upper Five Vineyard 2016 Syrah, Rogue Valley Oregon • $28

A former sommelier in Portland, John Grochau learned winemaking at the elbow of Doug Tunnell of Brick House fame. Here, he works with Demeter-certified estate fruit grown by Upper Five owners Terry Sullivan and Molly Morrison near Talent, Ore. The light winemaking touch by Grochau allows for a remarkably pure expression of fruit as currant and black cherry come with peppered bacon, sublime tannins and touch of cocoa in the finish. (100 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Muret-Gaston Winery 2015 Edythe Mae Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley • $45

A decade ago, Kyle Johnson did remarkable work with this vineyard under the Olsen Estates brand. His relationship with the Olsen family continues under the young, high-end label that Johnson and his wife, Amy, named for their mothers. It’s a suave and jammy effort with blackberry, blueberry pie and black cherry notes as the 26 months in 50% new French oak barrels gives it a luxurious chocolaty finish. Wine Press Northwest rated the Olsen Estates 2008 Edythe Mae Vineyard Syrah an “Outstanding!” so it was no surprise to see this eight-barrel effort rank among the Northwest’s best. (200 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2016 Defiance Vineyard Syrah, Lake Chelan • $45

Judy Phelps operates one of the Northwest’s most eclectic tasting rooms in Manson, Wash., on the north side of Lake Chelan, but she works with Syrah from Defiance Vineyard, a south shore side that’s part of Nefarious Cellars property. Her effort with French oak (36% new) adds a whiff of French roast coffee to the nose of blackberry, cured meat and cigar box, which make their way to a palate that’s well-balanced from front to back. (250 cases, 15.5% alc.)


Tsillian Cellars 2016 Estate Reserve Syrah, Lake Chelan • $38

Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2018 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $19

Delfino Vineyards 2016 Syrah, Umpqua Valley

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2015 Wine o’Clock Syrah, Columbia Valley• $24

Cana’s Feast 2016 Slide Mountain Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley • $32

Chateau Bianca Winery 2013 Opulent Syrah, Rogue Valley • $30

Fielding Hills Winery 2015 Riverbend Vineyard Estate Syrah, Wahluke Slope • $42

ICON by Waterbrook 2017 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $40

North by Northwest 2015 Shelley King Theis Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $40

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2018 Estate Selection Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $32

Cathedral Ridge Winery 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $34

H/H Estates 2016 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Buck Reserve Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills

L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley

Nodland Cellars 2017 Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley

Quady North 2016 4-2, A Syrah, Rogue Valley

Ryan Patrick Wines 2017 Red Heaven Vineyard Reserve Syrah, Red Mountain

Maryhill Winery 2016 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Proprietor’s Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley • $40

Palouse Winery 2017 Dineen Vineyards Ahh! Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills • $50

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Estate Selection Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $32

Saviah Cellars 2017 The Jack Syrah, Columbia Valley • $18

Season Cellars 2014 Syrah, Southern Oregon • $30

Structure Cellars 2017 Foundation Syrah, Columbia Valley • $32

Time & Direction 2017 Bruce’s Island Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley • $65

Abacela Winery 2015 South Face Block Estate Reserve Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $46

Brittan Vineyards 2015 Syrah, McMinnville • $55

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Umiker Vineyard Estate Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley • $28

Cooper Ridge Vineyard 2015 Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $36

De Ponte Cellars 2017 Shot Put Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $57

Eternal Wines 2016 Darkness Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $59

Harbinger Winery 2016 Sagemoor & Elephant Mountain Vineyards Vintner’s Pick Syrah, Washington State • $32

Holesinsky Winery 2019 BG Rosé of Syrah, Snake River Valley • $12

L’Ecole No 41 2017 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $37

Merry Cellars 2015 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley

Naked Winery 2017 Orgasmic Oh! Syrah, Columbia Valley • $90

Penner-Ash Wine Cellars 2016 Syrah, Oregon • $36

REININGER Winery 2017 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $52

Structure Cellars 2017 Bauhaus Syrah, Yakima Valley • $25

Tertulia Cellars 2017 Estate Reserve Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $45

Tertulia Cellars 2017 Whistiling Hills Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley • $45

Three of Cups 2016 L’Astre Syrah, Walla Walla Valley

Tildio Winery 2016 Estate Grown Syrah, Lake Chelan • $42

Browne Family Vineyards 2017 Klipsun Vineydard Vineyard Collection Syrah, Red Mountain • $52

Drum Roll Wine 2017 Seurat Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills • $18

Elephant Seven Wines 2017 Yellow Bird Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $37

Eternal Wines 2016 Zen Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $59

Foundry Vineyards 2017 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $36

Nodland Cellars 2016 Lewis Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley • $53

Sigillo Cellars 2017 Syrah, Wahluke Slope • $36

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2012 Discovery Vineyard Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills • $39

The Royal Bull 2015 Pretender Syrah, Columbia Valley • $18

Weisinger Family Winery 2016 Syrah, Rogue Valley • $28

Aaron Family Winery 2016 Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $32

Andrew Rich Wines 2017 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $45

DeLille Cellars 2017 Signature Syrah, Columbia Valley • $46

Jones of Washington 2014 Estate Vineyards, Syrah Wahluke Slope

North by Northwest 2016 Shelley King Thies Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $40

Northwest Cellars 2015 Verhey Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley • $32

Palencia Wine Co. 2016 El Viñador Syrah, Wahluke Slope • $50

St. Josef’s Winery 2016 Kitara Syrah, Willamette Valley • $22

Sweet Cheeks Winery 2017 Barrel Select Syrah, Southern Oregon • $35

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 ALX Red Wine, Columbia Valley• $42

Adamant Cellars 2017 Artisan Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $40

Aluel Cellars 2015 Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater • $40

Côte Bonneville 2015 DuBrul Vineyard Estate Bottled Syrah, Yakima Valley • $65

Eleganté Cellars 2015 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $36

Eternal Wines 2016 Echo Syrah, Columbia Valley • $59

Eternal Wines 2016 Foundation Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $59

Gärd Vintners 2015 Lawrence Vineyards Grand Klasse Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley • $50

Girardet Wine Cellars 2016 Estate Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $48

Goose Ridge Vineyards 2015 Estate Syrah, Columbia Valley • $38

Lost River Winery 2016 Wallula Vineyard Côte-Wall Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills • $28

Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 The Estates Syrah, Wahluke Slope

Ott & Hunter Wines 2016 Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2018 Estate Winemaker’s Reserve, Syrah Umpqua Valley • $42

Schmidt Family Vineyards 2016 Estate Syrah, Applegate Valley • $40

Zerba Cellars 2017 Cockburn Vineyard Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $36

Abacela Winery 2016 Estate Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $34

Dusted Valley Vintners 2017 Stained Tooth Syrah, Columbia Valley • $36

Lodmell Cellars 2012 Estate Syrah, Columbia Valley • $55

Owen Roe 2016 Union Gap Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley • $55

Page Cellars 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $35

Palencia Wine Co. 2017 Syrah, Yakima Vallely • $36

Perennial Vintners 2016 Syrah, Yakima Valley • $28

Saviah Cellars 2017 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $32

Milbrandt Vineyards 2016 Katherine Leone Vineyard Single Vineyard Series Syrah, Wahluke Slope

Cana’s Feast 2016 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley • $32

Cathedral Ridge Winery 2015 Moody Vineyard Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley • $48

Eternal Wines 2018 Bliss Fortified Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $49

Vale Wine Co. 2017 Syrah Snake, River Valley • $29

Five Star Cellars 2014 Syrah Walla, Walla Valley • $36


Cooper Ridge Vineyard 2015 Reserve Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $55

DANCIN Vineyards 2017 Danseur Syrah, Rogue Valley • $39

Lodmell Cellars 2014 Estate Syrah, Columbia Valley • $55

Owen Roe 2018 Ex Umbris, Columbia Valley • $21

Long Shadows Vintners 2016 Sequel Syrah, Columbia Valley • $60

Mt Hood Winery 2017 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $36

Ridge Crest 2016 White Bluff Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley • $15

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2017 Destiny Ridge Vineyards Block 17 Estate Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills

Ott & Hunter Wines 2015 L’Entente, Columbia Valley

Barons Winery 2016 Syrah, Wahluke Slope • $50

Holesinsky Winery 2018 Lees-aged Syrah, Snake River Valley • $18

Iris Vineyards 2018 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah, Applegate Valley • $26

Lost River Winery 2016 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley• $26

Structure Cellars 2017 Red Willow Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley • $38

Waterbrook Winery 2018 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $15

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2017 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Jet Black Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills

Lone Birch 2014 Syrah, Yakima Valley

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2015 Limited Edition Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills • $42

Cooper Ridge Vineyard 2018 Sparkling Shiraz, Umpqua Valley • $36

Maison Bleue Winery 2016 Stone Valley Vineyard Graviˆre Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater • $65

Dusty Cellars Winery 2018 Stoneridge Vineyards Leonidas Syrah, Columbia Valley • $30

Eternal Wines 2017 Restraint Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $49

Palencia Wine Co. 2016 Syrah, Yakima Valley • $36

Del Rio Vineyard 2016 Estate Syrah, Rogue Valley • $35

Faith Hope & Charity Vineyards 2009 Syrah, Columbia Valley, Oregon • $60

Holesinsky Winery 2019 JH Rosé of Syrah, Snake River Valley • $12

Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2015 Syrah, Red Mountain • $30

Maison Bleue Winery 2016 Voyaguer Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater • $50

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Estate Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $42

Structure Cellars 2017 Wallula Vineyard Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills • $38

Telaya Wine Co. 2017 Syrah, Snake River Valley • $32

Coeur de Terre Vineyard 2014 Estate Syrah, McMinnville • $42

Foundry Vineyards 2018 Syrah, Columbia Valley • $36

Tagaris Winery NV Eliseo Silva Syrah, Columbia Valley • $75

Kontos Cellars 2017 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley• $47

Holesinsky Winery 2018 Cold Syrah, Snake River Valley • $18

Holesinsky Winery 2019 Nouveau Syrah, Snake River Valley • $14

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2011 Discovery Vineyard Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills • $39

Melrose Vineyards 2013 Syrah, Umpqua Valley • $20

Coeur de Terre Vineyard 2013 Estate Syrah, McMinnville • $42

Eternal Wines 2016 Heritage Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $59

Holesinsky Winery 2019 Carbonic Syrah, Snake River Valley • $14

Three Rivers Winery 2016 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley • $42

ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.


All rated wines are tasted blind then placed in the following categories:


These wines have superior characteristics and should be highly sought after.


Top-notch wines with particularly high qualities.


Delicious, well-made wines with true varietal characteristics.

Prices are suggested retail.


Here’s a look at the numbers behind the wines tasted for this article.

Total wines judged: 169

Percentage of “Outstanding” wines: 21

Percentage of “Excellent” wines: 53

Percentage of “Recommended” wines: 20

Average price: $38

Average price of “Outstanding!” wines: $38

Average alcohol: 14.4%

Average alcohol of “Outstanding! wines: 14.4%

Total cases represented: 68,699

Average case production: 405

Average case production of “Outstanding!” wines: 351

American Viticultural Areas represented: 20

Wines by AVA: Columbia Valley (43), Walla Walla Valley (28), Umpqua Valley (13), Yakima Valley (13), Snake River Valley (9), Horse Heaven Hills (9), Rogue Valley (9), Red Mountain (8), Wahluke Slope (8), Lake Chelan (5), Applegate Valley (4), McMinnville (3), Rattlesnake Hills (3), Southern Oregon (3), The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (3), Washington State (3), Lewis-Clark Valley (1), Oregon (1), Snipes Mountain (1), Willamette Valley (1).

Learn more about Northwest Syrah

The 19th annual Celebration of Syrah will be staged April 3-4 at McMenamins Edgefield Winery in the Portland suburb of Greshman. It is capped by a grand public tasting and auction, which will help support ¡Salud! a healthcare provider for seasonal vineyard workers and their families. Go to McMenamins.com/Celebration-of-Syrah

Ironically, Syrah will be the focus of this year’s Celebrate Walla Walla, moved to July 16-18. The grand tasting on Friday, July 15 at Valdemar Estates will gather 50 wineries. Go to CelebrateWallaWalla.com.

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