Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tasting Wonderful Washington Syrahs

I was lucky enough to attend the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla this year and had an amazing time. The event, from Friday June 25 through Sunday, June 27 featured all manner of tastings, seminars, tours, excursions, more tastings, food, and probably everything else wine related that you can think of.

Going into the Conference I was (and still am) ignorant to a lot of the wines Washington produces. I knew of their famous brands like Columbia Crest, Northstar, Cayuse, and Pepper Bridge. I'd had the chance to try the aforementioned wines over the years and they each contributed to a general idea of what Washington wines were about for me.

Back to Syrah: my experiences with these hadn't been so great, at least where examples from Washington were concerned. Too often my palate seemed to hit on under-ripe, green notes or overly oaked versions. Sometimes I was even overwhelmed by excessive tannins, which would reduce the fruit to nothing. I don't care what anyone says, getting away from perception bias is not easy. Admittedly, I was a skeptic though I did want my mind changed.

Saturday, June 26th dawned as a gorgeous day. I was hungover as hell though, because of the festivities from Friday night. That's enough for another blog post in itself. Suffice it to say I had a blast and there was a great house party involved. The agenda for the day was taking a school bus to various wineries around the Walla Walla area. Each bus held 15 bloggers, not one more or less. The organizers were..organized.

The entire tour will be written about in another blog entry (gotta keep you coming back somehow!) so stay tuned. One of the stops, the last actually, was at the gorgeous Skylite Cellars (@Skylitecellars).

(image copyright Beau Carufel 2010)

There we met the owner Cheryl, winemaker Robert Smasne and assistant winemaker Greg Matiko. Also present was Dana Dibble, from Riverhaven Cellars and RiverRock Growers.

Little did I know that a stellar lineup of wines was poured for us to try. After Dana gave us a talk and taste about his vineyards and wines (their Syrah is delicious!), Robert Smasne stepped up to discuss Skylite and what he was going for with the Skylite and Smasne Cellars/Alma Terra wines.

Out of the lineup, I hit on two Syrahs. By that I mean I absolutely loved them, despite my hungover/dehyrdated/hungry state. Robert did a superb job crafting accessible, elegant, powerful wines. I was impressed as were my friends Dan, Chas, Scott and Preston.

(image copyright Beau Carufel 2010)

2005 Skylite Cellars Syrah
Very nice ruby-garnet color in the glass. The nose was wonderfully classy but powerful too. I smelled crushed cherry, raspberries, hints of mocha and damp, loamy soil. Gorgeous ripe fruit up front, carried through by notes of earth, mocha and graphite. Silky smooth tannins created a framework that kept the red cherries, raspberries and bramble contained. This was one of my favorite wines of the whole Conference. Cheryl was kind enough to sell me a bottle out of their library, which I truly appreciate. I can't wait to pair it with either venison or, if I can, some pheasant. There was no question this is an A- from me, at $32 it beats a lot of $50+ California Syrahs.

2006 Alma Terra Minick Vineyard Syrah
WOW. This wine reminded me of a bright, concentrated Rhone. Spicy cherries dovetailed into earth and black cherries with great acidity and tannins encompassing everything. Layer upon layer of fruit and minerality struck me as the soul of the wine. Even now, I could drink this stuff all day and be happy (and I would be!). The integration of flavors made a strong impression, it's even in my tasting notes, underlined three times. If you want a Syrah that's powerful, expressive, and will wow you, this is the one. I wouldn't call the Minick Vineyard Syrah cheap, more of a mid price at $54. Easy A for me, one of the real highlights of the Conference.

Robert was also generous enough to provide a sample of 2007 Smasne Cellars Block 3 Syrah which I'll be writing about in the future, if I can bring myself to open it. Maybe I'll save it for when I move up to Napa and cook my first meal in my kitchen up there. Hey that could turn out to be a fun blog!

Beau Carufel

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