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Washington Syrah

January 17, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


I don’t know much about wine. Our October exploration of the wine valleys of northern Sonoma County (discussed in assorted posts at the time, such as here and here) was great fun, and we continue to explore the wines we shipped up here from eleven different wineries. But I’m still suspicious of wine-tasting terminology and hesitant to take it seriously. One thing I learned from the trip is how to swirl my glass around while holding the base on the table before tasting, so I can get the wine high on the sides for better smelling. It’s changed my life.

Even before the trip, I had started to read and enjoy Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s wine column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. Today, Gaiter and Brecher write about Washington Syrahs. You can find the column here, but you may need an online WSJ subscription for it to work. Alternatively, you can go to here, which I think is a link to their latest column, so if it works, it will take you to the Syrah article only temporarily. And if you get there, you’ll also find a link to an accompanying video. Whether you get there or not, I can tell you that they are crazy about Washington Syrahs, convinced that the Syrahs may just be the best American red wines available. This seems rather extreme, but really, it’s what they say: “As a group, these are the most exciting red wines being made in America today that you might actually find on a shelf.” I’m not going to argue. In a sidebar, they list their six favorites. One gets their highest (and rarely given) rating, “Delicious!”. It’s the Dunham Cellars 2004 from Columbia Valley, with a price of $44.99, and with the following description:

Delicious! Best of tasting. Another big winner from a top winery. Big yet lean, perfectly balanced, with rich fruit, lemony acidity and tightly controlled, edgy tastes, with a great finish of minerals. Intellectual yet brawny, walking every line without a misstep.

Again, I have a difficult time taking such descriptions too seriously, but I was curious. Gail was out, so I gave her a call, in case she was near a wine store. And she wasn’t all that far from one, which I can now give a plug to: Picnic. Picnic (subtitled A Wine and Food Boutique) opened just last fall in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle. It’s at 6801 Greenwood Avenue, on the west side of the street just north of the zoo. (It’s about two blocks north of the point where Phinney does a jag and turns into Greenwood, near Red Mill Burgers and the Francine Seders Gallery.) It was opened by a culinary school classmate of Gail’s and her husband, who are there to advise you if you go. They make a small number of prepared foods each day, salads and pates and such, to complement their carefully chosen wine selection and assorted foods. I highly recommend a visit.

Gail suggested that she could stop at Picnic if they had any of the recommended Syrahs. I gave Picnic a call, Gail’s friend answered, but they didn’t carry any. They did have plenty of other Washington Syrahs from small wineries, so I called Gail back and suggested she stop anyway. She came home with a 2005 Syrah from Rulo Winery in Walla Walla. She also had the necessary ingredients for me to make my signature pasta dish, which is nothing special, but it’s what I do, and I did it.

How was dinner? The food and wine made an excellent pairing. The wine brought out the flavor of my sauce perfectly, and I especially liked the high notes. The blackberry at the finish was just right. … Heck, I don’t know. It was good. I liked it. Gail liked it. I don’t know what Dorothy and John would have thought. It wasn’t as good as they make the Dunham Cellars sound. But it’s also half the price. We’ll have to find the Dunham and see what the fuss is about.

By the way, as we work through the wines we bought on our Sonoma trip, I can tell you our favorite so far. It’s the Stryker Sonoma Winery 2002 E1K Red. We visited Stryker on the last of our three wine-tasting days — Alexander Valley day — and had a great time. (I wrote briefly about our visit in my Alexander Valley post.) Mind you, this wine wasn’t cheap. We paid $65. But it’s the one we’d go out of our way to buy again.

Categories: Food, Travel
  1. dcollingwood
    January 18, 2009 at 8:30 PM

    ron- you have treaded into my domain. for nearly ten years we have made
    at least twice yearly treks to walla walla and know the syrah scene quite well. i
    have become an addicted futures buyer who after each fall swears off continuing,
    then a year passes, the stock is nearly gone and i almost happily hand over my visa card number again when the next fall arrives.

    rulo is one of the best buys out there; a winery started by two retired docs who sold their
    syrah for $12 a bottle the first couple years. they sold out the first weekend they opened
    as i recall. the secret is out now and their
    prices are moving up. but dunham, no way. i am a cayuse snob. you can search
    the NYT for a june 2005 review. look for woodward canyon, l’ecole 41 or
    K too. a weekend to walla walla is a real treat, i encourage it and a stay at
    the marcus whitman hotel…


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