Syrah Earns Its Place as One of Washington’s Top Red Varietals

February 26th, 2013

Despite a few downturns on the global scale, syrah continues to hold its own as a solid wine grape in Washington.

While consumers have gradually moved away from a flood of overripe, fruit-bomb Australian shirazes (the equivalent of our syrah) over the past several years, Washington continues to quietly carve out a niche of its own among syrah drinkers.

It’s still a relatively new grape here, and it really wasn’t much of a player in the state’s red wine market until the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.

But in just the last five years, syrah has accounted for anywhere from about 12 to 16 percent of all red varieties produced in the state. That places it only behind cabernet sauvignon and merlot in Washington red wine production, according to the USDA.

Here are some recommendations of several Washington syrahs I think you might enjoy:

Two Mountain Winery 2009 Syrah (about $25) – This Matt Rawn syrah from the Yakima Valley rocked my world with opening flavors of red currant that melt into darker cherry fruits and a hint of smoky spice. There’s also an underlying layer of acidity, a touch of minerality and gentle tannins for perfect balance.

Stephenson Cellars 2008 Columbia Valley Syrah (about $30) – Winemaker David Stephenson continues his mastery of the varietal with a syrah long on black plum flavors plus touches of blackberry, blueberry and sweet cedar. A gentle splash of acidity and supple tannins provide just the right amount of lift and structure. Excellent!

Terra Blanca Winery 2008 Arch Terrace Syrah (about $15) and 2007 Signature Series Block 8 Syrah (pictured at left, about $42) – These two syrahs have been beautifully crafted by winemaker Keith Pilgrim in more of Northern Rhone style and were sourced from his estate vineyards in the Red Mountain Appellation.

The Arch Terrace is the leaner of the two, with bright red cherry and huckleberry flavors; while the Block 8 is a bit bigger and darker with a nice earthy quality, reserved red plum and fig and a spritz of smoky black pepper. Both wines make excellent food-pairing partners with roast beef, pork sausage, lamb or a hearty beef stew.

Dynasty Cellars 2008 DCS Syrah (about $38) – Bellingham winemaker Peter Osvaldik scores yet again with this incredible syrah sourced from Walla Walla’s Les Collines Vineyard. Rich and layered, it’s brimming with flavors of ultra-dark cherry and espresso, while the lengthy finish suggests toasted oak and a whisper of seductive smokiness.

Taste Washington

February 24th, 2013

March 23 and 24, 2013 – Bigger and better than ever, this two-day event at Century Link Event Center in Seattle is a food and wine celebration centered around Washington wines.

Seminars, exhibits, and, of course, wine tasting will be featured at the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event.

For complete details and ticket purchase information, visit

Get to Know the Basics of Washington Wine Labels

February 19th, 2013

When shopping for certain foods, the label gives you useful information such as where it came from, nutritional values or ingredients used in the final product.

If only wines were that easy.

nullYes, there are rules for labeling Washington wines, but sometimes it’s what you don’t see that can be just as important as what is on the label. That’s why having a basic knowledge of the “95-85-75%” rules are essential for wine consumers.

Let’s start with the 95% rule, which applies to a wine’s vintage. In order for a Washington wine to list a specific vintage on the label, at least 95% of its grapes must be harvested in that year. Anything less doesn’t qualify for a vintage date. This shouldn’t be considered entirely bad (it’s frequently the case with Champagne and sparkling wines) because the wine is then simply referred to as “non-vintage.”

The 95% rule also applies to vineyard designation. If winemakers want to use the increasingly popular practice of acknowledging a specific vineyard on the front label, they can’t source more than 5% of the grapes from other vineyards.

The 85% rule refers to the use of grapes within a particular American Viticultural Area (AVA). An AVA is a designation granted by the federal government in recognition of an area with distinct geographic, climatic and soil conditions.

This rule is important because grapes grown within an AVA often have different flavor profiles and characteristics than in other areas. By noting the AVA, wineries are telling consumers they’re purchasing a wine that should be indicative of the grapes from that unique region. Think of the difference between wines from the cooler Puget Sound AVA versus the warmer Yakima Valley AVA and you get the idea.

A third labeling requirement, the 75% rule, means that in order to have a single variety on the label, a wine must contain at least 75% of that particular grape inside the bottle.

For example, a Washington wine labeled as “merlot,” only needs to consist of 75% merlot grapes in the finished product. The rest of the wine can be any other grapes the winemaker chooses. But if these other grapes exceed 25% of the total blend, the wine must be given a proprietary name or referred to as something generic such as “red wine.” Again, not a bad thing, but a surprise to many people who are unaware they’re buying a blend.

The bottom line: read your wine label carefully and remember these rules when considering vintages, vineyards and varietals to purchase.

O S Winery One of Many Now in Seattle

February 12th, 2013

According to there are now over 40 wineries located in Seattle proper.

For me, that’s an amazing statistic, because when I lived in Seattle in the late 1980’s I don’t recall that there were any wineries in the city. In fact, there were only a handful of them beginning to take root nearby, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery in Woodinville and Hedges Cellars in Issaquah.

One of the earlier wineries to establish itself in Seattle is O•S Winery, formed in 1997 by winemaker Bill Owen and his business partner, Rob Sullivan.

From its inception, the focus at O•S has been on red wines, although several years ago, the winery began producing a riesling to complement its portfolio of powerful, flavorful reds.

nullHere are my tasting notes on O•S wines that I’ve tried as of late and think that you’ll enjoy:

2011 Riesling (about $15) – Brimming with flavors of McIntosh apple and pear, I didn’t find the acidity level of this wine to be quite as pronounced as in most rieslings, resulting in a viscous and somewhat softer finish. A low alcohol content of only 9.8 percent along with a kiss of residual sugar should make it an instant crowd-pleaser.

2009 Red (about $15) – This Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot is filled with beautiful berry aromas and flavors. Darker notes of blueberry and boysenberry lead off, with brighter cranberry and red currant flavors on the finish. At this price level, the wine represents an excellent value.

2008 BSH (about $30) – Comprised of about 75-percent cabernet sauvignon and 25-percent merlot, this big red wine opens with a splash of dark purple color and aromas and flavors of plump blackberry. As the finish lingers, there are hints of bittersweet chocolate, black current and coffee, framed with just the right amount of tannic structure.

null2010 Two Blondes Cabernet Franc (about $30) – Named for the Yakima Valley vineyard from which the grapes are sourced, this incredible wine carries an intoxicating fragrance, initially suggesting dark plum, cherry and violets and closing with woodsy notes. Luscious red cherry and strawberry flavors explode on the palate, with a whisper of sweet cedar on the finish and just the slightest lift from gentle tannins lingering in the background. Outstanding!

O•S Winery wines are well distributed at grocers and wine shops in the Whatcom County area. For additional wines and winery information:

February Filled With Wine-Related Events

February 5th, 2013

February might seem like a bit of an off month for wine-related events. But in spite of the plethora of festivals and special events one usually finds in spring, summer and autumn, there are plenty of things happening this winter during February, as well.

For some, wine tasting in February means pairing up a glass of red wine with a delectable chocolate or two. You’ll have ample opportunity for this and more at the Yakima Valley Red Wine and Chocolate event on February 16 and 17.

nullThis is one of the largest and oldest tastings of its kind in Washington, with over 40 participating wineries from Yakima to the Red Mountain area. Purchase a $30 Premier Pass in advance and you’ll receive access to exclusive pairings, library tastings, and tours not available to the public. For a list of wineries and additional ticket information:

If you’d prefer to stay closer to home, I know of a couple of similar events scheduled at Whatcom County wineries.

Dakota Creek Winery will host a Valentine’s Day Celebration on February 14 from 1 to 5 pm and Vartanyan Estate Winery is planning a Valentine’s Wine and Chocolate event on February 8 through 10 and 15 through 17 from 1 to 5 pm daily. The Vartanyan event will feature truffles made by Bellingham’s Chocolate Necessities.

Thinking about going out for a nice dinner with wines during February? I’ll be moderating two such events this month that might be just what you’re looking for.

February 9 brings a Washington Wine Dinner at North Bellingham Golf Course’s Nine Restaurant. An exquisite, five-course dinner will feature wines and winery representatives from Treveri Cellars, Robert Karl Winery, Barrister Winery, Terra Blanca Winery, and Dynasty Cellars. Reservations are required. Call 398-8300, extension 2.

On February 26 I’ll host a Zinfandel Wine Dinner at Bellingham Technical College. Each of the dinner’s five courses will be paired with a specially selected zinfandel and I’ll also give you an in-depth look at this versatile red wine. To register:

Finally, if your wine tastes tend to have more of a global preference, be sure to consider the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

This year’s week-long extravaganza of tastings, lunches, dinners and seminars begins on February 25 and features 175 wineries from 15 countries.

I’ve attended many events from this Festival over the past 10-plus years and found it to be unparalleled in volume and variety. Book a hotel room and plan for an easy, wine-related getaway. Complete details:

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