Showing posts with label Fielding Hills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fielding Hills. Show all posts

Friday, January 29, 2010

Washington Syrah: A Tasting of Terroir (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday's post on our tasting of four 2006 Syrah from four of Washington's finest AVAs and vineyards. Our first two Syrahs were from Fielding Hills in the Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley's K Vintners Morrison Lane Syrah.

Our third Syrah moved west from Walla Walla Valley deeper into Yakima Valley to Laurelhurst and their Boushey Vineyards Syrah. The Boushey Vineyards, which are nearly smack dab in the middle of the Yakima Valley, have a more moderate climate than the vineyards of the Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain. The Boushey Vineyards are mostly a sand and loam soil combination and the Boushey fruit is sought after and is often looked at as fruit that personifies what Washington Wine can and should be.

The Laurelhurst Cellars Syrah ($37) had aromatics of earth tones and oak with cherry notes and an earthen quality which is typical of Boushey fruit. We also noted the definitive dark cherry and pepper notes that we have come to expect of a Washington Syrah. Most of us also picked up on the vanilla accents in the wine, which Craig guessed came from their use of new oak. Laurelhurst winemaker Gabe Warner later confirmed that the Syrah spent 22 months in 100% new French oak. The wine was the "hottest" of the four initially but the alcohol quickly breathed off, revealing a well balanced Syrah with good acidity. Laurelhurst Cellars is a relatively new urban winery located in South Seattle, producing wine in small lots, and using tight grain French oak to accent the wines.

Our final wine of the evening was DeLille's Doyenne Gran Ciel Vineyard Syrah ($72) from Red Mountain. Red Mountain, Washington's smallest AVA at 600 planted acres, is so named because of the red color of the cheat grass that covers the area. The Red Mountain is marked by a gravelly soil high in alkaline and is primarily planted with classic Washington red varietals: Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot on southwestern-facing slopes that get more sunlight hours than any other Washington AVA.

The DeLille Syrah 98% Syrah was blended with 2% Viognier to emulate the Rhone style. Craig explained that the blend creates an "ethereal" kind of result that combines the dark fruits and pepper of the Syrah with a floral and citrus element of the Viognier. This wine was built to lay down but was already displaying loads of character and nuance. The Doyenne GC Syrah had by far the most interesting and complex finish of the wines we tasted. The Syrah was big and jammy, with blackberry and plum flavors, and you could certainly detect the Viognier in what Gwynne referred to as orange blossom. This wine made it clear that it was going to go from delicious to extraordinary. The acidity and structure of this wine make one daydream of what it will be in ten years.

All of these wines were delicious. Sampling wines with 100% single vineyard fruit allowed us to really appreciate the character of the varying terroirs of Washington state. The variety and subtlety of the sources of the grapes allowed us experience how soils and climate can show up in the wine, through the nose and the taste. Most premium wines are made in a similar manner, though there are variances in oak and time spent in the bottle. What we taste in well-crafted wine is the ability of the winemaker to highlight the fruit and terroir that makes it special.

They say that the wine is made in the vineyard. I think these four wines proved that in the hands of a good winemaker, great fruit can become better wine.

The wineries:
Fielding Hills
K Vintners
Laurelhurst Cellars
DeLille Cellars

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Washington Syrah; A Tasting of Terroir (Part 1 of a 2 Part series)

Washington grows wine that can stand up to wine from anywhere else, and our Syrah is no exception. We all have particular expectations of what we'll get from a glass of Syrah. Though Syrah grown in France will be quite different from a Syrah grown in Washington, the Syrahs grown in Washington have elements in common. Within those commonalities, however, are subtle differences that come from the growing regions spread across the state.

I wanted to invite some friends over to explore the subtleties that exist in four different Washington Syrahs, all from 2006. The Syrahs came from of Walla Walla valley, the Wahluke Slope, and two examples of Yakima Valley: Red Mountain and the Boushey Vineyard. A friend, Craig Nickel, happens to be Cellarmaster for DeLille Cellars, and agreed to lead us through the tastings and give us the dirt on Washington's terroir. (Oh, that's a good one.)

We were lucky enough to have the cooperation of four wineries for this event; the wines were provided by Delille Cellars, K Vintners, Laurelhurst Cellars and Fielding Hills. Today's post will cover the Walla Walla Valley and Wahluke slope Syrahs; tomorrow we'll talk about the Yakima Valley Syrahs.

We started out in the Wahluke Slope. Wahluke is the Native term for "watering place," and it is Washington's 8th AVA. Originally dominated by Riesling and Chardonnay, the Wahluke Slope trademark sandy and gravelly soil now boast 80% red wine varietals, including some of the best Merlot in the state. The 2006 Fielding Hills Syrah ($40) from the Riverbend Vineyard represented the Wahluke Slope. Fielding Hills is a family owned winery that has been in operation since 2000, making small lot premium wines that are given lots of care and attention. They have developed an excellent reputation as one of Washington's fine winemakers.

The Fielding Hills Syrah was a very nice example of the trademark Wahluke Slope characteristics. The wine had a beautiful ruby color, slightly lighter than the other three Syrahs we'd taste, with smoky berry notes to match. It was as the most peppery of the Syrahs we tasted, which Craig pointed out is a trademark of Syrah that is even more present when the weather is quite hot. (Wahluke Slope is the warmest grape growing region in Washington.) Some guests noticed notes of chocolate and ripe red berries. This wine was well balanced and had an excellent finish that kept us coming back.

We moved from Wahluke Slope to Walla Walla Valley and the K Vintners Morrison Lane Syrah ($45). Walla Walla is known as the "Napa of Washington" and in many ways is the re-birthplace of the Washington Wine industry. The Walla Walla Valley AVA is in the southeastern-most corner of Washington and is marked by a wind blow silt deposited loess soil. K Vintners is one of the original winemakers in Walla Walla and their Syrah is an example of classic Walla Walla, where the fruit typically hangs longer to produce a "shrivel". That level of ripeness produces a concentration of flavor in the fruit. The wine it produces is well-balanced with excellent acidity and well structured tannins.

The first noticeable difference between our first two wines was color. The K Syrah was very dark in glass, nearly black, and had a more fragrant nose with floral notes. On the palate, it was much darker fruit with prunes and dark cherries. While the spice and pepper mingled with the fruit, they weren't as overt. The K Syrah exhibited dark earthen tones on both the nose and the palate. This is a big shouldered rich wine.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the Yakima Valley Syrahs; the Laurelhurst Cellars Boushey Vineyard Syrah, and the Delille Cellars Grand Ciel Syrah.