Hospice du Rhône: You Had Me at Syrah
This week we joined participants of Taste Live featuring Hospice du Rhône, a perpetual non-profit business league that represents and promotes the 22 Rhone varieties and those who make them. Each Year HdR produces a three-day event in Paso Robles, California that celebrates Rhone varieties through a gathering of international produces and enthusiasts.
This year the event is the weekend of my birthday, and I think my good friend Thea should fly me out to California and take me there. But last night’s Taste Live event was dedicated to our friends in Washington State, who are hosting the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla. We samples four Syrahs from different Washington wineries and everyone had a favorite.
Taste Live events tend to be pretty popular, but judging from the over 350 tweets during the event, people are really excited about Washington Syrahs.
Lucky for us Syrah pairs well with lamb. Luckier still that I could find, at the last minute, enough lamb chops to feed 5 people and pair with four wines. We added some Saint Andre “triple cream soft-ripened cheese” (ripe being a bit of an understatement), Fontina, sharp cheddar, some slices of smoked salami and some of Joe’s freshly baked bread and we were off to the races.
2007 Gramercy Cellars Syrah “Lagniappe” Columbia Valley
Our first wine of the evening, this Syrah is from the husband and wife team of Greg and Pam Harrington of Gramercy Cellars. Greg has the distinction of being the youngest American to pass the Master Sommelier Exam at the age of 26. Their 2007 “Lagniappe” Syrah is from Columbia Valley vineyards, and is 97% Syrah with 3% co-fermented Viognier. A dark ruby color, we inhaled orange blossoms with dark fruit with a touch of cinnamon and pepper. Lots of berry on the palate with a bit of smoke that opened up even more when we enjoyed the rest of the bottle. Paired very well with the lamb chops, and the sausage really brought out flavors of chocolate. Art on the label is of the fence at Gramercy Park in New York City, where Greg lived before starting the winery. 13.9% Alcohol by Volume, the wine retails for $38.
2007 Doyenne Syrah, Yakima Valley
Our second wine was a 2007 Doyenne Syrah from DeLille Cellars. 98% Syrah grapes from four vineyards, with 2% Viognier, this wine was less fruit forward than the Gramercy Cellars, and more of an “Old World” style. More musty earth and a bit of sandalwood with a little of that French Funk, this one paired very well with our stinky French cheese. Some of our colleagues thought this more a “dark and brooding” wine that needed a bit of opening up. But here again, the salami brought out bits of chocolate. With his usual flair for comparison, Joe deemed this one a great pairing with the lamb as well, saying, “This wine loves lamb like a shepherd on a really lonely, cold night.” Robert Parker gave the 2006 vintage 93 pts. Suggested retail for a 750 ml bottle is $49, but the winery is selling only 375 ml bottles of this wine for $24.50 each.
2007 K Syrah “Phil Lane” Walla Walla Valley
The K Vintners Syrah seemed to be a favorite of many of the Taste Live participants, Joe included. Unfined and unrepentant, it’s big, bold and meaty – a head rush of Washington Syrah love. 14.5% alcohol by volume, the wine is 100% Syrah, and just 141 cases were made. A helluva long finish, this wine is every bit worth it’s $70.
Named 2009 winemaker of the year by Food and Wine Magazine, California native Charles Smith was managing a rock band in Copenhagen when he decided to return to the United States, and starting creating his fabulous wines.
“I left my life in Denmark and moved to Walla Walla, Washington, where I knew exactly one person.”
We’re glad he did.
2006 Columbia Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley
It seemed a bit strange to leave this wine for last. Usually our Taste Live events have the wines arranged for tasting lowest price point to highest, with the assumption that the “bigger” wines are quite often the smallest production, and therefore more expensive. So I assumed the Columbia Winery Syrah would be first up (and photographed them accordingly). We were already familiar with Columbia Winery and its more “value” oriented wines.
The oldest of the four wineries represented, Columbia Winery started out as Associated Vintners in 1962 by its Master of Wine, David Lake, and ten friends. These wine pioneers were convinced that classic European vinifera vines could survive the harsh Washington winters and wine could be made in Washington State.
The 2006 had even more funk than the Doyenne, bringing out a chorus of “Barnyard” from the folks on the Taste Live feed. This one seemed much more like an Old World wine you’d find down in the corner of your French Aunt’s cellar. Peppery, with mushroom and spice, it was less explosive on the palate than the K. One of Columbia Winery’s Core Series of popular varietals, this Syrah is listed at 14.16% ABV, and it priced at $16.
We’re looking forward to visiting Washington in June, and Thea, if you could get working on that plane ticket for me for the Hospice du Rhône bash they’re throwing on my birthday weekend, I’d be really appreciative!