sizzlin’ syzygy syrahs

Sunday, June 06, 2010

In my upcoming book, an end-to-end update and total revision of the first edition, I again pay particular attention to the ageability of Washington wines, and highlight a number of vertical tastings done in the past couple of years – different from those in the original book. But what I did not have notes on, and was not able to predict, was the ageability of Washington syrahs.

That is just now starting to come into focus, as the vast majority of wineries producing syrah in Washington (and their numbers are legion) began a decade or less ago. An invitation from Zach Brettler at SYZYGY in Walla Walla provided the opportunity to taste through every syrah from that winery, whose first vintage was 2002.

As we tasted and chatted up the wines, Brettler and I agreed that all were still in good to excellent drinking condition. Of course, they were kept at the winery their entire lives, so conditions were optimal. His guesstimate for average life of a syrah was 5 to 7 years; I'd go 7 to 10.

Here are my notes and comments from us both:

2002 – The first vintage. A little plummy color but nowhere near its life’s end. It’s smoothed out, the fruit beginning to show more pastry flavors, fig and prune and raspberry, the tannins softened up, the finish broad and slightly leafy. Drinking very well at the moment – perhaps at its peak.

2003 – Sourced from Morrison Lane, Les Collines, 7 Hills vineyards. Lovely aromas, beautifully developed and complex, mixing still-fresh raspberry/cherry fruits with subtle streaks of herb and chocolate. A little stiff and peppery in the finish, not as rounded out as the ’02.

2004 – The freeze year. Grapes sourced from Columbia valley vineyards. This is more sharply herbal than the first two, and has some vinegary character in the mouth. A lot of acidity, but not much fruit character. Thin. Least favorite.

2005 – Still very young and very fresh, bright and spicy, with peppery black fruits, moist loam, coffee bean, garden herbs, and sweet milk chocolate. Plenty of natural acidity buoys it.

2006 – Sharp and penetrating, more vertically structured than the ’05, and just now coming out of its early shell, and showing long term aging potential. Blueberry/blackberry fruit, a hint of black olive, ripe but quite firm and chewy tannins, good natural acids with a lemony finish.

2007 – The current release, and tied with the 2002 for best of tasting. Clearly varietal, Washington–grown Syrah, with a beguiling mix of citrus, spicy plum, and red licorice. The citrus component really shines through in the mouth, with juicy acidity that includes orange peel and pink grapefruit flavors. The acids underscore polished blueberry and blackberry fruit, with a penetrating finish that adds dark chocolate and espresso. Deceptive at first; let it breathe.

Conclusions – drink 'em young, let 'em age – either way you'll be pleased.


Anonymous said...

How can you tell the difference between "natural" acidity and any other acidity?

PaulG said...

I often inquire when tasting with winemakers if they have added tartaric to the wines. I also look to the grape and the vineyard location to get a sense of natural acidity (that is, an attribute of the grape and/or the terroir). Apart from that, there are often telltale signs - a certain chalkiness and artificiality - to wines that have been acidified.

Sherman said...

So do you have a time frame for release of the updated book?

PaulG said...

Book will be out in early September. I'll post updates here and on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "...vertically structured..." (in the 2006 review above)?

PaulG said...

I mean the flavors are compact and play out sequentially rather than a broad, palate-coating, all-at-once impression.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by ripe tannins.

PaulG said...

Hey Anonymous, enough. I feel like the Spanish Inquisition is after me.

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