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Columbia Winery Red Willow Syrah 1998
Having worked alongside founding winemaker and Master of Wine, David Lake, Kerry Norton now oversees the Columbia Winery winemaking, handcrafting Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah sourced from the Columbia and Yakima Valleys.
Often considered to be the heart of Washington wine country, the Yakima Valley is a sub-AVA of the vast Columbia Valley. The first AVA established in Washington, it is home to some of the state’s most established wineries, and contains three smaller sub-regions: Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, and Snipes Mountain. The climate here is cooler than the rest of the Columbia Valley, making the Yakima Valley ideal for growing white varieties.
Chardonnay is the most planted grape here, followed closely by Riesling—both made in a wide range of styles depending on the warmth of the vineyard site. Because of the cooler climate, Merlot outnumbers darker-fruited, more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon here—an anomaly for Washington viticulture—and takes on characteristics of sweet red fruit with a supple texture, and sometimes notes of chocolate and mint. Yakima Valley Syrah is earthy and savory, complemented by a wide range of berry flavors from red to black.
Marked by unmistakable aromatics, a savory palate, and an elegant texture, Syrah is capable of producing fascinatingly complex and long-lived wines with a stunning purple hue. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s best examples are found in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. It is also an important component of the GSM blends of the Southern Rhône and beyond, alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre. Both varietal Syrah and GSM blends are common in Australia and California and are gaining popularity in Washington State. In Australia, Syrah is known by the synonym Shiraz, which tends to indicate a bolder, fruit-driven style of wine, and is occasionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for added depth and structure.
In the Glass
At its best, Syrah shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper, smoke, and even bacon fat. Many examples from California aim to recreate this savory style, while others focus more on concentrated fruit flavors. In Australia, under the name Shiraz, it shines as that country’s unofficial signature red grape, producing deep, dark, intense, and often jammy reds.
Cool-climate Syrah, with its peppery spices, is a natural match with flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb dishes, where the spice is more about flavor than heat. With Australian Shiraz, grown in warmer regions, heavy meat dishes with abundant protein and fat are a necessity to match the intensity of the wine.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” this synonym for Syrah has been adopted by winemakers throughout the world. If the label says “Shiraz,” you can typically expect a plush, fruity, and potent wine made in the Australian style. New World "Syrah" will generally more closely resemble the French style.