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North by Northwest NxNW Syrah 2009
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Responsible for some of Washington’s most highly acclaimed wines, the Walla Walla Valley has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years and is home to both historic wineries and younger, up-and-coming producers.
The Walla Walla Valley, a Native American name meaning “many waters,” is located in southeastern Washington; part of the appellation actually extends into Oregon. Soils here are well-drained, sandy loess over Missoula Flood deposits and fractured basalt.
It is a region perfectly suited to Rhône-inspired Syrahs, distinguished by savory notes of red berry, black olive, smoke and fresh earth. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot create a range of styles from smooth and supple to robust and well-structured. White varieties are rare but some producers blend Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, resulting in a rich and round style, and plantings of Viognier, while minimal, are often quite successful.
Of note within Walla Walla, is one new and very peculiar appellation, called the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This is the only AVA in the U.S. whose boundaries are totally defined by the soil type. Soils here look a bit like those in the acclaimed Rhône region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but are large, ancient, basalt cobblestones. These stones work in the same way as they do in Chateauneuf, absorbing and then radiating the sun's heat up to enhance the ripening of grape clusters. The Rocks District is within the part of Walla Walla that spills over into Oregon and naturally excels in the production of Rhône varieties like Syrah, as well as the Bordeaux varieties.
Marked by unmistakable deep purple hue and savory aromatics, Syrah accounts for a good deal of some of the most intense, powerful and age-worthy reds in the world. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah still achieves some of its maximum potential here, especially from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.
Syrah also plays an important component in the canonical Southern Rhône blends based on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, adding color, depth, complexity and structure to the mix. Today these blends have become well-appreciated from key appellations of the New World, namely Australia, California and increasingly, with praise, from Washington.
In the Glass
Syrah typically shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper and even bacon, smoke or black olive. In Australia, where it goes under the name Shiraz, it produces deep, dark, intense and often, jammy reds. While Northern Rhône examples are typically less fruity and more earthy, California appears increasingly capable of either style.
Flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb, grilled meats, spareribs and hard, aged cheeses are perfect with Syrah. Blue cheeses are perfect with a dense and fruit-driven Australian Shiraz.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” winemakers throughout the world have adopted this synonym for Syrah when they have produced a plush and fruit forward wine made in the Australian style. As an aside, Australians are also fond of tempering their fruit-forward Shiraz by blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds depth and structure.