I very much wanted to try different Washington state Shiraz—or Syrah—because I liked Australian Shiraz quite a lot, and there's a fair amount of buzz about Washington Shiraz; I heard people rave about it before I moved to Washington. Some wine experts were disappointed by the first few years of Washington Shiraz, and the consensus seemed to be that initially, at least, the wines promised more than they delivered. But more recently, with more mature vines, and more Shiraz in production, there's a degree of enthusiasm and quite a lot of optimism about the potential of Washington Shiraz to be something truly special. This local optimism led me off onto a taste-comparison of several local Shiraz. To be fair, I limited my samples to under $15 a bottle; wines I'd be comfortable purchasing to serve with an everyday meal. The results were interesting, and admittedly, a bit disappointing.
- Washington Hills Shiraz 2005
- Washington Hills Winery is in the Columbia valley. Washington Hills was purchased by Precept in 2003; Precept also owns Sockeye, Avery Lane, Shingleback, Pavin and Riley and Barrelstone. In 2006 they started producing a line of "affordable" table wines, meant for sale at state liquor stores and chain groceries for around $5.00 per bottle, though they seem to be slightly higher at the grocery stores. This Shiraz in the "core" line rather than the "Summit Reserve." After removing the artificial cork, and letting the wine breathe, the wine in the glass is a lovely dark red; very very fruity, mild, and fairly sweet. It was markedly better an hour or so after opening. This wine is 13.5% alcohol. It's certainly quaffable, maybe with a good burger, but if this were my only Shiraz experience, I wouldn't bother trying another. We purchased this at the local bargain grocery for $4.99. I note that another customer praised Washington Hills Cab-Merlot blend.
- Stonecap Syrah 2005
- Stonecap wines are made from grapes grown on the Goose Ridge estates. The bottle has an easy-to-open screwcap. There's a smokey bacon note to the scent, noticeable immediately on opening the bottle. The bouquet improves with time. The flavor is noticeably fruity, but smokey too; noticeably less sweet than many Shiraz. There's a little alcohol burn. Overall, not bad, but the bouquet promises more than the wine actually delivers. Again, it's not a wine I'll actively look for in my local grocery store, the next time I want to serve a Shiraz with dinner.
- Snoqualmie 2006 Syrah Columbia Valley
- Snoqualmie is unusual in that they use only certified organic grapes. The Columbia Valley line is Snoqualmie's "table wine" tier. This bottle was purchased this at the local Co-op for $7.99, but Snoqualmie wines are widely available even outside Washington. You shouldn't have much trouble finding this at your local chain grocery. The bottle uses real cork; the initial fragrance on opening is slightly acidic, a little shallow, but it definitely opens up a bit. Definitely a Shiraz, right from the start. The wine has a little tannic quality, but it's a pleasant balance to the fruity qualities. The wine is definitely fruity, but it's not like cooked fruit. I'd definitely buy it again. Thus far, it's the favorite, but I note that even this is a blend, sort of. The wine sheet points out what the bottle does not; it's 99.75% Syrah, and 0.26 Grenache. Yes, I know, the math doesn't work, but that's what it says here. I confess that I'm curious as to just how much difference the Grenache makes, and why they added it. Was it related to sugar (I note that the brix is 26.5, and alcohol is 13.9%)? Or color? Or taste, or even all three? I'm going to have to go to Prosser, I think.
- Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz 2006
- This was on the list to try anyway, but I noticed Sean Sullivan chose Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz for his April "Virtual tasting." Rich; robust. Full. Fruit, but also a little smokey. Bacon. Dark amandine garnet. More purple than red. Tart, rather than sweet. This Shiraz is 13.5% alcoho, and it's actually a blend of Shiraz and Viognier, added before fermentation. I'd rather have the Red Diamond, frankly. That said, it does seem unfair to compare a 2006 to a 2004.
- Red Diamond Shiraz 2004 Shiraz
- This Red Diamond Shiraz is the one that led me to try other Washington Shiraz. I notice that the bottle simply identifies it as Shiraz, but further research reveals that it is actually a blend; I may have known this, and forgotten; in any case it's hardly a fare comparison. The 2004 Red Diamond Shiraz is 89% Shiraz, 4% Merlot, 3% Viognier, 2% Cabernat sauvignon, 2% Grenache. So it's hardly fair to use it as the Shiraz to base my opinions of Shiraz on. I do like it better than the Columbia Crest Grand Estates; it's richer, slightly pinker—grape garnet. Robust, a little more alcoholic but this is a wine with body.
I'll buy, and enjoy the Red Diamond, and I do like the Snoqualmie, and I'd certainly buy it again, but I'm still looking for a "real," unblended Shiraz. In comments on his blog, Sean Sullivan mentioned both the Rulo Syrah, and their Syrac, a Cab-Syrah blend—if I can find them, I look forward to trying both of them. But I'm still looking for the "automatic reach for" Washington Shiraz, preferably in the under $25.00 range. I suspect I'll have more luck when I can actually visit the wineries, since there are so many that have limited distribution.