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I come here to praise Washington Syrah, not bury it. When the world was reeling for the overproduction and overconsumption of fruit-bomby Aussie Shiraz, it was our neighbours to the south who filled the gap with a lifeline to the grape. With a style that looked a whole lot more toward France’s Northern Rhone, more savoury, more spicey, much lighter of body producer’s like Charles Smith of K Vintners, Christophe Baron of Cayuse and my fave, Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars reminded the wine drinking world that Syrah deserved to be on the podium for great red grapes.
I still love them—they’ve just gotten impossible to find and insanely expensive when you do. The Cote-Rotie wines that they emulated are now, in many cases, only marginally more expensive. Cue the inspirational music and pan the spotlight a few hundred kms north and you have our saviour—the syrah producers of the Okanagan. They’re absolutely killing it with syrah using much the same playbook that the Washington growers used a decade before them. If anything our colder nights give our wines a bit more of an acidic backbone that, if anything, makes them more Rhone-like when they’re done properly. And we’re also far more likely to throw a small percentage of Viognier in the mix for lift, elegance and some floral notes on the nose—all of which means that we’re now in the best position to be the true inheritor of the North American Hermitage mantle.
So why don’t we snap them up? It truly beats me – if any of these wine were from one of the big Washington producer’s they’d be double the price and be on such a strict allocation that getting your hands on them would be no small feat. But as it is – they’re loved by a small few, enjoyed by a few more and ignored by most of us. Crazytown, population, us.
Moon Curser Syrah 2018 $25.99
I generally operate on the principle that even in the Okanagan, good Syrah starts at $30. This wine is the gloriously underpriced exception to that rule. Super fragrant on the nose, with lots of blue fruit and some secondary spicy notes. It’s boozy, but it’s never hot with alcohol and it falls into the realm of youthful exuberance rather than old souse. Just a steal of a wine and a great entry into what the South Okanagan can do with this grape.
Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2015 $35
This isn’t the current vintage of this wine—that’s the 2016, which I haven’t tasted—but Vanessa has been doing wonders with Syrah for a few vintages now, so I’m not concerned in the least. Winemaker/legend Howard Soon has a touch with Syrah dating back to his Sandhill days, and he is also a maestro with Viognier (no small feat in BC) so this wine with 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier is like a softball right over the plate for him. And he crushes it—this wine is a model of restrained complexity with a classic grilled meat note that’s pure Northern Rhone along with some secondary notes of chocolate and white pepper. If I was going to bring one bottle of Syrah to knock our Washington friends on their ear I’d bring this and tell them it retails for $25 US.
CedarCreek Platinum Haynes Creek Syrah 2017 $50
This is the first year for this wine (although the fruit from the Haynes Vineyard is now a decade old) and yet again I continue to be impressed at what a powerhouse CederCreek’s Platinum series of wines has become. There just the tiniest splash of Viognier here (1%) but the wine has an amazing finesse for a first vintage—the fruit is juicier and comes in waves and never overwhelms the palate but just builds and builds for a long clean finish. My only small quibble: the wine is still quite ebullient and for a $50 wine it would be nice if they kept this back a year (easy for me to say) to have some mellow time in the bottle. That being said if this label said Cayuse, it would be $125 and sold out everywhere, so I’m not complaining.