Monday, February 11, 2008

Willamette Valley Syrah?

We were out in wine country this past Sunday at a pre-Valentines Day weekend wine tasting event at Adelsheim.
David Adelsheim and his family are the "real deal" in the Willamette Valley. They are part or the original handful of of the Pinot Noir pioneers who took a mighty leap of faith 30+ years ago. David has been instrumental in grape clone development and clone importation to better match vines to soil and microclimate thus getting grapes that are fine tuned to our specific growing area. In a nutshell what this means is that in 30+ years Willamette Valley Pinot Noir has reached quality level that in Burgundy would be designated as "Premier Cru".
If you are familiar with the Willamette Valley you will know that when you talk about red wine then you are generally talking about Pinot Noir. I know that Dick Erath has experimented with Cabernet Sauvignon but i have come across a couple of producer who are making very interesting Syrah wines from the grapes grown in the Willamette Valley. At this point in time I believe that only Adelsheim with their Bryan Creek Vineyard and the Deux Verts Vineyard are the only two Willamette Valley vineyards producing Syrah grapes that go into commercial labels.
I have tasted the 2006 Adelsheim Syrah and to me it has a spicy nose with very intense purple fruit that shows itself in the glass to be one of the darkest purple wines I have ever drank (it actually tinted the inside of my glass purple). The wine has good acidity and it would be fun to set this down for a couple of years and see how the wine comes together. The intense color reminds me of Austrailian Shiraz, but the Oregon Syrah has better acid and is much more food friendly, just like a Northern Rhone Syrah, but with bigger fruit and no black pepper varietal component.
I have been exploring new world Northern Rhone wines this past year and to me the Adelsheim Syrah fruit has the acidity of the cool climate Syrah being produced along the Sonoma coast by producers like: Alban, Pax, Copain, Peay, et. al. The fruit profile of the wine is more akin to the Walla Walla Syrah. I would say if you are a fan of Walla Walla Syrah then you would love this wine. Heads up, if you want to buy some of this, they only produced 88 cases so better get it now!
The other producer making Syrah from Willamette Valley grapes is Elemental Cellars. This is the second label for Witness Tree, but as far as I am concerned there is nothing second quality about this Syrah. The 2004 Elemental Cellars has intense aromas of violets, white pepper and black fruit that gives way to supple black raspberry and cherry flavors. The wine has good acidity and is made in an old world style.