Earlier this summer, Bean invited a lucky few over to her front yard to participate in a blind tasting featuring Washington Rieslings and Syrahs she had received as samples. This was one of our Pair & Share wine gatherings so it was not quite a “blind” tasting. She revealed the varietals to provide us a clue about what food to bring. In a post to come Bean will reveal the wines we tasted and the results. The point of this post is to heap more praise on one of my favorite Washington winemakers, the late David Lake. Two of the invitees, Nancy and Roger (aka @NancyFeasts & Hubby) brought another wine to add to the mix – a 2001 Columbia Winery David Lake Signature Series Red Willow Syrah.
Let’s review — David Lake was one of the winemakers who helped shape Washington’s modern wine industry. His entire tenure as a winemaker in Washington was spent at Columbia Winery, perhaps one of the few constants at a winery that has had a parade of owners over the years. Lake believed Syrah had a place here in Washington and with Mike Sauer, owner of Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley, planted the first Syrah grapes in the state in 1986. A few years later, Columbia Winery released Syrah from Red Willow carrying a front label listing the vineyard – another wine to join the Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon that was the first vineyard designated wine in the state of Washington just a few years prior. David Lake, Mike Sauer, and Red Willow Vineyard led the way in experimenting with varietals and creating vineyard designated wines. This singular bottle sitting on the picnic table from a vintage 15 years later represented some serious Washington wine history. My eyes misted over.
That evening the David Lake Syrah sat to the side as we sniffed, swirled and sipped the disguised bottles and tried them with a variety of foods ranging from curried quinoa salad to grilled chicken and smoked tomatoes. On the menu between the salad and the chicken was my masterpiece – the grilled eggplant sandwich I have perfected over the last twelve years of taste trials. When I began learning about food and wine pairing one of my goals was to identify a wine for my sandwich. I soon began to realize that it would not be a one-wine sandwich. This sandwich would be a playa. I shared my theory with those present – this sandwich can pair with both Rieslings and Syrahs. What? A wine that can swing both ways? Red and White? My friends sneered. Alas, my theory was proven true! The frowns of skeptics turned into grins of true believers. Everyone had seconds and thirds moving between the Washington state Rieslings and Syrahs.
Once all of the disguised wines were tasted and judged, we turned our eyes to the David Lake Syrah. Nancy was concerned that it might be past its prime. With the first sniff it was apparent she need not worry and we were in for a treat. Fruit and spice jumped gracefully out of the glass and then became flavors repeated in the mouth from front to back. The oak was integrated, tannins smooth, acid present, balance constant, finish lingering. The palate revealed red fruit initially and then as the wine opened up through the evening the red fruit turned to black fruit. We had saved a bit of all the foods to try with this wine. I will never meet David Lake but my sandwich masterpiece met a David Lake wine and the two instantly adored each other. David Lake is often quoted about the importance of creating wine to go with food. That evening was proof of his philosophy. The sandwich and the wine are a fantastic pairing – imagine that – a vegetarian sandwich and a red wine!
Note: Paul Gregutt names Red Willow Vineyard as one of the Top Twenty Vineyards in the state of Washington in the soon-to-be published 2nd edition of his book, Washington Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide. He also describes the partnership between Mike Sauer and David Lake as “exceptional”.