My highest anticipated event of the Celebrate Walla Walla: World of Syrah was the Vintage Pour 2017 on Thursday night. One of my personal missions is not only to taste as many exceptional Washington library wines as I can, but to spread the word about the age-ability of Washington wines. Vintage Pour was a showcase of how well a finely made Walla Walla Syrah can retain its fruit and structure, all the while gaining layers of complexity and maturity as it ages. However, I must admit that we also tasted beautifully aged library wines from Walla Walla winemakers that were not Syrahs but more about that later.
Dozens of wine lovers braved the drizzle to delight in library wines and delicious bites at Canoe Ridge Vineyard. 40 winemakers had gathered to pour a wine or two from 2010 or an earlier vintage from their library. I can truly say that of all the wines I tasted there, only one had peaked, but even that wine had a story to tell. The 2003 College Cellars of Walla Walla Syrah was only their 2nd vintage, yet still holding its fruit beautifully from Minnick Hills Vineyard. While the tannins were quite soft, there was still good structure to the Syrah. The 2003 is probably at its prime at about now and is an excellent example of students’ potential and skill at the college. The 2006 College Cellars of Walla Walla Syrah wasn’t actually made by the students that year and oh what a difference a vineyard makes! That 2006 Syrah had already seen its best days but every other wine I tasted was delectable and many still had years of life remaining.
Stand out aged Walla Walla Syrahs
No matter how many I wanted to taste, time and my liver were limiting factors. Of the Syrah wines that Ed and I tasted, these are the ones that we think deserve special mention.
– We both tasted the 2006 Cayuse Bionic Frog and agreed it was our favorite wine of the tasting: silky, smooth and velvety like something you want to wrap yourself up in and never get out of. Yet, the Bionic Frog still had all these layers of complexity so I discovered something new with each sip, with just the right amount of classic Christophe funk.
–2010 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah was like your favorite rhythm and blues tune with just a bit of funk from the electric bass in contrast to the saxophone.
–2005 Reininger Winery Syrah is a dirty old man, who also happens to be your favorite uncle. Showing its age, but it still has years left, this peppery Syrah has lovely smoke notes in the nose and palate: smoked wood, smoked meats and maybe that uncle’s cigar? At this age, it isn’t so much about the fruit in this wine; it is about funk, earth, herbs and smoke. It tastes dark, like something that might be naughty but tastes really good, so you keep stealing sips anyway.
–2009 Saviah Cellars Funk Estate Syrah was all about playing some “funky music”. This wine was a song in your mouth that wanted to make you dance. As Doug Frost said to me at a later event, this is a Syrah that wants to “talk dirty to you”. Still wild after all these years, the Funk Estate Syrah nose teases you about a good time and then follows through with a twinge of fruit, a splash of spice and a bucket load of dark and dirty funk.
-2009 Doubleback Stolen Horse Syrah begs to bring up the savory, wild and funky aspects of Syrah based on the names alone but that is not the destiny of this Syrah. The Doubleback was one of the most fruit forward of the library wines I tasted that night but without any of the jamminess unfortunately associated with some Syrah wines. Instead, the Doubleback showed the ability to retain beautiful black fruits while aging and still showcasing the minerality of the Rocks District.
-2004 Buty Rediviva of the Stones Syrah was a dark murder mystery shrouded in black leather. This Syrah took me on a dark, twisting and intense trail of taste sensations, that was almost overwhelming at times. Remarkably, although this was one of the older wines I tasted, DENSE is the word to describe its flavors and dark is the other. Almost an S&M session, this is a wine with which you might need a cigarette break. What will I experience next: black fruits, some dried black fruits, tobacco smoke, my old leather jacket, beef jerky, cedar, funk, smoked gamey meats, tarragon, sage, wet earth or ?
Other aged Walla Walla Wines of note
Although a plethora of Walla Walla Syrahs were available for tasting, some wine makers had brought in a different grape variety to show off.
– Nina Buty of Buty Wines, was particularly excited to share how well a Semillion can age. After tasting the Buty 2009 Sémillion, Sauvignon and Muscadelle blend, I would have to agree! The bouquet is exquisite with floral, citrus and melon but it is the journey your mouth takes that makes the sale. Start with the honeysuckle sweetness, then transverse to refreshing citrus and finish your odyssey with grounding minerality.
– Riesling is a white wine renowned for its age-ability. The 2009 Dunham Cellars Riesling is a pretty example of how a Washington Riesling ages with clean, crisp and slightly sweet fruit flavors, refreshing acidity and pleasing minerality.
-2007 was a stellar vintage for Washington wines and Northstar knew what to do with it. 2007 Northstar Winery Merlot is a celebration of black cherry in the nose and palate. Plum and baking spice join in on the palate on this plush Washington Merlot. It has a luscious mouth feel on this medium bodied wine with velvety tannins.
Olive Marketplace and Cafe
Olive Marketplace and Cafe provided a wonderful assortments of appetizers for guests to enjoy with their Walla Walla wines. The guests really seemed to enjoy the vast assortment of appetizers that ranged from the cold buffet of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads and meats to the passed appetizers. The passed appetizers included some “to die for” fontina and mascarpone stuffed morel kabobs with pickled thyme, charred gulf prawns with red chili chimichurri and pickled green strawberry relish and more.
Ed and I had one critique. The dessert table provided by Olive was extremely tempting, the desserts looked beautiful but one of the most important rules in food and wine pairing is never pair your wine with a food sweeter than your wine. When a wine is paired with something sweeter, the wine tastes as though it has lost its fruit. As wines age, one of the first things that happens is they start to lose is their fruit. Desserts and aged wines are almost never a good pairing as desserts will make what little fruit remaining in the wine totally disappear and can drastically change the taste of that carefully aged wine. Really only one wine there would have stood up to the sweetness of the delicious desserts, the Three Rivers Winery Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, which unfortunately we weren’t able to taste.
Anyone that tasted an aged red wine that evening after biting into one of the desserts would really have missed out on the true full experience of that wine. The Vintage Pour guest might have thought that the wine was way past its prime and even on its way to vinegar. We hope that whomever caters next year’s Vintage Pour stays with pairing options that elevate the wines and doesn’t feel obligated to provide sweets.
Celebrate Walla Walla: The World of Syrah 2017
Read more about our experiences at Celebrate Walla Walla:
Vintage Pour Proves Walla Walla Wines Age Well
… more coming soon