2008 Stephenson Cellars, Stellar Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Syrah
Dave Stephenson is one of the hardest working winemakers in Walla Walla, and yet somehow he is still not very well known to those who seek elite Washington wines. For years, he consulted and made wine for innumerable other producers, and he is still the head winemaker at Otis Kenyon. But his best wines are made under his own label, as the customers at his October tasting here at the shop can attest. He makes tiny amounts of Stephenson Cellars wines (100 cases of this Syrah), and he carefully matches the right kinds of oak to the right fruit. Even better, Dave owns the ten acres of Stellar Vineyard, and so he can control every aspect of the wine, from the trellising all the way to the final bottling. He thinks this is his best wine yet, and it was one of the top Washington wines we tasted last year. It opens with heady aromas of spice, white pepper and smoke, and continues with a nice balance of red and dark fruits. The tannins are properly plush and appropriate to Syrah, and, best of all, the natural acidity from the vineyard shines through. It could pair well with a wide variety of foods, and is drinking just beautifully now. Of course, it is extremely limited, but we do have a few bottles available. It’s a great value at $45.
2006 McCrea, Cuvée Orleans, Yakima Valley Syrah
As most of you know, Doug McCrea is the undisputed pioneer of Rhône varietals in Washington State. McCrea Cellars produces some the best Rhône varietals and blends around and we love having them in the shop, though they never last long. Doug made this reserve Syrah as a tribute to his birthplace, New Orleans, and it’s clearly his flagship wine. It’s a nice contrast to the Stephenson Syrah in a couple of aspects. First, it’s not from Walla Walla, but comes from top vineyards in two other Washington regions: Dick Boushey’s Grande Côte Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, and the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain, Second, this Syrah has a touch of Viognier in the style of Côte Rôtie, in the Northern Rhône, and is thus both more perfumed and spicier than you usually find in Washington Syrah. It was just released in December, so we recommend holding it for a year or so, and then pairing it with beef, lamb, or hearty vegetarian fare. Due to the economy, the price has come down quite a bit to $39.75, and we can definitely get more.