2010 Owen Roe, Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block Syrah
While we don’t put Washington wines in this club too often, there is no doubt that some of them are among the best in the world. Washington wine is beginning to have its own wine history, its own standing as a historic region. The Chapel Block Syrah qualifies not only as an outstanding wine, but also as the legacy of the first planting of Syrah in Washington in 1986. Red Willow Vineyard towers high above the Yakima Valley, at an elevation of 1200 to 1300 feet, and has a unique blend of exposed basalt rock and volcanic ash untouched by the famous Missoula floods that formed most of the Washington wine-growing regions. The need to send down deep roots through these old shallow soils limits yields but also allows the vines to produce very densely concentrated fruit, perfect conditions for old-vine Syrah. The fruit from this block originally went to Master of Wine David Lake of Columbia Winery, who made a series of outstanding wines that put Washington Syrah on the map with the wider world. After David’s retirement and a change in focus for Columbia, grower Mike Sauer picked Owen Roe, a collaboration of winemakers David O’Reilly and Peter Rosback, as the winemakers most likely to live up to the Chapel Block reputation. And they have: the 2008 and 2009 editions were given high points and places on top ten lists by numerous publications. And the 2010 might be the best vintage yet. Saturated and powerful, this broad-shouldered Syrah is filled with mouth-coating black fruit and violets, with bacon and cracked pepper accents. A classic wine for anything grilled, whether burgers, steaks or lamb, it would definitely need to be decanted now or you can put it in the cellar for another five to eight years. It is very limited (only 100 cases made) and is $57.
2009 Syncline, Scintillation Blanc de Blanc Brut
While Syrah has a successful twenty-year history in Washington, the track record for outstanding Washington sparklers is extremely meager. But, if there’s anyone in the Washington wine industry you can count on to blaze a new frontier, it’s James and Poppie Mantone of Syncline, given their success with Rhone varietals, Pinot Noir, and Gruner Veltliner. This very limited bubbly (200 cases made) is sourced entirely from the original block of Wente Clone Chardonnay at Celillo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, originally planted in 1981. Like Red Willow, this vineyard is also a unique site. It sits directly on the crest of the Cascade Mountains on a bluff 1000 feet high on Underwood Mountain, an unusual intersection of marine, desert and alpine climates. The soils are volcanic and are not irrigated. These conditions preserve high acidity and allowed James to get very low yields and low alcohols, thus maintaining the intensity of the wine without getting the riper, concentrated fruit usual in Washington. After whole cluster pressing and fermentation with native yeasts in neutral barrels, the wine was laid down for two years, hand riddled, and then disgorged this January. The result is a truly world class bubbly, polished and elegant, with fine bubbles, and flavors and aromas of citrus and brioche. The only negative is that it’s a wine that can only be made in favorable vintages like 2009, and so it may be quite a while before we see it again. It’s $39.75, and we can get a bit more.