2007 Waters Syrah Forgotten Hills Vineyard

Hello friends. I’m torn. On the one hand, I want to heap all the lavish praise on this wine that it deserves. Put simply, it is one of the most complex, exciting wines I have ever tasted from Washington. On the other hand, the parcel I have squirreled away in the warehouse is quite small, and prospects for acquiring a larger parcel are hazy at best. But I think I will err on the side of optimism, tell you all about this wine in all its glory, and hope for the best in terms of procuring more.

As I have mentioned before, it is my opinion that no red grape expresses Washington terroir with more clarity than Syrah. I consider Jamie Brown (winemaker at Waters) to be a champion of terroir expression in this state. Since 2005, he has been making single-vineyard Syrahs from three different sites: Pepper Bridge, Loess, and Forgotten Hills. A lover of Old World wines, Jamie takes actions during the winegrowing and winemaking processes to ensure that a sense of place is conveyed in the glass. First, he has secured access to exceptional vineyards. Next, he chooses his harvest time more based on acid than on sugar (the alcohol levels on his single-vineyard Syrahs almost always come in under 14%). Finally, he uses almost entirely older and neutral oak barrels to allow the fruit and vineyard to shine.

The results are astonishing, nowhere more so than with the Forgotten Hills bottling. I was first introduced to this vineyard through a 2003 James Leigh Cellars Syrah. At that winery’s tasting room, the woman pouring introduced the wine to me thusly: “This one smells like armpits.” I’m pretty sure “armpits” is not a section of Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel. (Note to tasting room employees: when attempting to sell wine, there are some aroma descriptors best left on the cutting room floor). Ms. Armpits seemed a little shocked when I told her I loved the wine and its meaty, earthy funk. And who was the winemaker at James Leigh Cellars at the time? That’s right: Jamie Brown.

When Jamie moved over to Waters, one of the first actions taken by the winery was to purchase Forgotten Hills Vineyard from Jeff Hill, who planted it in 1996 on his homestead at the base of the Blue Mountains. The vineyard sits on a combination of basalt cobblestones (always a good sign for Syrah), silt loam, and sandy loam. Its high elevation (1000 ft) has benefits and drawbacks. The benefit is the coolness of the site, which allows for the kind of long hang time required for truly complex aromatics. The drawback is the fragility of the vineyard, which yielded no usable fruit in 2008 and was harvested on frost day in 2009.

Luckily, 2007 was an outstanding winegrowing year across Washington state, including Forgotten Hills. I first tasted this wine during my December trip to Walla Walla, where Waters was my first stop of the trip. I left Seattle at 6 AM and wandered into the Waters tasting room, bleary-eyed, right after 10 AM. Just sniffing this wine was enough to pull me out of my fugue state. The nose is endlessly complex and layered: peppered slab bacon, damp earth, roasted nuts, minerals, smoke, blue and black berries, braised cabbage; absolutely captivating. The palate has stunning depth and a notably creamy texture; a richness that seems almost impossible given the low alcohol. This is a wine that will please the hedonist and the intellectual (two sides of the same personality for some of us). An absolutely remarkable achievement.

Fortunately for the winery, and unfortunately for us, Waters has achieved distribution across much of the United States. Only one pallet (56 cases) of wine has been allotted to western Washington, and that pallet is set to be released on April 8 (tomorrow!). Much (all?) of that wine is pre-allocated to other retail and restaurant accounts, but I did manage to wriggle my way into a small pre-release parcel, which I tucked away into a corner of the warehouse. I’m sending this offering out today to gauge our overall demand and see if I can acquire any additional bottles that other accounts refuse. Even under normal circumstances, this is an almost-culty wine that is difficult to source. The fact that there will be no 2008 upped the frenzy, as did this 93-pt score from Tanzer (scores that high from Tanzer appear about as frequently as Halley’s Comet; the only Syrahs from Washington to ever score higher come from Cayuse and Betz; lofty company to be sure):

International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.

I’m going to open this up to a maximum of 12 bottles, but please understand that if I cannot procure an additional parcel, allocations are likely to be more like 3 or 4 bottles per person. As I noted, we already have a small lot in the warehouse; any additional parcel would likely arrive within 2-3 weeks. Please be patient, and I promise to source as much of this wonderful wine as I can.

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