Three from Syncline

Hello friends. James Mantone was into Rhone varietals before it was cool, and while other producers in the state race to play catch-up, he is teaching a master class. With his latest set of releases, he cements Syncline as one of Washington’s most thrilling wineries.

And here let me pause and implore you, as I seem to do every time we offer Syncline: visit the Columbia Gorge. Syncline is the flagship winery for this region, but the entire area is just majestically beautiful. There is no finer aesthetic landscape in Washington for wine touring. The crowds are sparse, the wineries are friendly, and there’s a laid-back ethos about the place, fueled in part, I suspect, by the (now legal! at least on the Washington side of the river) blue cloud of marijuana smoke that drapes itself gently onto the Columbia River as it rolls through the gorge.

When “green wine” makes its way onto the scene in Washington, as it’s bound to do in a post-Initiative-502 world, I’d be willing to wager the first bottle will come from the Gorge.

But in the meantime, the whites and reds are nothing to sneeze at:

2011 Syncline “Subduction Red” (Rhone Blend)

Call it what you will: the canary in the coal mine (for poor vintages); the crystal ball (for good vintages). Either way, Subduction Red is the vanguard, always among the first serious red wines to be released from a specific vintage.

It’s Syncline’s table wine, and it contains six different Rhone varietals: 39% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 9% Carignan, 7% Counoise, 2% Cinsault. It is raised in a combination of French barrel (only about 5% new) and Nomblot concrete cubes. The result is a wine with a real sense of vitality, of joyous exuberance. This is a Washington version of a vin-de-soif, with a juicy, refreshing character to the spicy, mineral-soaked raspberries and cranberries. At 13.5%-alc, this would be a killer Thanksgiving option as well.

2011 Syncline Marsanne Boushey Vineyard

I know, I know. I said in a recent offering that Syncline was focusing their white program entirely on Gruner Veltliner and Grenache Blanc. But when Dick Boushey offers you his pristine Marsanne fruit, what are you going to do? Say no?

I should think not.

So James and Poppie decided to make a one-off, single-vineyard, varietal Marsanne. This is not a permanent addition to the lineup, and that’s fine with me. Sometimes these ephemeral bottlings are the most poignant anyway.

This is the same Marsanne fruit that went into Jon Martinez’s Petit Joie bottling for Maison Bleue (that of the 94pt scores from Advocate and Rhone Report), and it is something special. Aromatics combine notes of raw almond, mineral, and orange blossom, and the plush texture and intensity of flavor make me think this would be a fascinating alternative for folks in a Chardonnay rut.

2010 Syncline “Cuvee Elena” (Grenache Blend)

Cuvee Elena is Syncline’s flagship wine, a barrel selection made with elegance of texture and depth of character in mind, and in 2010 a blend mostly of Grenache (57%) and Mourvedre (32%), with small amounts of Syrah, Counoise, and Carignan. Vinification is complicated enough that I’ll just quote James directly: “Grenache, Counoise and Carignan were de-stemmed, inoculated in small open tops with manual pigeage then aged in neutral barrels. For Mourvedre and Syrah, inoculated fermentation occurred in 33 hectoliter concrete cubes, with a max temp of 81 degrees, twice daily pump-overs and early delestage. Syrah was also fermented with 20–30% whole clusters This bottling is 100% free run juice that was put directly into 4–7 year old barrels, some in 700L size.”

I’ve fallen for this cuvee over the years, because it consistently has this leafy Grenache character that I find deeply compelling. There are aromas of cherry, and lavender, and tree bark, giving way to a palate-staining mouthful of crushed rock, briary raspberry fruit, and mulling spice. There is a fresh sense of menthol on the finish, like a cherry Ludens. But above all, it’s that leafy character, something autumnal, crepuscular, that keeps me going back to this one again and again.

First come first served up to 18 bottles total (mix and match as you like). The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

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