Two Yakima Valley Syrahs

Hello friends. The Yakima Valley is a diverse AVA. I was reminded of that during a recent research road trip for a future Seattle Magazine article (that one won’t come out until October, which makes me appreciate the quick turnaround of a Full Pull offer). And I was reminded of that during recent Syrah tastings, where two bottles from opposite ends of the Yak stood out as expressive of their respective patches of valley terroir.

2010 Nota Bene Syrah Les Vignes de Marcoux

Les Vignes de Marcoux is about as far west as you can get in the Yakima Valley (see location here). This site is Mike Sauer’s vineyard across the street from Red Willow, with the Syrah block going into the ground in 1992. Tim Narby of Nota Bene got enough of this fruit in 2010 to make just 75 cases, so this is a limited wine to be sure. It spent about two years in barrel, 20% new, and clocks in at 14.9% listed alc.

As a reminder, Tim was at one point the Chief Grape Procurement Officer for the Boeing Employee’s Wine and Beermaking Club. CGPO has to be one of the best C-level positions of all time. The terrific vineyard contacts he made in that role served him well when he started Nota Bene, and they continue to serve him well today. Red Willow/LVdM Syrah fruit is not easy to come by, and Tim has done a beautiful job with it. Inky black-purple in the glass, it offers blueberry and boysenberry fruit married to a whole host of savory notes: smoky bacon fat, briny green olive, truffle. An ultra-intense palate-stainer, it brings lovely inner-mouth perfume and an insistent sense of earthiness. It’s a rich mouthful, well-balanced and suavely-textured. Classy fruit, classy winemaking.

2010 Ambassador Vineyard Estate Syrah

In contrast to LVdM, Ambasaador Vineyard is on Red Mountain, which is about as far east as you can get in the Yakima Valley (see location here). This is one of the newer projects on Red Mountain, with the vineyard going into the ground in 2005. What makes it particularly exciting is the vineyard manager: none other than the Yoda of Washington Syrah, Mr. Dick Boushey. What a treat it is to see Dick’s aplomb with Syrah applied to Red Mountain.

Furthermore, the winemaker is Sarah Goedhart, daughter of Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges and member of a legendary Red Mountain family. Her comfort level with this particular piece of Washington terroir is high, and around harvest time, you know she has the benefit of walking out of her house and down the road to sample grapes, which she can do every day.

The quality of winegrowing and winemaking is readily apparent here, and this is an impressive bottle of estate-grown, Red Mountain Syrah, especially considering we’re only at sixth-leaf fruit here. It spent 15 months in barrel (41% new) and another year in bottle before release. The nose is super-smoky, a combination partly of the new wood and partly because Syrah seems to take on a smokier personality on this particular mountain. So we smell notes of browned meat and smoked nut to go with the deep blackberry fruit. In the mouth, we really see the difference in Syrah expressions in different parts of the Yak. If the LVdM bottle is about grace and elegance, this one is about unadulterated power. Big, intense, and chewy, this has the kind of tannic heft you’d more commonly associate with Bordeaux varietals, and a whisky barrel finish to boot. For lovers of Red Mountain muscle, this is a new(ish), well-priced example worth exploring.

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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