2012 Fausse Piste Syrah Garde Manger

Hello friends. One of the most exciting Washington Syrahs I’ve tasted in 2014 comes not from Washington at all:

We’ve been close to offering this wine a few different times in previous vintages, but happenstances of timing and quantity precluded us from doing so. Not this time.

Fausse Piste has been on my radar for a few years now as a winery worth tracking. Winemaker Jesse Skiles has an impeccable pedigree. He has a background as a chef, and until recently ran a restaurant called Sauvage in Portland (Portland is also the location of the winery). Before that, he was the chef for Owen Roe Winery, where David O’Reilly encouraged him to take up winemaking on the side.

I’ve only met Jesse once, and it was a few years ago, but I remember talking about Syrah, and I specifically remember his knowledge and enthusiasm for a number of different Washington vineyards. That passion is borne out in Garde Manger, which is sourced from a full seven different vineyards. The most prominent among them are Red Willow, River Rock (in the rocks of the Walla Walla Valley), Outlook (an Owen Roe estate site), and Ambassador.

Jesse’s stated goal with this wine is “to create a Syrah that has its feet planted in the northwest but has visions of Crozes-Hermitage,” and it’s worth noting the he spent time in the Northern Rhone between his Owen Roe and Fausse Piste stints. The clues are in place: a chef who appreciates savory flavors; a restaurant called Sauvage; an homage to Crozes-Hermitage. Yes, you guessed it: this is a briny, umami funkbomb, with a real wild (sauvage?) edge.

It starts with the vineyard selections, with River Rock clearly shining through. Then there’s the choice to include 80% whole clusters (stems and all), which helps contribute that wildness. And then the elevage in all neutral barrels, with no chance for any oak character to get in the way of all that beautiful funky fruit. This begins with huge olive notes – green and Kalamata – along with meaty bacon fat and corned beef, pure blueberry and huckleberry fruit, and a sanguine/mineral edge. It’s an extremely expressive nose, deeply appetizing and oh so savory. The palate continues the mix of fruit and umami tones, all on an impressively silken-textured mouthfeel. Wow, what a Syrah.

This is a winery on the rise, and I suspect if Fausse Piste was located in Washington, they’d already have acquired a whiff of the culty. Fortunately, with their off-the-grid location in Portland, they remain a hidden gem for Washingtonians. For now. First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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