Hello friends. I recently had the chance to taste the new vintage of a list-favorite Syrah: Morgan Lee’s Columbia Valley bottling for Two Vintners. In my notebook, I wrote: “this is the way forward for Washington Syrah.” Let me explain what I mean.
[But before I do, let me also say that while the Syrah will be the focus of today’s offer, down below we’ll also have a chance to access the strangest wine in Morgan’s lineup: The O.G.]
What I mean by the way forward. Okay, so currently, Washington Syrah is beloved by Rhone-heads within Washington. Outside of our state’s confines, it ranges from complete unknown to tough sell. Syrah in general is a weak category right now; Washington still an immature region in terms of national sales. And to some degree that’s fine. We could be like Switzerland. The Swiss have this beautiful wine producing country, and they consume the vast majority of it in-country. I’m sure many Swiss vignerons make an honest living this way. So that’s one way forward for Washington: root root root for the home team.
But I feel like a wine like this, priced like this, presages another way forward, where Washington Syrah could be competitive on a national level, and maybe eventually a global level. What Washington has – and this is rare outside the Rhone Valley – is the ability to produce Syrahs with earthy, fecund, funky character. But in most cases, the wines that display this character command steep prices – $40 and up, often $50 and up – and come in small quantities. What’s getting more and more exciting by the year with Morgan’s Columbia Valley bottling is that it offers funky nuance at a $20 price point, and in decent quantity.
That price point is important. Important not only for retail, where many of us put $20/bottle as our purchasing ceiling, but also for restaurants, where it translates to a $13 or $14 glass-pour. That means broad distribution. That means spreading the word that Washington can make this kind of Syrah at this kind of price.
In my opinion, this type of well-priced Syrah – ripe berry fruit combined with earthy/brinky/funky nuance – is a niche waiting to be exploited, and Washington can do it. There are plenty of Walla Walla and Yakima Valley Vineyards that can bring the funk; plenty of vineyards from across the greater Columbia Valley that can bring the plush berry fruit.
This wine is a fine blueprint of how to proceed. Knowing what I know about some of these vineyards, I’d guess the savory threads (earthy, meaty, briny, etc.) come from the 6% Rocks fruit (Stoney Vine and Yellow Jacket), the 8% Boushey fruit, some of the 30% Olsen fruit, definitely the 8% Dineen fruit; then the yumball fruit comes from the 20% Discovery fruit, the 11% Stonetree fruit, the 10% Pepper Bridge fruit. It’s one blueprint, but not the only one.
Anyway, I’m not even sure why I’m pushing this. After all, if more people learn about how good these Washington Syrahs can be, won’t it just make our allocations that much more competitive? Maybe I should just shut up. But I’ll admit: I’m biased towards my home region and eager to see it get the attention I think it deserves.
So, this Syrah, which also sees a 3% Olsen Roussanne coferment, has a wonderful, piercing core of marionberry fruit, complicated by a whole host of savory tones that are clear as a bell on the complex, attractive nose: smoky bacon fat, castelvetrano olive, warm dusty earth. The palate is a plush, rich, easy drinker, with just-right acidity to balance all that tasty fruit. Balanced, polished, and above all else complex, this is a dynamite $20 Syrah, and if it’s the ambassador for pan-Washington juice, we have a bright future ahead.
You may remember the previous (2013) vintage of this garnered some serious local accolades. A mention as Sean Sullivan’s weekly wine pick in Seattle Met Magazine. Then Seattle Magazine’s award for Best Syrah, $20-$40, besting several bottlings nearly twice as expensive. No press yet for this vintage; let’s get in and grab our share nice and early.
By far the weirdest wine in Morgan’s lineup and among the weirdest produced in Washington, this is an “orange wine” style. What that means is that white grapes (in this case, all Gewurztraminer from Olsen Vineyard) are left to macerate on the skins for weeks at a time (in this case 40 days) before pressing, imparting a bit of color pigment (between that pigment and the oxidation that takes place, the wine turns a bit orange), considerable textural weight, and usually a bit of tannin to the juice. There are similarities aromatically to some of the older white Riojas I’ve had, like the old Viuras from Lopez de Heredia: that oddly alluring, slightly oxidized character of fruitcake spice and caramel. Here those notes are combined with soaring Gewurz topnotes of rosewater and lychee fruit and peach. The palate is dry and full (13.3% listed alc), exotic and spicy. This is so perfumed in the mouth, it just calls out for bold-flavored foods. A Thai green curry would be divine.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.