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Editor Picks: 6 Syrah from Walla Walla Valley

Editor Picks: 6 Syrah from Walla Walla Valley

Walla Walla syrah

In a region where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were once the two dominating grapes, Syrah is now becoming one of the area’s most sought-after expressions. The Walla Walla AVA became official in 1984. Soon after, growers began drawing parallels between Syrah from Côte-Rôtie in northern Rhône and versions from the southeast corner of Washington State.

Northern Rhône soil types vary but are predominantly clay, rock, and granite. It’s the rocky versions that are reminiscent across the 2,933 vineyard acres in Walla Walla. From basalt cobblestones to volcanic bedrock, Syrah loves the soil’s heat absorbency and gives wines their power, structure, and ageability. Many vineyards are also home to sandy loess soil overlying Missoula flood deposits, which is also ideal for grape growing.

Some of the region’s most exquisite Syrah grows in the southern parts of the AVA, which crosses into northeast Oregon and includes The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA. The Rocks is a sub-AVA that became official in 2015 and is completely enveloped inside the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

Syrah is the most planted grape variety in The Rocks District and accounts for nearly half of all vineyard plantings. In contrast, Syrah accounts for 18% of plantings in the larger Walla Walla AVA, while Cab is still king with 36% of plantings.

Though Walla Walla Valley Syrah is still a hand-sell to some consumers, so says many tasting room associates, it’s clearly becoming a fruitful exploration in the eyes of critics. From the slopes of the Blue Mountains and across the valley floor, the region’s 120 wineries are producing some thrilling Syrah.

Valdemar Estates

Blue Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2019

Walla Walla Valley AVA

There’s perhaps a no more apparent sign of Walla Walla being on the precipice of world-class quality than by a fifth-generation Rioja producer planting roots in the valley. Literally.

Jesús Martinez Bujanda Mora leads the helm of the first non-American winery in Washington State. Hailing from a family with 125+ years of winemaking in Oyón, Spain, Mora, alongside winemaker Devyani Isabel Gupta, has sculpted a thoughtful portfolio showcasing the uniqueness and vast opportunity in the Walla Walla Valley.

Its Syrah comes from the slopes of the Blue Mountains in the region’s southeast. Rainfall is higher here than in most other spots of the AVA, but sunshine is prevalent, allowing for a longer growing season.

The 2019 Syrah is rich on the nose, with bright aromas of field blueberry, Açaí berry, and mulberry jam. The Syrah grape’s typical savouriness comes through on the palate, with green peppercorn and dried sage leading its herbal component. Twelve months of neutral French oak leads to smooth and graceful tannins with a lustrous finish.


Syrah 2019

Walla Walla Valley AVA

If you ever want a schooling on the influence of Walla Walla’s nearby mountain ranges, visit Chuck Reininger, Reinginger’s winemaker and founder. He was the first to establish a winery using fruit exclusively from the Walla Walla Valley and, in 2022, celebrates 25 years of winemaking.

Terroir is central to Reininger’s philosophy, even giving nicknames to the surrounding ranges. Like, The Squeegee, referencing the Cascade Mountains and its ability to squeeze the moisture out of the maritime fronts that blow from the west. In addition, the winery’s labels depict an abstract representation of the ranges across the state, highlighting Walla Walla’s unique positioning for grape growing.

The 2019 Reininger Walla Walla Syrah begins in the Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills Vineyards, where some of the oldest vines in the region grow. Its aromas are exuberant, with rich notes of boysenberry, blueberry, and plum outlined with olive and cured meat. Its flavors are well balanced, though fruit-forward, with showy and grippy tannins. A sense of elegance lingers with significant fruit through the finish.

Gramercy Cellars

John Lewis Syrah 2018

Walla Walla Valley AVA

Gramercy Cellars is perhaps one of the more recognizable labels from Walla Walla. With an 8,000-case annual production, it’s not uncommon to see the familiar image of New York’s Gramercy Park wrought iron fence on shelves across the country. The John Lewis series is more niche, however. It illustrates a New York street map pinpointing Gramercy Park’s exact location- screaming more NY than WW. Nonetheless, it’s very much on-brand as New York-based Master Sommelier Greg Harrington founded the winery as an homage to his hometown.

Despite the winery’s fondness for imagery and maps, the Gramercy Cellars tasting room is surprisingly hard to find. Only a small sign beside the front door lets you know where Gramercy wines are poured. From the street, there’s no way of knowing what’s inside the unassuming red brick building on 13th Avenue.

The John Lewis expression is made from the vintage’s best Syrah barrels. In 2018, this single-vineyard wine came from the famed Les Collines Vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Mid-slope (approximately 1100-1380 feet above sea level) is home to Block 46. Whole cluster grape fermentation creates an enticing bouquet of black and blue fruit, tobacco leaf, and dried citrus peel. A flurry of Provence herbs enters the scene on the palate, with attentive acidity and savory – yet soft – tannins. Notes of cigar box and clove round the corner on the luxurious finish.

Grosgrain Vineyards

Seven Hills Syrah 2019

Walla Walla Valley AVA

A tasting at Grosgrain Vineyards starts with a Lemberger Pet-Nat. It’s a mic drop moment that precedes further jaw-dropping instants starring Walla Walla underdogs such as Grenache, a Tempranillo blend, and Carignan. It’s an experience to sit in the tasting room, exquisitely profusing southwest bohemian style, thanks to Kelly Austin’s previous career as a designer in Los Angeles. Together with her husband, Matt, in 2018, they founded Grosgrain Vineyards with a focus on low-intervention winemaking and sustainable farming practices.

The 2019 Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah is only their second vintage and is unlike other versions in the valley. It’s fruity, punchy, and light. Well, as light as a Syrah can be. It’s youthful but begs to be drunk instead of stashed away for aging. It’s a bright style with notes of early-season blackberries, violets and stone, aged in neutral French oak with grippy tannins. Yet, the grasp is that of a toddler, firm and inundated from all angles.

Open, sip, repeat. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and Grosgrain inherently reminds us of that.


Syrah 2019

Walla Walla Valley AVA

From the moment you arrive at this wine country haven, you’re welcomed with the sounds of wind rustling through trees, the sights of centuries-old farmhouses and pristine garden grounds, and (eventually) the taste of incredible Walla Walla wines.

The Kitchen at Abeja is where I was fortunate enough to experience the 2019 Abeja Walla Walla Syrah, during an incredible 5-course tasting menu conceived by executive chef Jake Crenshaw. The wines echo the extraordinary food and hospitality experience at the Abeja property – something I’ll never forget.

Abeja Syrah is an excellent example of why the area’s wines are making waves. It’s rich, with generous aromatics, but remains poised. Notes of dark berry fruits, like black cherry and mulberry, rise from the glass. Meanwhile, hints of bacon, old leather, and delicate violet round out the bouquet. The ripe berry flavors are bright and expressive, with a lush concentration through the mid-palate. Evolution brings forward layers of vanilla bean and licorice with slight black peppercorn hinting through the friendly tannin finish.

Walla Walla syrah

Rôtie Cellars

Northern Blend 2020

The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA

The purpose of Rôtie Cellars is simple, to make traditional French-style Rhône Blends with Washington State fruit. Fortunately, winemaker and owner Sean Boyd nestled into the perfect spot to do so, The Rocks District, allowing him to be mostly hands-off. He believes great wine happens in the vineyard and that his job is to stay out of nature’s way.

Rôtie Cellars’ portfolio is a journey through the Rhône Valley. From white blends with nods to southern and northern varieties (Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussane), plus Grenache, a bubbly Rosé made mainly of Syrah, and of course, its two flagship reds.

The 2020 Northern Blend comprises 95% estate Syrah with 5% estate Viognier. It’s unmistakably both Rhône and Rocks in nature. It’s deep, dark, and brooding with notes of pipe tobacco, dark chocolate, and roasted hazelnut. The fruit composition shows laser focus highlighting blueberry jam and dark plum. The bright acidity and silky tannins dance in tandem through a graceful and lengthy finish.

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