Tag Archives: Syrah

What We’re Drinking – Milbrandt Vineyards Clifton Hill Vineyard The Estates 2010

Not too long ago, an old friend stopped by with a bottle of wine in hand. That put a smile on my face. And I was delighted to visit and taste this winery’s Syrah.

I recalled that brothers Jerry and Butch Milbrandt were farmers first, the same as many wineries in Eastern Washington, having worked their family’s Columbia Valley farm for 50 some years growing row crops and orchards. Then in 1996, a couple of big wineries recruited the Millbrandts to grow grapes. They began planting vineyards in 1997.

Today, Milbrandt Vineyards has more than 2,300 acres of grapevines; most of their estate vineyards are located in two AVAs in the Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope AVA and Ancient Lakes AVA.

The high quality of their fruit became so well known and in such demand, the Milbrandts were selling tons of their grapes to many Washington wineries. That was the impetus for building a custom crush facility in 2005. And then in 2007, they launched their own  wines.

The 29 acre Clifton Hill Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA near Mattawa was planted to Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah in 1999. Now a fully mature vineyard, it produces an intense purple-black colored Syrah with a ton of black fruit flavors sprinkled with a hint of herbs and great balanced acidity. This is a big wine with surprising finesse. Expressive and classy, it has a wonderful long smooth finish.

Distributed in Washington by Unique Distributing and sells for around $23.


Making a Splash with Syrah

Mary writes:

Columbia Crest Syrah

Some time during the Merlot craze of the 90s, David Lake had a few acres of Syrah planted in Washington State. Lake, the winemaker at Columbia Winery, Master of Wine and firm believer in terrior, had a vision of what Syrah could become in Eastern Washington. In 1990, there were a mere 15 acres planted to Syrah; today, there are 3,103 acres of Syrah in the ground.

Washington’s Syrah are luscious and ready to drink upon release unlike Old World Syrah that typically require a few years’ aging.

While dining with a friend recently, a bottle of Columbia Crest Syrah was opened to pair with the grilled flank steak with Chimichurri sauce.

This gorgeous wine was flawless from start to finish. Elegant aromas of smoke, cinnamon, blackerrries and cedar, followed by flavors of pepper, blackberries and currants. It’s a big wine, though the tannins are silky and smooth.

Columbia Crest Winery, not to be confused with Columbia Winery that first planted Syrah, was established in 1983. They are part of Stimson Lane that includes Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The winery is located in the Horse Heaven Hills. And it is huge. It was described when I toured it in 1986 as being as large as four football fields and could store 27,000 59 gallon barrels.

Over the years, Columbia Crest Winery has been named Winery of the Year by numerous wine trade magazines. And now by this blog! At $12.00, it’s a lot of wine for the money.

What we’re drinking: DeLille Cellars Signature Syrah

Brynn writes:

In honor of March being Washington Wine Month, we’re going to highlight a Washington wine each week in our regular What We’re Drinking spot.

This week I’m continuing with the story from last week’s review of Mark Ryan Winery and the birthday party visit to Woodinville.

After our Mark Ryan trip (don’t worry I haven’t forgotten that I still owe you a review of our favorite wine from this tasting) we headed around the roundabout back to DeLille Cellars, which has a Carriage House tasting room about ¼ mile from the winery’s Chateau.

Upon arrival we were whisked away to a back table where we were poured by far the largest selection of wine we were to taste all day.

While we tasted some knock out wines from DeLille, it was the Doyenne Signature Syrah that left the best impression.

I think that’s because of the nose on this deep purple wine. After one sniff it was immediately evident that the wine had a splash of viognier, which gave it the floral notes I was picking up on the nose.

The wine is 98 percent syrah, 2 percent viognier. The syrah grapes come from a mix of different vineyards, which adds to the wine’s complexity.

I think the reason I liked my two small sips of this wine was because I found it approachable and something I would drink with or without food. We later tried the winery’s estate Syrah — 100 percent syrah sourced only from Grand Ciel Vineyard — and it was amazing to see the difference between the two.

Right off the bat the nose was different on the estate syrah because it didn’t have the viognier addition. The finish of the estate syrah was sharp and tannic, while the Doyenne syrah was smooth and pleasing. As the more complex of the two, the estate syrah is definitely one that I would love to taste again after it’s been laid down in the cellar for a few years.

Here’s what the winery has to say about the Doyenne signature syrah:

Tasting Notes:

Our Syrah defines the 2008 vintage character beautifully — revealing a nose of pomegranate, black raspberry, flowers, black pepper and minerals. Interesting notes of grilled meat and wet stones accompany the usual Syrah flavors of black plum, pomegranate, and fresh herbs. Demonstrating uncommon elegance, balance and power, the finish is focused and long. This wine continues the 2008 trend of interesting, elegant wines with classical structure and memorable longevity.

Varietal Blend:

  • 98 percent Syrah
  • 2 percent Viognier

Vineyard breakdown:

  • 49 percent Ciel du Cheval Syrah
  • 19 percent Grand Ciel Vineyard Syrah
  • 30 percent Boushey Vineyard Syrah
  • 2 percent Ciel du Cheval Viognier

Price: $39

Spanish wine a good match for Valentine’s Day pot roast

Since Ann Vogel has decided to keep it simple for her suggested Valentine’s Day recipe, we’ll do the same for our wine pairing.

A hearty meal like Vogel’s suggested Valentine’s Day Pot Roast deserves a wine that can stand up to the weight of the meat and its sides, while also delivering full-bodied flavor.

For this reason we’re recommending Celler de Capçanes Montsant’s Mas Donis Barrica, a blend of 85 percent Grenache and 25 percent Syrah from Spain.

The winery is located 100 miles southwest of Barcelona and 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s wine history dates back to the middle ages, and while its vines haven’t been around since the middle ages, they are much older than any found in the United States.

The Grenache in this blend comes from 60-year-old vines, while the Syrah from significantly younger vines — the winery gives their age as 5 to 15 years. The wine is aged in new to 5-year-old French and American oak for nine months before it is blended in a tank, where it sits for three months before bottling.

The result of these techniques produces an energetic wine with raspberry on the nose, slight oak spices in the middle and a strong finish. Brynn recently paired this wine with a similar pot roast recipe, which called for two cups dry red wine. She chose the Mas Donis Barrica to flavor the roast. It was a perfect pair.

The wine did well with the tender meat — it’s slightly tangy finish easily met the hearty weight of the meat and potatoes.

Another great thing about this wine? It’s only $13 — a steal for something that received high marks from highly regarded wine connoisseurs Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer.

Rhone Rangers ‘rock’ our socks off

Last week we had the chance to take a field trip to Seattle’s Maritime Event Center on Pier 66 for the annual Rhone Rangers Seattle Trade Tasting.

Yes, that’s right we played hooky on a Tuesday to taste wine.

But not just any wine, wine made in the style of France’s Rhone Valley — a region near and dear to both of our hearts.

If you’ve never heard of the Rhone Rangers here’s a little background: It’s a California-based non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. It’s membership based, and goes around the country holding tastings to spread the word about Rhone-style wines.

Some of the events are open to the public, while others are for trade only to introduce winemakers to restaurateurs and distributors who might be interested in carrying their wines.

We went to the trade event in Seattle. Most of the wineries pouring were from California, but there were five Washington wineries present (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery, Harbinger Winery, Maison Bleue Winery, Mercer Estates and Waterbrook Winery).

The nice thing about this event was in most cases the winemaker, or someone from the winery who knew about the winemaking process, was pouring. So they could easily answer questions and give us insight into the wineries.

For this tasting, Brynn stuck primarily with the whites, while Mary hit up the reds. If we found one we loved from our designated color, we told the other to try it. This allowed us to divide and conquer.

After three hours of tasting (and spitting), we came to the conclusion that there are some darn good Rhone-style varietals being made in the States. But we already knew this living in Washington, where winemakers have jumped on the Rhone bandwagon in the last decade, producing some top-notch Rhone-style wines.

Before we list the wineries that caught our eye, a little history on Rhone wines and the varietals allowed in this region.

Unlike France’s other regions where wine can be blended between three to five grapes — Red Bordeaux blends often contain different levels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and to a lesser degree Malbec and Petite Verdot — wines from the Rhone Valley can include up to 22 different varietals.

No, that’s not a typo, we said “22”.

A snip-it from the Rhone Rangers website about the most common red and white grapes in France’s Cotes du Rhone region:


The most common red Rhone varietals are Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, with Syrah predominant in the Northern Rhone and Grenache in the Southern Rhone. Other relatively common red grapes include Cinsault and Carignan. Finally, the list includes some grapes that are found only in trace amounts even in France, and are just beginning to be explored in the United States, including Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Vaccarese, and Terret Noir.


The principal white Rhone varietals are Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, each found throughout the Rhone Valley, with Grenache Blanc a widely planted but less well-known contributor in the Southern Rhone. The other white grapes include Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardin, Picpoul/Piquepoul Blanc, and Ugni Blanc.

In the Northern Rhone region (St. Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage will be on the label) Syrah is the only red grape allowed, but winemakers traditionally add 5 percent Viognier to bring out floral notes. This is usually co-fermented with the Syrah.

In Southern Rhone, it’s more like a grape free-for-all. A Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhone or Gigondas technically can have all 22 of the above grape varieties.

So, what was our favorite winery of the bunch you ask?

To be honest it was hard to come up with just one — in fact Brynn had a favorite wine from two-thirds of the tables she visited — but in the end we decided we were most impressed with Washington’s very own Maison Bleue out of Prosser.

Owner and winemaker Jon Martinez was on hand to pour, and explained his Marsanne was typically a crowd favorite — especially among wine media.

Mary would have to agree with this statement, although Brynn was more impressed with Martinez’s 2010 Notre Vie Viognier from Arthur’s Vineyard. He also had another unusual white grape varietal, Roussanne. This rare grape was aged for nine months in Burgundian barrels for a round, full-bodied mouthfeel.

The Viognier was a 100 percent Viognier wine that spent time in 70 percent French oak barrels. The rest was kept in stainless steel tanks before the two were mixed.

The wine showed a nice balance of acidic minerality with the sweeter, more tropical floral flavors often associated with the Viognier grape. The combination of oak and stainless steel aging allowed these two styles to blend perfectly.

Beyond his delectable whites, Martinez’s table was also full of red blends — seven of them to be exact.

Most were from Snipes Mountain and Boushey vineyards. Boushey Vineyards has been around since the 1980s and is highly sought after. Dick Boushey planted Syrah in 1994.

(Sidenote: Dick Boushey was at the Rhone Rangers event and Mary chatted with him for a bit about beer, of all things. Brynn only quickly compared notes with him on a couple Viogniers and a Syrah).

Of the reds, we recommend the Maison Bleue Red blend, a 50–50 blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Yakima Valley called Jaja — French slang for wine.

The ‘09 Grenache from Upland on Snipes Mountain was all raspberries, white pepper and aromatic. The balance and finish were great. But Mary’s absolute favorite was from the same vineyard: A 2009 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. “What balance!” she said. “Rich concentrated fruit flavors, smooth and showy at the same time.”

Stay tuned next week for more Rhone Rangers reviews.

Aging wines: A snapshot of young vs. old

Brynn writes:

A few weekends ago Mary and I decided to get together outside of our regular blog meet up day. The purpose? To compare a 1996 St. Joseph with a 2006 Crozes-Hermitage.

Both of these wines are from the Northern Rhone region of France and made with Syrah grapes.

The idea to compare the wines came up after I started asking Mary for advice about how to decide which wines should be saved for a few years and which wines should be had now. (That will be a topic of a future post to come, so stay tuned).

We planned the menu for the evening: Roasted lamb marinated with olive oil, rosemary and thyme, and roasted red potatoes and onions seasoned with dill, parsley and basil.

We opened the 2006 Chave Crozes-Hermitage first, saving the 1996 to have with the dinner because once open it would fade.

We were surprised to find that even after four-and-a-half years, the 2006 was tight. The color was typical of a Syrah, deep purple, but the nose was limited to whiffs of plum. The lamb in the oven smelled better than this wine at this point.

Eventually it did open up to a nose of violets, licorice and plum.

Dinner was ready and we opened the 1996 Chave St. Joseph — but not before a little difficulty with the cork, which decided to crumble as we tried to extricate it from the bottle. Dang! No Ahso. (You know, the corkscrew with the two metal arms that go on each side of the cork).

A knife was inserted down the neck of the bottle to loosen the cork’s hold. We then drilled the corkscrew into the side to get a better hold on the cork. We met with success.

Comparing the two wines, there was a visible difference. The 1996 had a brick rim, a sign of maturity. The nose was fragrant with plum and cinnamon, and the flavor much more subdued for a Syrah, with a long, smooth finish.

The 1996 St. Joseph paired so nicely with the succulent lamb and herbed red potatoes. The plum and cinnamon flavors married perfectly with the lamb and the parsley and dill potatoes.

The 2006 Crozes-Hermitage, while tight when enjoyed by itself, became “hot”  with the lamb. This means the alcohol was much more prominent on the finish after sipping it with the flavor of the lamb in our mouths. We revisited the St. Joseph for the rest of the delightful meal.

Going with the theme of trying wines that have been aged for a few years, the next night Jeff and I dug out a bottle we had from 1999. The wine is also a Rhone style blend, but we bought it from a Virginia winery we visited when we lived on the East Coast.

I bought the wine (along with five other bottles) four years earlier as a gift for Jeff for Valentines Day.

We had one bottle at the time and it was as great as we remembered from our visit to the winery. But four years later when we opened this wine, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Tinta Cao with a splash of Viognier, our reaction was much different.

Maybe our palates have since grown, or maybe the wine was past its prime. We tried to drink it, but after a glass we decided it was flat and the nose was unappealing.

I did the unthinkable, I poured out the bottle. It was painful, but the wine was past its prime.

With one bottle left I decided I needed to bring it to Mary, to get her expert opinion.

Her observations included:

“When we first opened it, I really enjoyed the nose. At first it smelled of spices and orange peel, it was very appealing, but…”

But 20 minutes later, the nose had completely faded and Mary’s reaction was that the smell reminded her of fruit flies in her wine, and as she said “I really hate fruit flies in my wine.”

Her next comment: “It’s a tired wine, so we’re going to have to pound this.” She was joking of course, but not about the wine being tired.

It would be interesting to try the most recent vintage of this wine from the winery — assuming they still make this blend — to see if we still like it.

This is a case where we shouldn’t have held on to the wine as long as we did. Lesson learned.