World Wide Syrah

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Washington State Syrah

The bold, luscious red varietal- Syrah- is grown world wide.  Originally from the southeastern part of France, the grape has migrated to several regions with great success!  Tales have been told of it originating from Iran, Sicily and other Mediterranean delights; however, DNA analysis concludes that it is a cross of Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche (both of French origin).

So, where in the world do we find Syrah?

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Côte Rotie vineyards, Northern Rhône

France
Classically Rhône- Syrah is found in both the Northern & Southern Rhône, and they are very different. In the Nothern Rhône, it is 100% Syrah with only a touch of Viognier (a white varietal) allowed per AOC laws.  Expect dark, hedonistic, inky fruits mingling with earth, mushrooms and pencil lead.  Southern Rhône is allowed to blend– and they do!  With the availability of several different varietals, Châteauneuf-du-Pape takes the lead as King of Blending.  In addition to Syrah, CNP can use:  Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). Since it is primarily Grenache based, expect bright summer cherries with expressive spice, depth and higher acidity. Killer.

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Domaine de Nalys vineyards, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhône

We recommend:
Vignerones Propriétés Associés- Crozes-Hermitage
Northern Rhône, France — Reg $23.99 | INSIDER $22.99
Domaine de Nalys 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Reserve
Southern Rhône, France– Reg $65.99

Spain
Not quite the cousin to France, as Spain always has to add a bit of umphf and vigor to their reds.  Found in Catalonia and Jumilla primarily, the heat explodes the juices and spice- plump fruit with baking spices of cinnamon and cardamom. Lower acid, higher alcohol.

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Mollydooker Syrah vineyards, McLaren Vale, Australia

Australia
Renamed Shiraz when it migrated, Australian Shiraz is Syrah, just spicier.  Not too dissimilar to Spain where the heat creates an extracted fruit bomb with amazing black peppercorn delights- Australians are very methodical and exacting.  Expect a balanced fruit explosion.

D’Arenberg 2010 The Dead Arm Shiraz
McLaren Vale — Reg $69.99

Syrah_lodiwinecomSyrah vineyards, Lodi, California

North America
The States have several growing regions, but for the acclaim: California and Washington get the ticket.  California is hotter with a maritime influence, whereas Washington is a desert climate- hot with a cold evening.  California provides a fruit bomb experience.  Washington, expect a diverse experience from ripe fruits to stones, granite, olives, and peppercorn spice!

K Vintners 2013 Rock Garden Syrah
Walla Walla Valley, WA — Reg $65.99

South America
Argentina – Known for Malbec, yes… Argentina makes a rock star Syrah.  Extracted yet the mountains cool down and allow for great acidity for food pairing (spicy dishes!!). Chile is similar to Argentina yet cooler.  Experience softer fruit with higher acidity and refinement.

Elqui 2013 Syrah
Elqui Valley, Argentina — Reg $27.99

South Africa
If you haven’t had anything from South Africa, this is where you should start (though there are great several contenders).  Bodacious ripe and often cooked fruits with subtle hints to BBQ smoke and brine. An amazing Syrah for meats and bold flavors (curries and spice). Get it!

Stark-Conde 2013 Syrah
Stellenbosch, South Africa — Reg $22.99

Tuscany, Italy
Not native to Italy… but when times change the Italians embrace it.  Super Tuscans came about in the late 1890’s when Phylloxera hit France.  French winemakers, trying to save their stock, asked to grow in Italy (as well as all over the world).  The end result was a bit of a controversy.  The wines, of course brought Phylloxera , but also introduced non- traditional wines to Italy.  High end producers couldn’t sell the wines, per government regulations. But they were amazing. So- guess what they did? Sold it anyways.  They are Italians! Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon are some of the heavy hitters to the most renown Super Tuscans.

La Togata Azzummeta Toscana Rosso — Reg $45.99

Mannucci-Droandi (Tuscany)

Hungary, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe

I have personally never tasted these wines, but I have no doubt that the reason they are not imported is because…  they are consumed!

Cheers!  Jaci

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New Tasting Series: Grape Varietals A-Z

A-Z_logo_Jan 2014
Kicking off a new year, we thought it would be fun to do a comprehensive tasting series featuring as many single grape varietals as we carry in the shop. We counted them up. (There are 60+!) We put them in alphabetical order. And we’re ready to go! Here’s the schedule.  If you make a good chunk of these tastings, you will have tasted the vast majority of single grape varietals grown around the world today. We’ll offer a little educational overview on each grape including tasting notes & where it’s grown. The rest is up to you. Ready, set, go:

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Tastings run every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday from bar open (4pm) to 8pm:
Tue, 14-Jan – Albariño ~ pictured above in the Outon vineyards in Rias Baixas, Spain
Wed, 15-Jan – Aligoté
Thu, 16-Jan – Arneis
Tue, 21-Jan – Barbera
Wed, 22-Jan – Blaufraenkisch
Thu, 23-Jan – Brachetto
Tue, 28-Jan – Cabernet Franc
Wed, 29-Jan – Cabernet Sauvignon
Thu, 30-Jan – Cannonau
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Tue, 4-Feb – Carmenère
Wed, 5-Feb – Chardonnay (France) ~ pictured above in Claude Nouveau’s vineyards
Thu, 6-Feb – Chardonnay (California)
Tue, 11-Feb – Chenin Blanc
Wed, 12-Feb – Cortese
Thu, 13-Feb – Dolcetto
Tue, 18-Feb – Garganega
Wed, 19-Feb – Garnacha Grenache
Thu, 20-Feb – Grauvernatsch (Schiava Grigio)
Tue, 25-Feb – Grüner Veltliner
Wed, 26-Feb – Inzolia
Thu, 27-Feb – Kerner
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Tue, 4-Mar – Lagrein
Wed, 5-Mar – Malbec
Thu, 6-Mar – Melon de Bourgogne
Tue, 11-Mar – Merlot
Wed, 12-Mar – Montepulciano
Thu, 13-Mar – Moscato
Tue, 18-Mar – Muscat
Wed, 19-Mar – Nebbiolo ~ pictured above in the Pelassa vineyards of Piedmont, Italy
Thu, 20-Mar – Nerelo Mascalese
Tue, 25-Mar – Nero d’Avola
Wed, 26-Mar – Pedro Ximenez
Thu, 27-Mar – Petit Verdot
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Tue, 1-Apr – Petite Syrah
Wed, 2-Apr – Pineau d’Aunis
Thu, 3-Apr – Pinot Bianco
Tue, 8-Apr – Pinot Blanc
Wed, 9-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Thu, 10-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Tue, 15-Apr – Pinot Noir (France)
Wed, 16-Apr – Pinot Noir (Oregon)
Thu, 17-Apr – Pinotage
Tue, 22-Apr – Primitivo
Wed, 23-Apr – Prosecco
Thu, 24-Apr – Riesling
Tue, 29-Apr – Sangiovese
Wed, 30-Apr – Sauvignon Blanc (France)
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Thu, 1-May – Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Tue, 6-May – Semillon
Wed, 7-May – Shiraz ~ pictured above from Jens’ trip to Victoria, Australia
Thu, 8-May – Syrah (Old World)
Tue, 13-May – Syrah (New World)
Wed, 14-May – Tempranillo
Thu, 15-May – Torrontes
Tue, 20-May – Verdejo
Wed, 21-May – Vernaccia
Thu, 22-May – Viognier
Tue, 27-May – Welschriesling
Wed, 28-May – Zinfandel
Thu, 29-May – Zweigelt

This should be a lot of fun! Look forward to seeing you there!
Julie, Jens & the Portalis team

An Interview with Peter Devison, Winemaker at Efeste

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Peter Devison pictured with Theresa Slechta, Vinum Imports

Peter Devison is the current winemaker at the acclaimed WA winery Efeste, following the big personality (& winemaking prowess) tenure of Brennan Leighton. The two are friends and Brennan actually hand-picked Peter to take over at Efeste when he left a year ago. Peter said that when the two first met, they had a little ego scuffling, but soon they realized that they shared something important in common: philosophy. Both winemakers believe less is more, age in the bottle not in oak, let the vineyard and the vintage shine through.

So, how did this young man end up at the helm of this highly decorated WA winery? From my visit with him, it sounds like a combination of two things: he got the wine bug bad, and he worked his tail off. Originally from Nova Scotia, Peter moved to Vancouver just out of high school and started as a bus boy in a local restaurant. By 22, he was acting sommelier at some restaurants, serving at others. In 2001 he moved to Christchurch in New Zealand to learn how to make wine, earning his Bachelors of Applied Science in Viticulture & Enology at Lincoln University. He travelled around the country, hitting every harvest he could and made 6 vintages in the 4 years he was there, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and more.

In 2004, he had the option of working in Portugal or WA State, and selected the latter with a position in Chelan at Vin du Lac. Soon, though, he moved on to the more up-and-coming area of Walla Walla where he could be at the epicenter of WA State’s wine movement, and that’s where things really started happening. He took a winemaking position at Waterbrook, which was then shortly purchased by Precept, and he spent the 2007-2008 vintages in Walla Walla then the 2009-2011 vintages in Prosser making wine for Precept for a range of labels including Apex Cellars, Browne Family, Alder Ridge & more. He loved the people & learned a lot, but when Brennan came calling with the opportunity to move away from the more corporate structure of Precept into the land of high-end WA wines no-holds-barred, he jumped.

The 2012 vintage on at Efeste is his, and the opportunity he is presented with is mind-blowing for him: he has the flexibility to do something great. About 40% of Efeste’s production is their red blend Final Final, which is priced to be a glass pour at local restaurants, creating a following for their brand and ultimately their high end wines, Ceidleigh Syrah, Jolie Bouche, Big Papa and more. 20-25% of the overall production is white wines: Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Evergreen Riesling, Lola Chardonnay. Having made a lot of white wine in New Zealand, Peter said he loves making white wine. It’s more precise and straightforward, and he has a satisfying relationship with the wines from early on. With red wines, he says it’s more emotional; you can make or break your day depending on a wine’s progress. But clearly in visiting with him about winemaking, red is the more challenging wine to make and the more satisfying for him in the end.

Label_WA_Efeste_Big Papa_2009_no frame

His thoughts on the Efeste wines we tasted at our Anniversary Tasting in August?

● Evergreen Riesling 2011: Focused. Elegantly balanced. Build to age. Old World style (Austria).

● Feral Sauvignon Blanc 2012: It’s got verve. It’s edgy. All about crushed stone, oyster shells, lime leaf, apricot skins.

● Final Final Cab/Syrah 2010: All YUM factor. Best of both worlds. Fleshy, velvety Syrah with structured, focused Cab. The Cab is the frame around the velvety Syrah. It’s complete, whole.

● Ceidliegh (“Kay-lee”) Syrah 2010: Cornas inspired. Grilled herbs, licorice, dark fruit. Red Mountain tannins. It’s a sexy wine.

● Big Papa Cab 2010: BIG, chewy, full, rich, intense, full. It’s a monster. Everything you want in a WA Cab.

All of these wines are available at Portalis. If we don’t have them in stock, we’d be happy to order them for you.

Cheers,
Julie

A Little Bit about Syrah & Shiraz


Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Giaconda Winery, Beachworth, Victoria

First of all, this is the same grape – a dark grape with thick skin that needs a lot of heat to ripen.  It just has a different name, depending on where the grape is grown,  but because of the impact of the land, weather, altitude, soil & winemaking style of where the grape is grown, the use of Syrah or Shiraz has become indicative of the style of wine you will get.

It’s unclear where the grape originates, but it was first cultivated in France’s Rhône Valley.  Red wines from the Northern Rhône (Hermitage, Côtes Rôtie, St. Joseph & more) are mainly (up to 100%) Syrah (with up to 5% Viognier “to make things more interesting” Jens says).  They tend to be higher-end, require aging (due to the level of tannins) and are known for flavors of dark fruit, black olives and a notable gaminess. We don’t carry many Northern Rhône wines are they tend to be pricy and not easily accessible, but if you get the urge to try them out, they are wonderful, lesser-known examples French Syrah.

The vineyards of E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie, Northern Rhône

Reds from the Southern Rhône also have Syrah, but as a blend of Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre/Cinsault.  These wines are more accessible, a little juicier but still with a lovely, soft earthy spiciness, building from a nice, $12 straight-forward, bottle of Côtes du Rhône to a big, fuller-bodied, old world style Chateauneuf, which is full of liquorice, herbs, and meaty flavors.  Jens said that some of the old Chateauneuf houses are starting to produce a New World style which is super fruity, super oaky … and a big disappointment if you’re a traditionalist and like wines to taste like where they’re from.

Vines growing next to rosemary (Baumes-de-Venise, Southern Rhône)

Australian Shiraz is a big boy due to the hotter climate of the regions where it is grown, most famously the Barossa Valley (although it must be noted that many of the more nuanced (and often not available in Seattle) wines are from lesser-known, less hot areas.  Jens was in Australia last Februrary, a guest of the Australia Wine Commission for a tour of Victoria Pinot Noir country, but he still had the pleasure of visiting several areas growing top notch Shiraz, e.g. the Giaconda Winery located in Beachworth, north-east Victoria (note the photo – top).  For Shiraz (available in Seattle) that show off big, well-balanced wine with the nuance of minty herb that can be Australia’s lovely touch, try: D’Arenberg 2008 Laughing Magpie or for a splurge D’Arenberg 2006 The Dead Arm Shiraz, both from the McLaren Vale Valley & both with a touch of Viognier. An excellent example of 100% Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is John Duval 2007 Entity Shiraz.

South Africa is making some notable Shiraz as well.  Still big and dark, they use a yeast additive in fermenting that gives the wine a special smoky flavor.  Neil Ellis (known for his Pinotage) makes a tasty, as well Boekenhoutskloof (calling it Syrah) makes a beautiful 100% Syrah.

Last, I will end with the wonderful & varied Syrah coming out of our home state.  Washington State sits at the same latitude as the Rhône Valley, so it enjoys many of the same growing conditions, and its Syrah is known for its dark fruit flavors of black currant & blackberry with some nuance of black pepper, licorice, clove, thyme, sandalwood & cedar.  WA growers don’t seem to differentiate style by the use of Syrah vs Shiraz on the label, but both styles are readily available (usually called Syrah), from what could be called the “hedonistic pleasure bomb” (as quoted from our friend Catherine Reynolds) style. Wonderful examples of this style are Chris Sparkman Darkness Syrah, Mark Ryan Lost Soul Syrah, Owen Roe Ex Umbris, Darby The Dark Side Syrah.  In the other camp you have a leaner, more subdued, arguably more complex wine, with notable examples including Efeste Syrah Jolie Bouche & wines by Chuck Reininger.

Other notable around the world Syrah:  California offers up some excellent examples of Syrah.  Darioush is perhaps the best known. We currently serve one by the glass at the bar: Qupé.  As well Novy has, through the years, produced a nice quaffable, well-priced Syrah.  Argentina, while known for Malbec, has several producers offering up exceptional Syrah, try: Benegas 2006 Syrah from Mendoza.

It’s the time of year for these wines, so come pick out a few and go exploring!

Cheers!
Julie

Dream Picks for the Holidays

I asked our staff if they could select any wine in the shop to drink for the holidays which would it be?  The only criteria was to dream big!  Here’s what’s on our Christmas lists…

Sky: Right now I’m all about the pure enjoyment. It’s cold out there, so I’m into big, rich fruit-bombs with no apologies. Something to sip that I don’t have to plan a meal around, like a bottle of Two Hands 2005 Bad Impersonator Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Australia ($68).


Ross: My entire family gathers every Christmas at my grandparents house for a huge Italian feast. Everybody contributes traditional favorites, mine being fried risotto balls (arancinis). My dream pick would be Bricco Francesco 2000 Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata ($62), it would be a wine worthy of all the good food on the table.

Erin:  I’m spending New Year’s in Vegas, yeah, Vegas baby! My pick would have to be Villmart NV Grand Cellier Brut Premier Cru  (SALE $76.99), I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this yet, but this small grower-estate Champagne would be a memorable way to ring in 2010.

Julie: I’ll go with the O’Shaughnessy 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa ($85)! We talked it up for the Windermere fundraiser (where it raised over $500 on a wine raffle) and it got great reviews (93 points) in the Tasting Circle December 2008 Tasting … but I’ve never gotten to try it. Must be a jewel, especially with beef tenderloin on Christmas day (our tradition)!

Jens: If I could have any bottle in the shop as a holiday gift, I’d pick the Domaine de Marcoux 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I tried an older vintage several years ago in San Francisco at a big regional tasting. It was fantastic and 2007 should be even better!  Second pick … Sparkman 2006 Kingpin
Cabernet Sauvignon
. Third … Achaval 2007 Quimera. Happy Holidays!

Tracey:
  My fiancé Sam and I celebrate with his parents on their farm near Bellingham and we start our Christmas morning off with Champagne. It’s a tradition that I love and look forward to every year. This year it would be awesome if that special Champagne were Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” 1er Cru (SALE $51.99).

Gina: Just one?? We have beef wellington every year for Christmas dinner, and I can’t imagine drinking it with anything other than a beautiful French red, perhaps a bottle of say…Chateau Gloria 2006 Saint-Julien Bordeaux ($60) It’s dark, plummy with cassis flavors and a beautiful silky finish. Santa are you reading this?

Cheers from all of us at Portalis! We wish everyone a wonderful and happy holiday! ~ Gina

O’Shea Scarborough Winery (Seattle)

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A cool label goes a long way in my book and these guys have some of the best labels in town. They range from edgy to mystical to beautiful with sort of a historic depth. (They also use the big, sturdy bottles that make the wine feel important in your hands. Nothing says big, worthy (gift) wine like this type of bottle.) But the label isn’t what’s important … it’s the wine, and these guys are producing some notably outstanding local wines.

O’Shea Scarborough Winery is a partnership between Travis Scarborough and Darryn O’Shea. Travis and Darryn both called on us at Portalis in their former lives as wine reps for local Seattle distributors. I remember when Travis stopped by with one of his first vintages – no label, no approvals, just a bottle of Washington Syrah for Jens and Gina to try. Jens said it was good, but I’m not sure at the time that I realized they were going to make a go of it.

Their winery started in a garage (for real), and for more on their garagiste roots, check out this interview from 2006. They have upped the ante since then, moving to a grown-up facility in Tukwila. As well, they are past just having a bottle of red, producing an impressive array of varietals, including reds, whites and a dessert wine.  I can tell Jens likes these wines and so I asked what makes them different.  He said that for their first vintage, they are “pretty darn impressive wines”.  He said that most of the time when he tastes first vintage Washington wines they are fine, but they all sort of taste the same.  These, though, “have good acidity, balance and are pretty complex, with well-integrated oak.  It’s a promising beginning.”  Here’s Jens’ take on their lineup:

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O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Semillon
Red Mountain, WA; $22
We currently serve this wine by the glass at the wine bar & people love it.  Wonderful pear and melon flavors with some citrus. Great acidity. A good sipper.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Proprietors Chardonnay
Horse Heaven Hills, WA; $34
Vibrant citrus fruit combined with toast and vanilla flavors. Excellent Chardonnay.

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O’Shea 2007 Riesling “Cease & Desist”
Dineen Vineyard, Yakima Valley, WA
Bright & dry, German-style, good sipping acidity, good minerality.  Good future.  Store up to 2 years.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2005 “The Immortal” Syrah
Columbia Valley, WA; Reg $38/Sale $34.50
Dark fruit, with espresso and coffee notes. Medium- to full-bodied, well-balanced and elegant.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2006 Proprietors Cabernet Sauvignon
Yakima Valley, WA; $40
Black currant, cassis, dark fruit. Complex, elegant, with fine tannins on the finish.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Eiswein
Yakima Valley, WA; $34
One of the best WA “Eisweine” we have tasted. If you are interested in tasting this sweet dessert wine, grab it as we only have 1 bottle left.

Try these out if you get a chance.  They are excellent examples of what can come out of Washington State.

Contributor:  Julie Howe