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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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(In the order of their
publication dates)

Versatile Chardonnays
for Spring

A 4-Part Series
Published Mar & Apr 2016

Italian Varietals for 2016
A 4-Part Series
Published Jan & Feb 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2015

 Thanksgiving Wines
Published Nov 16, 2015

Meat My Merlot
A 4-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2015

Bordeaux Buddies
The Blending Grapes

on their own
A 4-Part Series
Published Aug & Sep 2015

Wines for Oysters
and Mussels

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2015

Pinot Noir & Salmon
A 4-Part Series
Published June & July 2015


Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal



















Wines of the Week

Published May 24, 2016

Red Rhone Varietals and Blends
Part 2 of a 4-Part Series  (Part 1)
By Chuck Hill

It took quite a while for American winemakers to embrace the grapes and wines of France’s Rhone Valley.  Bordeaux’s Cabernet and Burgundy’s Pinot Noir were big from the start, but the subtleties of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and others had to wait. 

We now have ample examples of both Northern Rhone (Syrah dominant) and Southern Rhone (Grenache dominant) styles to enjoy from Northwest and California producers.  Vineyardists have sought out warm, dry valleys to cultivate these heat-loving varieties. 

We tasted these wines with hearty barbecue from Celtic Cowboy located off Highway 99 in Edmonds, Washington.  Smoked chicken thighs, beef brisket and spicy Andouille sausage were complemented by a Gaelic treat – British-style sausage roll made with puff pastry. 

Southern Rhone Blends

Woodward Canyon
2012 Erratic, GSM Blend, Estate
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Woodward Canyon Winery has been quietly experimenting with Mediterranean varieties at their estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley for over 10 years.  This is the second bottling of their “Erratic” blend, and features 53% Mourvedre, 33% Syrah and 14% Grenache.  The wine was a big hit with my tasters offering complex black fruits, herbs, earthy mineral and spicy notes of oak and hints of cocoa.

K Vintners
2012 Charlotte
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Charles Smith named this wine after his new daughter, Charlotte, born in this same vintage year.  The wine is a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Counoise and the white Rhone variety Picpoul. The wine shows off floral scents that are often prevalent in Rhone varieties with underlying layers of ripe berry fruit and waves of dried herbs.  Good acidity and a firm mineral backbone give this bottling a “thumbs up” for food pairing. 

Burnt Bridge Cellars
2013 Pont Brule, GSM

This classic southern Rhone blend of 38% Grenache, 34% Mourvedre and 28% Syrah came from grapes grown at Seven Hills Vineyard and Les Collines Vineyard – both in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, and Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA in the Yakima Valley.  Dark fruits balance perfectly with bright cherry and plum from the Grenache with toasty spice, raspberry candy and vanilla on the finish. 

Other Rhone Varieties

Cotes de Ciel
2013 Counoise
Red Mountain AVA

The Counoise variety is a common component in many Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines from the southern Rhone.  Its moderate alcohol and tannins - combined with good fruit and aromatics - help balance the Syrah and other grapes in the blend.  Winemaker/grower Richard Holmes crafted this excellent wine from fruit grown at the estate Ciel du Cheval Vineyard.  It was highly rated by tasters who enjoyed aromas and flavors of spicy red fruits, earthy mineral and lingering notes of stone fruits and floral perfume – great with barbecue. 

Maryhill Winery
2012 Mourvedre, McKinley Spring Vineyard

Summer is almost here and Maryhill Winery is welcoming throngs of wine lovers to their scenic location in Washington’s Columbia Gorge.  Wine tasting, bocce and picnicking on the terrace are enjoyed by visitors from far and wide.  This Mourvedre bottling is only available to members of their wine club who enjoy its complex raspberry and red currant fruit, toasty caramel and notes of anise and herbs. 



Girardet Winery
2012 Syrah, Estate
Umpqua Valley AVA

Marc Girardet continues to excel at producing quality, food-friendly wines at his family winery south of Roseburg, Oregon.  My tasters raved about the balance and complexity of this Syrah featuring aromas of strawberry, dusty herbs and lavender leading to flavors of mixed berry, earthy mineral, baking spice and rose petal. 

Ross Andrew
2011 Syrah, Boushey Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA

Boushey Vineyard is renowned in the Yakima Valley for producing quality Syrah fruit.  A swirling essence of lavender, orange peel and floral notes wraps the subtle blueberry and blackberry fruit, finishing with hints of caramel and the earthy mineral trademark of Boushey Vineyard. 

2012 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley AVA

This outstanding Syrah features fruit from Seven Hills Vineyard in the southern part of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. This site is one of the oldest in the area and was heralded as one of the ten most important vineyards in the world by Wine & Spirits Magazine. The wine is a powerful expression of both the vineyard and the variety, offering intense blackberry fruit held in a matrix of earthy black olive, meaty bacon, toasty cedar, pepper and vanilla/caramel. Aeration by decanting is recommended to give the wine a chance to open up. 

Grand Ciel
2013 Syrah
Red Mountain AVA

DeLille Cellars planted their Grand Ciel Vineyard on Red Mountain (in partnership with Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval) and harvested the first fruit from the site in 2004.  This wine from the intense 2013 vintage offers an expansive nose of blueberry and blackberry mingling with floral elements of violets, orange peel and lavender.  The palate shows a mélange of berry fruit with black pepper and warm spices on the finish. 

Seven of Hearts
2014 Syrah, Hellsgate Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Byron Dooley crafts a wide variety of Northwest wines, selecting vineyards from both Oregon and Washington.  Over a dozen grape varieties go under label (with vintage variations) ranging from Pinot Noir to Bordeaux varieties to Rhone selections.  His Syrah from Washington’s Hellsgate Vineyard offers tight aromas of dark fruits, mineral and toasty spice, leading to ripe dark berry flavors with roasted meats, oak and a finish of vanilla and earthy toffee. 

2013 Syrah, Barrel Select
Umpqua Valley AVA

Abacela’s Fault Line Vineyards in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley were planted after extensive research to find a warm site that would ripen Mediterranean grape varieties.  The 2013 vintage was exceptionally warm and produced wines with great intensity and aging potential.  Look for aromas and flavors of blueberry, boysenberry, earthy olive spread, toasty vanilla and spicy cedar on the finish. 

2013 Syrah, Weinbau Vineyard
Wahluke Slope AVA

The original Weinbau Vineyard was planted in 1981, a partnership with Wolfgang Langguth Winery of Germany.  That venture – centering on Riesling – failed, but the vineyard was taken over by Sagemoor Farms and was augmented and replanted with mostly red varieties.  Winemaker Mike Januik crafted this elegant Syrah from grapes grown on this Wahluke Slope property.  Aging in French oak – 50% new – added to the complexity of the wine, offering blackberry with a wrapping of anise and herbs, toast and vanilla. 

Wines from other areas

Cambria Vineyards
2013 Syrah
Tepusquet Vineyard

Cambria is a family-owned, estate winery located in the heart of the famed Santa Maria bend in Santa Barbara County.  The Tepusquet Vineyard is located at an elevation of 400 feet on the Cambria estate featuring sandy loam soils and a climate moderated by ocean influence.  Winemaker Denise Shurtleff aged this Syrah in French oak, 20% new, to create a rich wine with concentrated dark berry aromas and flavors, with notes of earthy mineral, mocha and dried herbs. 

Lafond Winery and Vineyards
2012 Syrah
Santa Rita Hills, CA

Santa Rita Hills is a small appellation at the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, California.  The valley runs west to east, permitting the late afternoon ocean fog to roll into the Santa Rita Hills where it lingers until early morning.  This wine is an inky, rich Syrah that was macerated on the skins for 50 days before pressing.  Ripe blueberry and currant mingle with lavender and spicy notes from oak aging – great with smoky barbecue! 

Clos de Nit
2012 Crianza
Montsant, Catalonia, Spain

Clos de Nit is a Catalan phrase that translates to “vineyard of the night.”  The Montsant Designation of Origin growing region takes the shape of a crescent moon when drawn on a map.  This wine is a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Carignan and 20% Syrah harvested from the hillside vineyards planted among olive groves and forests in red sandy soils.  Look for ripe berry and plum with hints of dried herb and balsamic aromas. 

McManis Family Vineyards
2013 Petite Sirah

The McManis family has been farming in the northern interior region of California for five generations.  In 1990, fourth generation farmer Ron McManis and his wife Jamie founded the McManis Family Vineyards, highlighting grapes grown near Lodi and other prime growing areas.  This spicy Petite Sirah offers blueberry and blackberry with notes of caramel and toffee on the finish.

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