Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2008 Amavi Cellars Walla Walla Valley Syrah
Region: Walla Walla Valley, Washington State
Grape: 100 percent syrah
Alcohol: 14.1 percent
Serve with: grilled meat (especially lamb), sausages, assertive cheeses
As a wine, syrah has something of a Jekell-and-Hyde personality. In a hot region, it’s often clunky and can be downright brutish (think inky-monster Australian examples). But in a cooler climate, this emphatic red can really shine, projecting power without heaviness. A delicious example of this is the 2008 Amavi Syrah from Washington state — it’s not a wine to study, it’s a wine to drink with gusto from a large goblet, accompanied by grilled meat.
Surprisingly, Washington state has turned out to be an excellent source of syrah. Decades ago, the latitude of the state’s wine districts was thought ideal for white wine, and riesling was touted as its signature grape. But the reds have come on strong, with syrah very much a star.
Owned by three families, Amavi is a small winery based in the Walla Walla Valley, a sub-region of the larger Columbia Valley. It owns and leases about 50 acres of vineyards, all farmed sustainably and made its first wine in the 2001 vintage. From the beginning, it specialized in reds.
In the early-ripening 2008 vintage, winemaker Jean-François Pellet drew on a mix of grapes from the three top vineyards — Seven Hills, Pepper Ridge and Les Collines — and put the wine into mostly used French oak barrels. The result is a syrah with a classic leather and spice nose, oodles of dark red and blue fruit flavors and a hint of earthiness, all framed by a bright, clean acidity. This is a wine with “lift” — there’s a lightness underneath all that mouth-filling flavor, which makes it a perfect foil for leg of lamb with Provençal spices and a mustard and bread-crumb coating.
Cellaring? Well-stored, the 2008 Amavi would easily hold its own for several years, but I think it probably shows best right now.
Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”