Yes, Oregon does do Syrah, and not just in the southern, warmer part of the state. Even in the Willamette Valley where Pinot reigns, Syrah has gained a tiny foothold. Very few places experiment with it there but the places that do are worth seeking out.
Cristom is one of those places. Well known for their Pinot, Cristom was actually the first place in the Willamette Valley to plant Syrah. Thanks to them for their foresight. I wish that there’d been more of it and possibly there is more Syrah than I could find out about on my recent visit. Many of the wine folks I talked to expressed interest in and excitement about Syrah from Western Oregon but it seems very few and far between.
I mean, I understand. I know Syrah isn’t exactly the latest and greatest and economically it makes little sense to plant it when Pinot is bringing in the big bucks. But Syrah is such a noble grape and the Willamette Valley could be a great spot to really hit that stylistically cool-climate food friendly Northern Rhone style out of the park.
Day 1: The Cristom estate Syrah is really reminiscent of those Northern Rhone Syrahs. It’s got a lot of that familiar peppered meatiness on the palate. This wine is one that is decidedly not fruit forward — it’s dry, it’s got some big tannins, and it needs some time to open up. This is surprising as it’s a already a seven-year-old bottle of wine. On the nose it has some buzzing minerality mixed with sour cherry, wild strawberry, and earth aromas. The mid-palate is a bit richer and fuller than you’d expect with some a serious tannic dryness on the back end. The alcohol comes through a tiny bit. So far, I would say it falls a bit more into the brawny category rather than the elegant one. It’s a good wine but I look forward to seeing how it will taste tomorrow.
Day 2: The wine has transitioned to more of a dark salty black olive profile. It’s still a big and tannic wine that really fills up the palate. There’s more fruit, some rich blackberry, and also a bit of vegetal characteristics on this wine which makes me think of whole cluster (10% whole cluster is added) and only adds to the wine’s intrigue. It’s something I like and gives it a complexity and wild rusticity that I think some would find to be too much. Even though this bottle is a few years old, it would be intriguing to try this vintage in another ten years to see how much that rusticity has mellowed and whether the wine subsequently gained more elegance.
This was a great wine and a textbook example of authentic Syrah. I had fun in the Willamette Valley, and I look forward to searching out more delicious representations of Syrah from the Willamette Valley’s cooler climate sites.