Washington wines on the world stage: a seminar looking at Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon

washington state

Washington wines on the world stage: a seminar looking at Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon


This was an interesting tasting that attempted to put Washington State’s wines in context by blind tasting them with some stiff international competition. We tasted double blind, although in each flight the first wine was sighted, and from Washington State.

Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars led the tasting. He was an MS (master sommelier) in the restaurant business, running a group of 20 restaurants. He visited Washington State and realized that this was somewhere you could make wines of balance and place. He then did a vintage with Pepperbridge, and this led in quick succession to him quitting the day job and moving to Walla Walla to make his own wines. His Gramercy wines are some of the best in the state.

This tasting focused on two varieties: Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is now the state’s most widely planted grape (it very recently overtook Riesling), and it’s probably what Washington State is best known for. Syrah is less widely planted, but it is becoming a bit of a star. The results were very interesting. These are my notes, exactly as written blind.

Some of the scores for the famous names look surprising. But Ponet-Canet is 2013, a terrible year in Bordeaux, and Guigal’s Ampuis isn’t really my idea of great Côte Rôtie. The Washington wines showed really well, with the exception of the Cayuse which was a little too developed and baked.


Two Vintners ‘Some Days Are Diamonds’ Syrah 2013 Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Ripe, sweet berryish nose. Vivid, quite lush on the palate with nice seductive sweet black cherry fruit, with a hint of pepper. There’s a freshness and focus here. There’s an appealing inky, almost bloody character hiding under the sweet fruit. Very appealing. 93/100

Long Shadows Sequel Syrah 2013 Columbia Valley, Washington State
9% Cabernet. Slightly green edge to the nervy black cherry and raspberry fruit. Fresh, supple, seductive blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some hints of pepper and coffee. Ripe and appealing with sweet black fruits dominating. Wants to be riper than it is, it seems. Nice fruit quality. 92/100

Clape Cornas 2012 Northern Rhône, France
Brooding, with a graphite and gravel edge to the supple, balanced, vivid black fruits. Quite savoury with high acidity and a leanness to the fruit. Grippy and structured in a restrained, cool-climate style. Finishes dry and a little bitter. 91/100

Cayuse Horsepower Vineyards ‘The Tribe’ Syrah 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
Very sweet olive and black cherry nose with some green herbal hints. Floral, with some development. The palate is very ripe with meat and olives. It’s sweet and distinctive: a warm-climate, meaty, peppery style with quite a bit of development. 90/100

Gramercy Cellars ‘The Deuce’ Syrah 2014 Walla Walla, Washington State
100% concrete, 100% whole cluster. 13.3% alcohol. Aged in neutral puncheons. Fresh, lively and pure with supple, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Nice peppery freshness here, as well as sweet fruit. Very appealing with lovely detail and precision. Modern-styled but very good. 93/100

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.8% alcohol. Complex, beguiling peppery style with hints of mint and fine herbs, as well as fresh, focused black cherry fruit. Complex, fine and peppery with great detail and precision. The fruit is ripe, but not overly so, and it supports the peppery detail really well. 94/100

Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie 2012 Northern Rhône, France
7% Viognier. There’s a bit of chocolate and coffee on the nose. Supple, quite restrained cherry and berry fruits here. Very well mannered with some fine spiciness and a bit of savouriness. Some oak here. Balanced but lacking in excitement. 90/100

Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines

Col Solare 2012 Red Mountain, Washington State
Coffee and chocolate on the nose with bright black fruits. Has some freshness and a bit of spicy detail, alongside the sweet, pure fruit. Lush and modern but not too ripe. 91/100

Château Pontet-Canet 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Very fresh, juicy and bright with supple berry fruits. Hints of green and also a bit of raspberry freshness. Linear and detailed with a savoury finish. 90/100

Andrew Will Sorella 2012 Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Concentrated, dense and lively with juicy acidity and spicy blackcurrant fruit. Vivid and intense with acidity that sticks out a bit from the sweet, concentrated fruit. 91/100

Penfolds Bin 407 2012 South Australia
Some mint here on the nose. Lush, ripe, sweet palate with good concentration. Ripe and generous with lovely smooth, seductive blackcurrant fruit. Tastes like a very fine Aussie Cab. 93/100

Betz Family Winery ‘Père de Famille’ 2013 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Sweetly fruited yet fresh with linear, seductive black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Fresh and detailed. Lovely focus to the fruit. Ripe but balanced. 92/100

Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
Ripe, lush, peppery and intense with dense, smooth, concentrated black fruits. Lush, big and chocolatey with lots going on. It’s very ripe but there’s some balance and I like it. 93/100

Château Rauzlan-Segla 2012 Margaux, Bordeaux, France
Fresh, juicy, crunchy blackcurrant fruit here. Lovely freshness countering the sweetness of the fruit. A concentrated yet balanced wine that really appeals. Lovely. 94/100

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