Syrah Makes a Comeback


For no obvious reasons, the popularity of Syrah fell off a cliff years ago. I won’t drill down into all the statistics, but it became received wisdom among growers, winemakers, retailers and the trade that consumers for whatever reason had little interest in the grape. Now, according to numerous sources, Syrah is back.

My good friend and fellow Wine Enthusiast reviewer Matt Kettmann had an article in the magazine’s November ‘23 issue with the eye-grabbing title “Hey, Everybody – Syrah Doesn’t Suck”. Kettmann isn’t damning the grape with faint praise. As a longtime resident of California’s Central Coast he is awash in Syrahs, and is happy to confess it’s his favorite grape. He points to its versatility in flavor and style, its malleability as a blending grape and its comfortable relationship with a great many foods. All true.

I never completely understood why consumers turned away from Syrah. Here in Walla Walla it’s been a rising star since it became clear that the Rocks District AVA was ground zero for truly great ones. About the time that Christophe Baron was planting his first grapes there, Rusty Figgins (brother of Leonetti Cellar founder Gary Figgins) was making some of Washington’s first Syrahs in a barn out at what is now Abeja. And as rustic as the borrowed winery space and equipment was, the wines (released under the Glen Fiona label) were often very good.

Another early pioneer with the grape here in Washington was the late David Lake MW, winemaker at Columbia. In an interview I did back in 2002 I asked him about his thoughts on Syrah’s chances here in Washington. “We’re still in the early stages as a wine region,” he remarked. “Obviously, working with Mike Sauer at Red Willow with Syrah has been a highlight of what I’ve been able to do here. Mike had the courage to bring it in when this was thought to be too cool a climate for Syrah. That is the most gratifying work I’ve been able to do here, and obviously it is his tenacity and attention to detail that has made this possible.”

I think it’s more than possible that a lot of folks who loved drinking Syrah-based blends from southern France didn’t realize what grape they were enjoying, because French winemakers were not labeling their wines varietally. Add to that the confusion with Shiraz – the Australian name for Syrahs – and Petite Sirah from California, which is not a Syrah at all. Nonetheless, Syrah has enjoyed a steady rise in planting, production and popularity at least in this corner of the Northwest.

For the past decade my attention has been focused on finding specific AVAs that do best with varietal Syrah, not just blends. The Rocks District would have to be at the top of the list, along with certain parts of the broader Walla Walla Valley AVA, Red Mountain and most recently the new Rocky Reach AVA south of Chelan. But one of the very best places remains pretty much off the radar for most wine lovers, even those who live in the Pacific Northwest.

The region I’m referencing has been producing wines for as long as anywhere else in this part of the country, but in the past decade has begun a renaissance as old properties are revived, new eco-friendly viticulture takes hold, and a turn away from tried-and-true varieties is putting the spotlight on a number of Mediterranean-based grapes, notably Syrah. I’m talking about the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon, and in particular the Syrahs from Quady North.

I’ve reviewed Herb Quady’s wines for the past 15 vintages, and the Syrahs always impress. I don’t know of another Oregon winery not in the Rocks District that does as many single vineyard expressions of the grape. It’s fascinating to me that Oregon’s most interesting Syrahs come from the far south and the far northeast – opposite corners of the state. Yes there are good ones from the Umpqua Valley and the Willamette Valley, but for me the best are from the corners.

Most recently I’ve tasted some Quady North single vineyard 2019 Syrahs which are not (yet) listed for sale on the website. It’s worth a call to see when they can be purchased (quantities are very limited). I’m also re-publishing reviews that previously ran on my website for wines are still listed for sale. Apart from the unbeatable character and quality, these wines are priced at a major discount to the more prestigious Rocks District wines. And no they don’t have that magic “funk” that makes the Rocks District wines special. But not everyone likes the funk. The Quady Syrahs are perfect for those who don’t want to pay an extra chunk of $$ for a flavor they don’t especially relish. Yes I’ll admit that I’m a fruit guy but I want a wine that isn’t just fruity. I want the fruit to show through the whole spectrum, from aroma to front of palate to finish and length.

Another plus here – for most of the Quady North Syrahs 2019 is the current/upcoming vintage. They’ve been given the benefit of extra bottle age, which makes them more immediately accessible. At the same time, as my tasting them over several days verifies, these are good cellar candidates, with another 8 – 10 years of development ahead.

Quady North

Quady North 2021 4-2,A Syrah This is the lowest-priced Syrah in Quady’s excellent lineup, a stunning value in a distinctive, sappy, plush bowlful of just-picked marionberries, blue plums and black cherries. Firm, ripe tannins anchor the finish, which unfolds with threads of pipe tobacco, anise, citrus peel and chocolate. The grapes come from a select group of eco-friendly Rogue Valley vineyards. The electricity and absolute liveliness of the wine verifies the quality of those resources. 489 cases; 13.9%; $27 (Rogue Valley) 93/100

Quady North 2018 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah One of a handful of select Applegate Valley vineyards used in Herb Quady’s blends, Steelhead Run is a perfect book-end to the better-known Syrahs of Oregon’s Rocks District AVA at the far NE corner of the state, capturing some of the same umami-soaked, rock-driven, savory meatiness that defines the wines from The Rocks. The 2018 is still the current release. 73 cases; 14.6%; $39 (Applegate Valley) 94/100

Quady North 2019 Sam’s Valley Vineyard Syrah – Juicy and forward, this lovely wine mixes ripe strawberries, raspberries and pie cherries, adorned with baking spices and backed with moderate but firm tannins. There’s a pleasantly earthy streak running down the spine, which nicely offsets the fruit. If your preference is for a lighter touch with Syrah, this is a good one to try. It’s balanced and pure all through a lingering finish. 63 cases; 14.2%; $35 (Rogue Valley) 93/100

Quady North 2019 Fernandes Vineyard Syrah – Rich and smooth, this is loaded with blackberry and black cherry fruit, with highlights of black tea and touches of Asian spices. Despite the alcohol it carries itself with a certain elegance, boosted by ample acidity. As with all of the limited production single vineyard Syrahs from Quady North, this shows flavors that are specific and distinctive, a testament to the winemaking. Give this one a good decanting to open up the texture. Drinking well on day three. 62 cases; 14.7%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 93/100

Quady North 2019 Castellano Vineyard Syrah – Dark, aromatic and sensuous, this explosive Syrah pins the meter for color, texture and power. It’s packed with black fruits – berries and cherries and cassis – and aging 19 months in 40% new French barrels puts a firm, tannic frame around the finish. Details continue to emerge as the wine breathes open – chicory, espresso, licorice, char – without damping down on the fruit. If you want funk-free, potent Syrah, beautifully balanced, here’s where to start. Drinking well on day three. 61 cases; 14.5%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 94/100

Quady North 2019 Mae’s Vineyard Syrah – This estate vineyard, says the winery, has the “most well behaved” native yeast of all their fermentations. In other words (OK French words), it expresses a souçcon of wildness, but not a crazy jumble of disparate scents and flavors. I’m tempted to call this elegant – for Syrah, not generally thought of as elegant. You can find simple or fruity Syrahs that lack depth, and heavy, funky Syrahs that challenge food. But Syrahs such as this are rare. It’s a collage of berries, teas, forest floor and floral highlights. The density of this wine gets more and more impressive as it breathes and adds details, while keeping its balance. It’s a wine that deserves your full attention, meaning note how the flavors extend and linger long after you’ve swallowed. That’s what separates the good wines from the best wines. 126 cases; 14.2%; $35  (Applegate Valley) 95/100

Quady North 2018 Mae’s Vineyard Flagship Syrah – Previously reviewed and retasted. Apparently the 2019 has not yet been released. The flavors here favor brambly berries and juicy acids. The extra age has softened it up and puts it in a good drinking window. Yet I can’t wait for the next vintage of the Flagship, as the single vineyard 2019 Syrahs that I’ve just tasted seem to offer extra complexity, more length and fine-tuned details. 104 cases; 14.4%; $75 (Applegate Valley) 93/100

Featured – Bledsoe Family Winery

The ’22 Flying B Estate wine is the first drawn entirely from the new vineyard adjacent to the winery. It’s in the far south end of Walla Walla county, and winemaker Josh McDaniels notes that due to its location it is both the coldest and the hottest of all their different sites. The vineyard, just 15 acres, is planted to an “experimental” mix of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet, Viognier and Chardonnay. The Syrah is the star in this new release, which is available exclusively to wine club members.

Bledsoe Family Winery 2022 Flying B Estate Red – The juicy, fresh style, bursting with flavors of raspberries and black cherries, is a perfect reflection of the young vineyard, tasted here in fourth or fifth leaf. There’s plenty of power behind the fruit, and aging in 40% new French oak adds lovely grace notes of spice and toast. Rarely does such a young wine burst open with this much pizzazz, and the supporting acids buoy up the palate all through a long finish. 14.2%; $58 (Walla Walla Valley) 92/100

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.



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