Wine Country Escapes: Yakima, Syrah!

A Wine Critic on Washington's Up-and-Coming Yakima Valley

"Everything grows well here—except pinot noir."

By Ramona DeNies September 13, 2017 Published in the October 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

1017 wine country escapes red willow ioaveh

Red Willow Vineyard

Sean Sullivan has sniffed and sipped his way through all of Washington’s 14 wine regions. As a wine critic for Seattle Met and Wine Enthusiast, he won’t play favorites. But when it comes to the Yakima Valley, Sullivan would like to see the long-undervalued AVA get its day in the sun.

“The Yakima Valley is known for a variety of fruits. [Early on] a lot of vineyard managers planted in the exact same areas as their other crops. For that reason, the wines were just not very good. For a while, producers were reluctant to put ‘Yakima Valley’ on labels. The irony is that it’s always been a workhorse of the Washington wine industry, producing about a quarter of our wine grapes.”

“Some of the finest wines in Washington now come out of the Yakima Valley. It has some of Washington’s oldest plantings and most esteemed vineyards: Red Willow, Ciel du Cheval. But the valley’s reputation is still very much a work in progress. If you say ‘Columbia Valley’ to someone on the East Coast, it will hopefully evoke some sort of image. If you say ‘Yakima Valley,’ no one has any idea what you’re talking about.”

“In Washington there’s less pressure to focus on a single variety. We’ve got great merlots, Syrahs, cabernets, and grenache. In the Yakima Valley, you’ve seen the exploration of varieties like tempranillo. Everything grows well here—except pinot noir. The downside is a somewhat diluted message. The upside is we’re still looking for our best varieties.”

Try: Eight Bells Winery 2014 Eight Clones Red Willow Vineyard Syrah

“Syrah is an undeniable star in the Yakima Valley; few wines exhibit a purer expression of the variety.”

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