The Washington Wine Industry, and Wine Review: Stone Cap Columbia Valley, Washington,...

The Washington Wine Industry, and Wine Review: Stone Cap Columbia Valley, Washington, Syrah

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With the international reputation of Syrah, to spend a week focusing on it demands investigating the qualities of this grape in various growing areas.

Incredibly, Washington State offers the second largest wine growing industry in the United States–second only to California. It is understood that wines were introduced to the Washington area early in the 1800s with a small focus on Italian grapes beginning the tradition. At that time, and for more than a century, production of the beverage was low with a focus on only local enjoyment. Further, in the 1900s prohibition hit what is now the state earlier than in many other parts of the country, nearly destroying the vineyards of the area.

It was not until the mid-1900s that commercial development of the Washington-state wine industry began to take hold, leading to National attention with a top-100 award from The Wine Spectator in the late 1980s. Still, today the Washington wine industry continues to juggle a challenging balance with some highly respected and award winning individual wines, and an overall reputation of being a younger wine industry.

Stone Cap 2009 Columbia Valley Washington Syrah

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The Stone Cap Columbia Valley Syrah showcases the production potential of this varietal within the Washington industry. Though the vines of this estate have only been growing since 1999, the Monson Family’s wines have already won “Best Value” Estate Grown Wine awards for each of their several Stone Cap wine varietals, including this 2009 Syrah. To add to the charm of the brand, it is entirely family owned and farmed.

Red wines found only half of the Washington state wine industry, with more of the success being settled on the side of white wines. The Columbia Valley, however, where Stone Cap is located, stands as the flagship of wine production for the state, and this particular AVA (American Viticulture Area) is looked to for its red wines, with Syrah as one of its main mistresses. Still, the region is understood to be deep within the process of coming to understand its own micro-climates, and best developed wine growing practices.

The Washington wine industry is young, and as such many reviewers have criticized the wines of the area as lacking character. It is said that, because of the youth of this wine region, many producers are still finding their feet, so to speak, in generating wines with balanced flavors. With the newer history of the wine industry, growers have less knowledge to draw on for how to best respond to the particular growing conditions, and season-to-season changes of the region. As such, there is a degree of luck in what best practices will produce a top wine in any particular year. Further, some of the wine-making styles of the area have been questioned in the past by top critics, with the Eric Asimov of the New York Times stating back in 2005 that Washington Syrahs have far too much propensity for oak, and overall imbalance. The question, then, is how the syrahs of the region may have developed in these last 6 years.

In investigating the wines of any region it is necessary to strike a balance between discovering what is uniquely offered by that particular region–each wine growing area has its own character–and at the same time giving that region enough respect as to critique honestly what it does have to offer. That is, it is in being willing to see where a wine could develop further that we are generous enough to believe in its longer term potential. This balance becomes particularly important in considering the wines of less established growing traditions where we would want to bolster its efforts, and at the same time expect more from it in the long run.

The Washington wine region is at an important stage where it has garnered deserved respect for its wine making abilities, and yet is still young enough for us to expect a great deepening in its quality. As should be obvious, the heritage of other wine regions does not show in Washington reds. But, to expect wines of this area to compare directly to longer standing traditions would be unfair. There is certainly a sense of having to choose carefully from Washington wines with a consideration of your own taste preferences. That is, many of us dedicated to Old World styles are not going to enjoy the Washington offerings to the same degree. It is also necessary to investigate which wine-makers are able to bring a particular knowledge of the area’s growing conditions to their wine production. However, I do believe Washington is worth researching, and considering for a number of high quality wines from the region.

This particular varietal wine by Stone Cap showcases the dark fruit and spice characteristics of the syrah. Syrah is considered to be one of the three most tannic grape varieties (Nebbiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon being the other two), celebrating, then, a textured mouth feel and good aging potential as well. This wine also shows the dryness of syrah, with a good full body that can hold up to rich flavored meats, and stronger cheeses.

Stone Cap Syrah is an approachable, versatile wine that definitely offers excellent value. Coming in at well-below the $20 mark, you are getting a wine here that does more than you’d expect for the price. The nose is lovely, and I enjoyed spending time just drinking in its scent. Admittedly, much of its complexity was found there. The flavors were less developed than the bouquet, but the wine was pleasant to drink, and will not work against your food choices. Again, you are getting a lot for the money.

The Stone Cap Syrah is a wine to be enjoyed with the woodland, slightly wild flavors of game birds. It will also hold up to stronger cheeses. Enjoy the nose of this wine, and approach drinking it with a playfulness that will do best to bring out its flavors for you.

I enjoyed the experience I had with this varietal. I’m curious to discover how a bottle will do with age, and hope to be able to taste it again in a few years. I’ll be keeping an eye on other wines from the Stone Cap Winery to see how they develop as well.

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Post Edit:

Justin Michaud from Goose Ridge wines was kind enough to write in regards to this Stone Cap Syrah wine review. Thanks, Justin! I’m grateful to hear from you. This post edit is to share some important information he shared regarding aging of the Stone Cap as bottled, versus the wine in general.

Here’s his comment:

…Anyway I am glad you enjoyed the StoneCap Syrah, I would like to mention that we are using a composite cork on this [The Stone Cap wines] project that is only good for 3 years so this is not the wine to put in your cellar rather something to be enjoyed now. The vineyard I work with on these wines has lots of age ability potential it is just not where we are going with these wines, you can check out Goose Ridge wines to see what we are doing with these grapes to make a wine that has more cellar
potential.
Thanks for the write up and best of luck.

Thanks, Justin! I look forward to trying your other Goose Ridge wines as well!

Cheers!

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello. It appears that the Stone Cap is the only Washington wine that you’ve reviewed. It’s fine, but I have to say that the wine retails from around $8. My hope is that you’ll give some of the state’s other wines a try as there are some damn fine ones. Thanks, that is all.-Clive

    • Dear Clive,

      Thank you for your comment. I will be spending part of the summer in Washington specifically for this purpose. Cheers!

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