Backwards to Forwards

Yes, this is a real cork from a bottle of wine.  The Writer’s Block series from Steele.

Training myself how to taste and enjoy wine began somewhat differently than the often systematic approach most people take when trying to educate themselves with something new. 

Embracing wine usually begins with the enjoyment of soft, fruity whites. Somewhere down the road, experimentation with some light-hearted reds follows.  At the end of the spectrum, many wine enthusiasts come to enjoy the bolder reds and are able to vacillate back and forth among the many varietal offerings.  This learning process is a natural progression.

However, since I tend to jump into things feet first, I went from zero to sixty in terms of wine tasting experience overnight.  One day I happily sipped my White Zinfandel in a glass with ice (OMG) to drinking a very big and bold red Zinfandel with nothing in between.  I never looked back.  I loved it and had a real taste for the boldness Red Zin had to offer.  (Note…White and Red Zinfandel are made from the same grape, however, Red Zin is fermented on the grapes skins, giving it color and its bold flavors.)

During my carefree White Zin days (about fifteen years ago) I didn’t even know why wine’s vintage year was important.  My White Zin never had a year on the bottle.  Why did any wine need one?

I look back now and laugh.  I never imagined I would become so fascinated in the chemistry of wine I would seek out getting a degree in enology and viticulture and plant a vineyard myself.  We really never know where life will take us.

As I relished in my love for big, red Zins I didn’t realize I had skipped so many of the amazing wine varietals in between.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and of course the love of my life Pinot Noir.  I had skipped every rung in the ladder to the bolder Zinfandel and have since been climbing back down.

While I do feel Pinot Noir is the quintessential food wine I do enjoy a good Cabernet Sauvignon with an aged rib-eye steak.  However, as of late, Syrah has been my choice when it comes to any type of grilled meat.

I have found Syrah’s tannins much softer than Cabernet Sauvignon not to mention its bright acidity (it’s more acidic than Cabernet or Merlot) giving Syrah the texture it needs to balance out the richness of grilled food (especially steak).

When eating a rich steak you want the acidity of the wine to explode down the middle of your tongue. You want a wine that lives large on depth and complexity.  Syrah delivers that philosophy.

My favorite Syrahs have been coming out of Washington State, specifically the Yakima and Walla Walla Valley.  The Syrahs from these regions are so stylistically different in expression of the grape, one can see how Syrah dramatically reflects the terroir in which it is planted.

The Yakima Valley is a geologic wonder-zone, the vines thriving in mostly basalt soils as well as pebbles and loam.  All conditions derived from the proximity of volcanic activity and floods from the Artic Circle during the Ice Age.

In Walla Walla conditions also mirror that of Northern Rhone in France where Syrah is the principle grape in wines.  Not only do these two areas share close latitude lines with the Rhone but Walla Walla has the same stony riverbeds commonly found in that part of France.

What’s interesting to me is how the Washington Syrahs are very fruit-forward but also show-off an earthy-minerality common of the Syrahs of the Rhone.  Are they a new hybrid?  A mix of the old and a twist of the New World style?  Maybe.  But it really doesn’t matter, they are exquisite representations of a very old and refined grape.

Any way you look at it, what you are going to find in these Washington Syrahs are jammy-up front flavors with some earthy backbone behind the scenes.  Every vineyard showing a different composition of what this varietal has to offer.  It makes opening each bottle exciting, you’ll never know what characteristics you will find.

On my own vineyard land I will not be able to grow Syrah.  The climate is too cool, making it suitable for Pinot Noir and some other cool weather varietals.  However, at some point, I’m going to look into purchasing Syrah grapes from growers of the aforementioned areas as well as warmer Southern Oregon, who is also putting out some fantastic Syrahs. 

I can’t wait to see what I can do with this very special grape.

One Year Ago Today:  This Will Have You Singin’ “La Cucaracha”

Post a Comment


  1. Hilary 1

    Hi Cathy .. how interesting .. that you decided to do enology and viticulture later on .. and it’s interesting to read that the geology is similar between Rhone region in France and Washington state .. so Syrah wines grow well in both places: you’llhave fun experimenting and trying varieties on your own land.

    Your story is so interesting .. thanks for sharing ..
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters

  2. When I first began to drink wine ( less than a decade ago) the sweet white wines were my choice….then the pink Zinfadels ( cheaper ones) and slowly I began to actually TASTE the wine, thanks to my husband who taught me a little bit and touring wineries, listening to the people in the wineries who love wine…and I discovered I love the bold reds. Give me Syrahs anytime! Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignon…then I am a happy girl…

    I learned a bit more about them, thanks to you! Now I am even more excited about your winery!

  3. How exciting to be on the verge of something so huge. I am sure that we will be ahle to taste this passion in the bottle.

  4. I just love hearing you talk about wine and how you came to where you are. It’s so inspiring and exciting. If I happened by your winery and you were in the tasting room talking like this, I’d probably buy several cases! I’m serious. :-)


  5. I too put ice in my wine. Only I did it so I wouldn’t get buzzed so fast. NOw I keep some frozen grapes (thanks for the tip) in the freezer and if I want my wine a little chilly I plop a few in.
    I’m so happy that you are sharing the process with us. It’s huge. From going to school until you get your land cleared has been a process.

  6. This is so very fascinating. I’m looking forward to seeing the varietals you end up with from your own vineyard. How very exciting to see this come together for you, bit by bit.

  7. Your knowledge of wine astounds me. I feel like such a dork because when I drink wine it’s like “Yeah, I like that cos it tastes good”. I’m a total philistine. :)

  8. LOL @ white zin

  9. You know… I knew we had a wine region in Walla Walla, but I was surprized about Yakima. Driving by that vineyard a couple weeks ago was a real wakeup call. I would not have thought the basalt soil would be a good match for grapes!

    Thanks for the tips. I’m looking to send my brother a gift and I know he loves red wines!

  10. Wow–you’re so knowledgable Cathy!! I can’t wait to see what you come up w/ in your vineyard endeavors!!

  11. Maureen 11

    Neat photos. I LOVE, LOVE a good syrah. Sadly, I don’t think I’ve had a Washington Syrah since I was in Snoqualmie visiting friends last summer. I think it’s time to search one out again.

  12. Julie 12

    I love your enthusiasm…it all does sound very interesting!

  13. dawn 13

    I love Washington Syrah and I love that you know more about it. I always look for it, some stores don’t have it but really it has come into its own. Thanks for sharing the great information.

  14. Trisha 14

    Your blogs about wine always make me wish I like wine – even a little, tiny bit!

  15. imom 15

    You have inspired me to try a Washington Syrah! You make it sound so yummy.

  16. Mary 16

    I love people with edges and passion. Your love of wine and ability to express it give you lots of points for passion.

  17. I had my first Syrah during the campaign last fall–everyone who came to dinner brought us a bottle…in honor of you-know-who!

    I’m so impressed by all you’ve learned…and will learn!

  18. Bob 18

    I can’t wait to see what you do with it either! I just recently got into wine more deeply than just drinking whatever was handed to me, it’s a lot of fun.

  19. Jeff 19

    Awesome information.

    Is there any books/videos/etc that you would recommend for someone just starting out learning about wine. I dabbled in it years ago but am finding myself starting to take everything serious now.

  20. Pam 20

    Another informative post. I have learned so much about wine from you.

  21. Alisa 21

    Thanks for the great information.

  22. Good info, as always.

  23. Sara 23

    I love these posts, I’m learning so much. Great pics too!

  24. I feel so uneducated when it comes to wine!

  25. Paula 25

    Well, I really like vacationing in the Walla Walla area, so I’m sure I’d like the wine produced from that region. What’s new on your winery front?

  26. That’s so funny, as soon as I read putting ice cubes in your wine glass, that’s totally me too! I haven’t come around to liking the red wines though as you have, but I still like to try new wines when going out! I liked your post!

  27. Melynda 27

    More and more, I like red wine. Having lived in the Yakima valley for about 20 years, it was interesting to see that industry grow and change the culture of the entire community. White Zin with ice you say? :)

  28. Joy from MN 28

    I am always impressed by your wine knowledge and your ease of explanation. You have every right to be a wine snob with your credentials behind you…and you are not. I love that.

  29. Linda 29

    When hubby and I were first married (at the baby age of 22) we used to play cribbage with friends and crack open the wine. White grenache. Oh my … we thought we were so sophisticated being wine drinkers and all. LOL Thankfully we’ve matured and sampled a bit more on the enology spectrum since then.

    Love your wine knowledge. Thanks for sharing.

  30. I remember drinking white zin in college. Back then everyone was drinking it. To this day I still sort of like it with picnic-type foods. Heck, Wine for Dummies says it’s perfectly acceptable to drink white zin at picnics and barbecues!

    I’m still learning my wines. I may never really have a very sophisticated wine palette. I try to just remember wines I really liked and take whatever suggestions others give me on what I should serve with which foods.

    I’ll have you know it was your blog that helped me deterined what wines to have people bring on Thanksgiving!

  31. I love Syrah wines best of all! Great post!

  32. I went from White Zin to Merlot (with everything in between) mostly now…and now I can’t seem to get back to white. My husband doesn’t like it at all so I never drink it at home, just use it for cooking. Should I give it another try?

  33. I loved reading this post! I wish I enjoyed the wines I was tasting as much as you do! But, at least I am getting a little bit of wine education on my journey!

  34. Kate 34

    You continue to amaze me. Wow.
    And ice? That’s sacrilege, isn’t it?

  35. Cheryl 35

    I can’t quit you, Noble Pig. ;)
    Fantastic post.

  36. american boy 36

    thanks for sharing ..
    intresting story and great photo!
    Many, many thanks


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