Wine Review: 2009 Gramercy Cellars Syrah

16 01 2012

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’d think this would be a no-brainer for me.  I pump the tires of Washington wine so hard that you’d think I was born in Tacoma.  (I wasn’t.)  In particular, I love what Washington State does to my favourite red grape of all:  Syrah.  Add in a top notch critically-acclaimed producer and it’s a recipe for a killer review, right?  At the end of the day, that’s definitely where it ended up, but it took a little while for it to get there.

Still just a baby, but clearly on the road to BIG things. Cellar if you can resist.

But let’s back up.  This is another bottle from the wine lineup of Washington’s Gramercy Cellars brought into the province by Highlander Wine & Spirits, cousin to the Third Man GSM blend that I glowingly reviewed back in mid-December.  In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link, here’s the Gramercy story in a nutshell:  young NYC Master Sommelier phenom with high-powered resto-job leaves it all behind to pursue his passion and grow Syrah in Walla Walla.  Gramercy makes other wines too (I still have a Cab and a Tempranillo downstairs waiting to be opened, and the Third Man is mainly Grenache), but Syrah is their heart and their focus.  Did I mention that tonight’s bottle is a Syrah?  And did I mention that Syrah’s my favourite?

This, however, is not like any Washington Syrah I’ve had before, in that, 2+ years from its vintage, it’s still very much wandering down that path of trying to figure out what it’s going to be.  While ageworthy Washington wine is nothing new, most bottles that can last a few years can still be enjoyed almost immediately upon release without missing a beat.  This one took a lot of coaxing to reveal itself; I enjoyed it over two days, and if I had written this review after the first, the score would have been at least 3 points lower.  I have another bottle of this Syrah, and it’s not seeing the light of day for at least another year.

Gramercy’s Syrah is a wine of subtlety and nuance rather than power.  The producer’s singular concern is to maintain acidity in its wines, which leads it to harvest its grapes earlier than basically anybody else in the state (as grapes ripen and sugars in the fruit go up, acid levels go down — bite into an underripe grape to see what I mean — so picking early keeps acid levels high). This results in Gramercy’s wines from this near-desert area in southeastern Washington having noticeably restrained alcohol levels (since alcohol is determined by the level of sugar in the grapes at harvest) — this Syrah clocks in at 13.9% abv.  As a result of these vineyard decisions, the wine is distinctly Old World in style, with an earthy edge and complex secondary flavours almost eclipsing the primary fruit, and yet it still retains a rich, lush New World mouthfeel that makes it seem like velvet on your tongue.

Cork Rating: 4.5/10 (Slightly more charitable in retrospect, but still missing the fence on the label.)

When I poured my first glass, I could barely get anything out of it; it took at least 20 minutes for the wine to even start opening up, and I didn’t realize until 24 hours later how much more unfolding it had to do.  Through a combination of decanting and aerating (no idea if it’s some cardinal wine world sin to combine these two things, but you do what you have to), I managed to get a solid sensory impression of the Syrah last night, but the longer it sat, the more aromas and flavours kept popping up, making me almost convinced that I’m writing this before the bottle is at its best.  It was a full but not impenetrable violet colour, with a nose that was part sweet and ripe (black cherry, blackberry) and part tart and restrained (pomegranate, rhubarb, pepper, olive oil, graphite…and yes, thanks to smelling a tennis racquet as a kid, I know what graphite smells like).  On the palate, the signature Gramercy acidity shone through in full force, but what captured my attention the most was the wine’s remarkable tannin control:  the Syrah is clearly structured and delineated, but without specifically focusing on trying to find them, it’s hard to isolate any tannins at all because they are so seamlessly melded into the body of the wine.  Crazy cool.  In terms of flavours, as the bottle opened up I had to jot new notes every few minutes, so get ready to get out the tasting Rolodex — among other things, I got:  violets, currant, blueberry, anise, tomato, dirt, pavement, pepper and minerality.  While there definitely was fruit on the palate, it was less emphasized than on the nose, letting the supporting cast of characters increasingly carry the day leading into the finish.  The result is a restrained, spring-loaded, elegant, haunting red that is a source of constant discovery each time you come back to the glass.  Yes, I’m talking about a US Syrah.

This is Exhibit A of why I love Washington wine, and it should forever erase all doubt that Washington State is a Serious Wine region — any dirt that can create this wine definitely came to play.  However, I feel like I lost a third of this bottle just trying to get it to some semblance of itself, so if you have the 09 Gramercy and want to crack it now, I would suggest a healthy decant (something I think is generally overused with reds, but will help here).  Even better, read this review, know what’s coming your way, mark your calendar for January 16th, 2013, then thank me later.  It’s worth it.

93 points

$60 to $65 CDN

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