The lore, and lure, of Washington syrah

The Rhône Revolution, Part Two: Red Willow Vineyard’s 1986 planting has grown into greatness.

A DUSTY HIGHWAY outside the town of Granger, in the east end of the Yakima Valley, leads to holy ground. With Mount Adams as a cathedral, Red Willow Vineyard is where Washington syrah was born and baptized.

Today, syrah is the third-most-planted red grape in Washington, behind cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and its acreage grows year by year.

How syrah got here is part of Washington wine lore.

Three Washington syrahs to try:

L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $37: Using grapes from Seven Hills Vineyard, the team at the old schoolhouse crafted a superb syrah with aromas and flavors of black cherry, blueberry and juicy marionberry pie, backed by impressive acidity and firm tannins.

Zerba Cellars 2014 Syrah The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, $45: This dusty, distinctive red reveals aromas and flavors of black currants, boysenberry, mocha, white pepper, clove and juicy purple fruit through the lengthy, memorable finish.

Maryhill Winery 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley,$38: A big, juicy syrah that is a classic Washington style, with a jammy midpalate, floral notes and a hint of minerality throughout.

In 1983, Red Willow owner Mike Sauer was harvesting his first crop of cabernet sauvignon when he was approached by Peter Dow of Cavatappi Winery in Kirkland. Dow was interested in making nebbiolo, a classic Italian variety. The affable Sauer agreed and planted an acre. When David Lake, winemaker for Columbia Winery in Woodinville, found out, he suggested planting syrah, too. Lake helped Sauer select cuttings from a vineyard in California, and Sauer cultivated them in his nursery for a year before planting in 1986.

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As the story goes, Sauer invited Lake and a few…

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