Although its genetic precursors have been identified (dureza and mondeuse blanche), the actual origin of syrah remains a mystery. While some champion the theory that it came from the ancient Persian city of Shiraz (the name still used for the grape in Australia), stronger evidence places it in France's Rhone Valley as early as the first century. Today, it is one of the world's most popular red varieties. As our tasting proved, it's very well suited to the Northwest, with all three of this week's top picks coming out of Washington.
2008 Hestia Syrah, $36
The wine's dark, dense, almost brooding purple color foreshadows the richness of its aromas. The nose is filled with cherry liqueur, blueberry and plum, backed by earthy touches of toasted oak. On the palate, it's fruit-forward with creamy cherry and berry flavors, silky smooth tannins and a long, bright finish. This is an impressive wine that has received well-deserved critical acclaim.
2008 NXNW Syrah, $30
King Estate (one of Oregon's most stunning properties) has ventured beyond that state's borders, creating the equally impressive North by Northwest label. The Columbia Valley syrah opens with floral berry and plum fruit aromas, colored by soft oak and mocha-laced coffee. Lean and lively in the mouth, this is a well-integrated wine, filled with tangy cherry and blueberry fruit flavors. Ripe tannins come through on the finish.
2008 Syzygy Syrah, $32
A blend of grapes from three different Walla Walla, Wash. vineyards, the Syzygy syrah has complex and enticing aromas including spicy plum, berry, cherry, white pepper, oak, earth, herb, meat and light smoke. It's an elegantly structured wine that's beautifully balanced and offers ripe berry and plum flavors that play against a core of tangy, food-friendly acidity.