Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore’

in Wine by

The label on this week’s wine features part of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem

By Celia Strong

Edgar Allan Poe comes with our wine this week, there was no avoiding it. Sometimes, you see a bottle and you just know you have to try it and you just know you’ll like it. All you have is the label and the name, but, sometimes, something grabs you and there will never be a single objective idea about it. Not the best wine you ever tasted? Doesn’t matter. Not your favorite grape variety? Doesn’t matter. Not your favorite price range? Doesn’t matter. You’re going to like that wine. Period.  And no one is totally immune to this phenomenon. So, let’s learn more about the origins and background of this wine. Maybe, even lacking any objectivity, it will be phenomenal. How lucky can we get? Evermore?

We are in Washington state, the Columbia Valley specifically. The first grapes were planted here in 1825, near Fort Vancouver. But, apparently, there is no hard evidence that any wine was ever made from these vines.

The wine industry in Washington started, for real, in the Walla Walla Valley when Italian immigrants planted Cinsault grapes in the 1860s and 1870s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, what have become the state’s biggest wineries — Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Winery — were established. In the decades between then and now, every 10 years or so, a new varietal found success in the state — Riesling and Chardonnays in the 1970s, Merlot in the 1980s, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the 1990s.

Washington was one of the very first states to start Prohibition. It went “dry” in 1917. (Really?) Most of the state’s wineries and grape growers went out of business. Luckily, not nevermore.

It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that the industry really came back, though. There are now more than 740 wineries in Washington, most of them in the eastern part, with total production second only to California. There are currently 12 legally established AVAs in the state.

We should probably look at the Columbia Valley AVA. It was declared in 1984 and covers more than one-third of the state. (Really, it even crosses over into Oregon!) Mainly, though, because our wine this week is made here. There are several other AVAs located within this larger one. Many of the vineyards here are situated on semi-arid plateaus at altitudes of 1,000 to 2,000  feet above sea level. The climate is continental, but there are a range of microclimates also. There are an average of more than 300 cloudless days each year and an average of over 15 inches of rain each year.

Moving on, our grape variety for this week is Syrah. We must remember that this grape is also known, in some parts of the wine world, as Shiraz. Wines made from this grape are basically labeled as “Syrah” when the are more French and European style, and “Shiraz” when they are the New World, more Australian style. The history of Syrah has been debated for a long time. But, DNA tests prove it is the offspring of Dureza (Dad) and Mondeuse blanche (Mom). Neither Dad nor Mom ever did as much as their much better known son. (Please note, I can only guess that a red grape is a son.) Nor did they manage to travel far from home or survive and succeed like Syrah. In 2004, due in part to the explosion of Australian red wines (at a huge variety of price levels and quality levels), Syrah was the fourth most planted variety in the world. Personally, I used to like the stories about Syrah originating in Syracuse, Italy, or in a town in Iran (formerly Persia) named Shiraz. But, nevermore. No factual data to support those fairy tales.

Syrah grapes usually make dry red wines. In fact, these wines generally fall into four categories:

• First, varietal wines, like Hermitage from the northern Rhône Valley in France, or Australian Shiraz.

• Second, Syrah can be blended with a small amount of Viognier, like in Côte Rotie in the northern Rhône.

• Third, it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, like in Australia, and then it is labeled Shiraz-Cab.

• And, fourth, Syrah can be used as one of several varieties in a blend such as with Grenache and Mourvedre, and others, to make Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines in the southern Rhône and also in Australia. (Ever here of a “GSM” wine from down under? It stands for Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre varieties of grape.)

Syrah wines are often full-bodied with powerful flavors. Depending on the soil and climate they are grown in, and specific wine making techniques, aromas in these wines can range from violets to dark berries, chocolate, espresso and black pepper. There is not one or two aromas, or flavors for that matter, that show up in all Syrah wines, but many get blackberry and black pepper. Underneath the primary aromas and flavors, there are earthy and savory notes that include leather, truffles and, sometimes, smoked bacon or other meats. It is one of my all-time favorite varieties because of these layers and unique aromas and flavors. Evermore!

Finally, the winery we are highlighting this week is The Owen Roe Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, and their value label Corvidae. The Lenore Syrah is from this value label, made with fruit from the Columbia Valley AVA. On this wine’s label, part of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven” is quoted: “For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore, nameless here forevermore.”

The Lenore Syrah is made from 95 percent Syrah and 5 percent Grenache. This wine is spicy with tremendous black fruit flavors in a deep purple pool of color. The texture is rich and smooth, and moderately full. It is good when you first pour it and good when you sip your way through the bottle. This is a wine made for everyday enjoying and pairs well with hearty food such as burgers, ribs and stews.

Where does the name “Corvidae” come from? It is the name of the family of birds that includes crows and ravens. It seems that not only do crows and ravens have a long history in mythology and poems, but a lot of crows tend to circle over the Owen Roe Winery. Hmmm … Quoth the raven, nevermore? No. One look at this bottle and, of course, we have to like the wine. Evermore. For $14.99. Enjoy.