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Valley Life

February 2, 2014

GRAPE SENSE: Lenore Syrah, possibly the best value wine I’ve tasted in years

The past seven years this column has focused mostly on great wines under $20 that you won’t find on the grocery shelf. Every time it seems like the list is exhausted, another wine comes along to make even the wine cynic say ‘wow!’

For regular wine drinkers, finding such a wine is the thrill of the hunt. Always on the lookout for a wine that rocks for a low, low price, the real enthusiast treasures the unexpected find.

Lenore Syrah, from Washington State, might be the best value wine I’ve tasted in years. First, a little necessary background is in order. Washington is really turning the heads of value wine drinkers. The wines tend to be full, rich, less tannic, value priced and imminently drinkable.

One of the biggest names in Washington wine is Owen Roe. Owen Roe was a 1600s Irish patriot who was known for his dedication to principle and not compromise when seeking the best of any pursuit.

It’s that dedication modern-day winemaker David O’Reilly and vineyard manager Jerry Owen bring to their Washington wines. The Owen Roe label — which includes Syrah and a number of red wine blends — sells mostly in the affordable $20-$30 range.

But like many wineries Owen Roe has a ‘second-tier’ or value label. That is more common in the wine industry worldwide than some wine drinkers may realize. The value label is Corvidae-Lenore. Corvidae is Latin for the family of birds including ravens, magpies and crows. “Their reputation as crafty, adaptable, and somewhat dubious characters is a fitting icon for our suspiciously terrific value wines,” the winery website suggests.

The Lenore 2011 Columbia Valley Syrah features a Raven and embraces the legacy of Edgar Allen Poe. The wine is a real thriller.

It has wonderful fruit without being overpowering, wonderful spice, and a mouth feel that will have you headed back to the shop for more. I found this wine to be such a bang-for-the-buck I would have bet it was a $30-$40 bottle if I had tasted it blindly.

The suggested retail is $16.95 and I found it online cheaper than that.

This wine is a wonderful pairing for winter stews, roasted meat or even chili.

Other Washington Syrah value labels include: Sparkman, Southard, Fausse Piste, Trust, Betz Family, Abacela, Spring Valley, Saviah Cellars, Dusted Valley, and many, many more.

Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast is another region known for its outstanding Syrah. The fruit is bigger and so is the finish but the value at a slightly higher price than Washington is still there in the next price tier.

Look for labels like Eberle (the Godfather of California Syrah), Tablas Creek, Saxum, Calcareous, L’Aventure, and many more. But one of the great ways to enjoy Syrah is from Paso Robles’ great Syrah blends using traditional Rhone grapes like Grenache and Mourvedre.

If you want something simple, cheap, and very easy to drink and find — then try the French Les Jamelles Syrah. It’s certainly not as well-defined of a wine as any mentioned here but it’s very drinkable and almost always under $10.

Syrah has been a much maligned grape in recent years, but try it with hearty winter meals and you just might become a fan.

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about value wine every other week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at: www.howardhewitt.net.

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