What follows is a summary of the 8th Annual Sexy Syrah event at Salty’s on Alki that took place on April 16th.This event is a benefit for FareStart, a job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals. Sommelier’s David LeClaire of Seattle Uncorked and Tim O’Brien of Salty’s hosted the event which featured over 40 Washington wineries.

The Event

The 8th Annual Sexy Syrah event was one of the more enjoyable wine events I have attended – a perfect synergy of wine, food, location, and cause. In terms of the wine, it is rare to have the opportunity to taste so many wines of a specific varietal together, let alone so many from a single state. An enormous number of Washington wineries were represented with many pouring multiple Syrah. Salty’s provided the food, which was exceptional, and their mesmerizing location overlooking the Puget Sound and downtown Seattle. The room was crowded (the event was sold out) but not overcrowded as can too often be the case. There was room to mix, mingle, or step aside to concentrate on the wine. In terms of the enjoyment of the wine, the wine temperature, about 65 degrees, made the wines shimmer and shine, and the wine glasses matched the occasion. While these things may seem trite, I have been too many wine tastings with 75 degree wines served in glass goblets – a good way to ruin great wine (Don’t trust me on this, you can try this at home!). To top it all off the wines were not only available to taste but were also available for sale through West Seattle Cellars. What more could one ask for? Perhaps that it was all for a good cause.

Bottom line, if you like Syrah, this is an event for you. The event always sells out so keep your eyes open this time next year (NB: In a continuing effort to rescue oft-maligned wines, Uncorked is having a Washington Rose event next month. Read more about this event here).

The Judging

I had the opportunity to participate in this event as a judge to determine the top three wines of the evening. To be considered for the competition, the wines needed to be predominantly Syrah and be available for sale at the event. In total, 51 wines were part of the competition (a complete list of these wines is at the bottom of this post). In order to be considered for awards, a wine needed to receive at least two votes from the judges present. Numerous other wines were poured but were not part of the competition.

It is obviously challenging to pick the top three wines out of more than fifty. After tasting through the wines, I went back and re-tasted my top wines to make my final decision. My top three wines were, in order:

1. Forgeron Cellars Boushey Vineyard Syrah 2004 $47

This Syrah from winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla, along with a recent tasting of Forgeron’s 2003 Cabernet, inspired me to visit this winery during Spring Release last weekend. This was my first visit to the winery in a while, and I was not disappointed. Indeed, Forgeron’s 2004 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet was my wine of the weekend. Forgeron’s 2005 Zinfandel also came in second in our 2008 Reader Survey Wine of the year. Bottom line, if you have not tried Forgeron’s wines, check them out.

Tasting Notes: A funky, earthy nose with red fruit and game. Exceptionally well balanced on the taste. (**)

2. Walter Dacon C’Est Magnifique 2006 $42

I first tried this wine at the Taste of Washington where it was among the standouts. Re-tasting on this night confirmed my initial impressions.

Tasting Notes: An elegant wine with light game notes mixing with smoke and pretty floral aromas. (**)

3. Bunnell Family Cellar Boushey Vineyard “Yakima” Syrah 2006 $41.25

This Yakima Valley winery continues to excel with Syrah. Bunnell Family just opened a new wine bar in Prosser’s Vintner’s Village.

Tasting Notes: An exceptional nose with intense game aromas and smoke. A rich taste that is beautifully constructed. (**)

Each of these wines received 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place awards (judging results below).

The Judges
Sylvain Berthe – Seattle Daily Grill
Paul Gregutt – Writer, Seattle Times
Chris Nishiwaki – Writer, Seattle Metropolitan, Northwest Palate, Citysearch, Colors NW
Rob Ord – Sommelier, Wild Ginger
Lori Randall – Randall PR
Yashar Shayan – Sommelier, Wild Ginger & Bin Vivant
Aaron Snyderman – Sommelier, Campagne Restaurant, Herbfarm, and SeaStar
Sean Sullivan – Washington Wine Report
Tyler Urbigkit – Wine Buyer, Seattle Aquarium

The Judge’s Winners
1st Place (Tie)
Bunnell Family Cellar “Yakima” Syrah $41.25
Reininger Winery “Ash Hollow” Syrah $32.

2nd Place (Tie)
Walter Dacon “C’est Syrah Magnifique” Syrah $42
Otis Kenyon Winery Syrah $29.75

3rd Place
Forgeron Cellars “Boushey Vineyard” Syrah $47.00

The Head Turners

Two new wineries who were showing their inaugural releases also stood out. The first was Rotie Cellars which I wrote about after Spring Release weekend. The Sexy Syrah event was my first time tasting Sean Boyd’s wines. At the first sip I became immediately excited about this winery. Rotie Cellars makes delicious Rhone-inspired wines with a unique style. If you had to pick one, I would give a slight edge to the Northern Blend. However, Paul Gregutt said the same of the Southern Blend so tomayto tomahto. Rotie Cellars saves you from this wine lover’s dilemma by offering free shipping on two or more bottles. Problem solved. Look for a full write-up on Rotie Cellars’ wines in my Walla Walla Spring Release report due out in June. (NB: For those in the Seattle-area, the only place I have seen Rotie Cellar wines available is Cellar 46.)

The second head turner was Lantz Cellars. Lantz Cellars was founded in 2003 by owner and winemaker Kevin Lantz. The winery produces approximately 450 cases annual and has released its first vintages of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, and Syrah. There are two Syrah, one from Rattlesnake Hills and one from Yakima Valley. The Rattlesnake Hills offering in particular grabbed my attention. Lantz Cellars is having its Grand Opening in Everett this weekend if you are interested in checking them out. Look for a full write-up on these wines after this event.

Lantz Cellars and Rotie Cellars did not just make an impression on me. Wines from these producers came in first and second respectively in the vox populi People’s Choice awards (complete list below).

The People’s Choice Awards

2006 Lantz Cellars “Yakima Valley” -Syrah $28.00
2007 Rotie Cellars “Northern Rhone” Syrah $35.00
2006 Covington Cellars “Seven Hills – Starr” Syrah $35.00
2006 Passion Vineyard “Row 19” Syrah $31.50
2006 Bunnell Family Cellar “Yakima Valley” Syrah $41.25

The List of Wines Eligible for the Competition

  • Animale Syrah Columbia Valley 2007
  • Badger Mountain Syrah 2007
  • Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Columbia Valley 2006
  • Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Yakima Valley 2006
  • Chandler Reach Syrah 2004
  • Covington Cellars Starr Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard 2006
  • DiStefano Winery Syrah R 2004
  • Eaton Hill Winery Syrah 2006
  • Forgeron Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2003
  • Forgeron Cellars Syrah Boushey Vineyard 2004
  • Gamache Vintners Estate Syrah 2004
  • Gilbert Cellars Estate Syrah 2006
  • Gilstrap Brothers 45 Magic Syrah 2006
  • Isenhower Cellars River Beauty Syrah 2006
  • Isenhower Cellars Wild Alfalfa Syrah 2007
  • Jones of Washington Syrah 2006
  • Kana Winery Syrah 2005
  • Kestrel Vintners Syrah 2006
  • Kestrel Vintners Winemaker Select Series Co-ferment Syrah 2006
  • Lantz Cellars Syrah Rattlesnake Hills 2006
  • Lantz Cellars Syrah Yakima Valley 2006
  • Liberty Bay Syrah Columbia Valley 2006
  • Lowden Hills Winery See You There Syrah 2005
  • Masset Winery Reserve Syrah 2005
  • Masset Winery Basket Press Syrah 2006
  • Naches Heights Vineyard Syrah 2007
  • Nardone Wine Syrah Castello Poppiano 2005
  • Nota Bene Cellars Syrah 2005
  • Nota Bene Cellars Syrah 2006
  • Otis Kenyon Winery Syrah 2006
  • Palouse Winery Ahh! Syrah 2006
  • Passion Vineyard Row 19 Syrah 2006
  • Powers Syrah Columbia Valley 2006
  • Powers Syrah Cougar Vineyard 2006
  • Shingleback Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz
  • Reininger Winery Ash Hollow Syrah 2005
  • Reininger Winery Helix Syrah 2006
  • Seia Wine Cellars Syrah Alder Creek Vineyard 2005
  • Seia Wine Cellars Syrah Alder Creek Vineyard 2006
  • Stephenson Cellars Syrah 2006
  • Two Mountain Winery Syrah Yakima Valley 2004
  • Walter Dacon Wines C’est Syrah Beaux 2006
  • Walter Dacon Wines C’est Syrah Belle 2006
  • Walter Dacon Wines C’est Syrah Magnifique 2006
  • William Church Syrah 2006
  • Willis Hall Syrah Columbia Valley 2004
  • Willis Hill Syrah Wahluke Slope 2005
  • Willis Hill Syrah Yakima Valley 2005
  • Wilridge Winery Syrah 2005
  • Wilridge Winery Syrah 2006
  • Windy Point Vineyards Syrah 2005