In tough times, we continue the search for good, inexpensive wines.

This month’s Five Under $15 focuses on Syrah – with an additional wine thrown in for good measure. In a recent article in Wine Press Northwest I wrote that one of the issues with Washington State Syrah is that it is difficult to find quality bottles at value price points. With this in mind, it seemed like a good time to check in on some current releases in the value spectrum.

The first wine comes from Charles Smith Wines. If anyone would seem to be able to create a well-priced Syrah that tastes like it comes from Washington and tastes like Syrah, it would seem to be Smith and his ‘Modernist Project.’ In the winery’s own words, its intent is, “to create wines to be enjoyed now, but with typicity with regards to variety—that is merlot that tastes like merlot—and to the vineyard—wine that tastes like where it was grown.” Add that Smith has made his name in large part by producing limited production bottlings of Syrah for K Vintners and it would seem that if there is not hope in this bottle, there is no hope at all.

Almost mercifully, the 2009 Charles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah is nothing if not hopeful. In keeping with previous vintages, it is an enjoyable, well made wine that is unmistakably Syrah. Stylistically the wine is strongly on the meaty, bacon fat side of the grape – something rarely seen in this price range. Again, Smith continues to bring well-priced, quality Washington wine to the masses.

The next wine comes from Stonecap, a label from Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards & Winery. While not as strong an offering as the Boom Boom!, it is an enjoyable wine that is definitely Syrah. Of note regarding this winery, Kendall Mix, formerly of Corliss Estates, assumed head winemaker responsibilities in April of 2010.

The third wine comes from Willow Crest Winery. Willow Crest is located in the Yakima Valley, with a tasting room in Prosser’s Vintner’s Village and another in Leavenworth. The Minick family has been growing wine grapes since 1982 at its estate vineyard. The winery was founded in 1995.

The final three wines come from two Ste. Michelle Wine Estates holdings – Snoqualmie and Columbia Crest.

On an interesting note, five of these wines are labeled 13.5% alcohol. See a recent post on alcohol percentages for reasons why this is the case. Leave a comment if there are enjoyable $15 and under Washington State Syrahs you have seen in this price range and I will check them out.

Charles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah Washington State 2009 $15
Rating: + (Good) An aromatic wine with floral notes, huge amounts of bacon fat, and cherry. The palate is lithe, full of fruit and bacon flavors, dipping in the middle before coming back and sailing on a finish laden with vanilla notes. 92% Syrah, 8% Mourvedre. Milbrandt, Weyns, and Suhuldonik vineyards. 14.1% alcohol. Recommended

Stonecap Syrah Estate Grown Columbia Valley 2009 $14
Rating: + (Good) A moderately aromatic wine with smoke, berries, and light game. Palate is fruit forward, losing a bit of its concentration and rhythm about two thirds of the way through. Overall an enjoyable effort that is unmistakably syrah. 13.5% alcohol.

Willow Crest Syrah Yakima Valley 2007 $13
Rating: ./+ (Decent/Good) A moderately aromatic wine with berries, a slight smokiness, plum, rhubarb, and vanilla. A well put together, easy drinker with silky fruit flavors and a weighted feel. 13.5% alcohol.

Snoqualmie Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 $10
Rating: . (Decent) Very light aromatics of berry, green olives, and chocolate followed by a touch of black pepper. Light bodied and tart. Flattens out a bit in the mid-palate before trailing off. 97% Syrah, 1.7% Mourvedre, 1.3% Grenache. 13.5% alcohol. 17,000 cases produced.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 $13
Rating: . (Decent) Aromatics of stargazer lilies, berries, and a whiff of burnt rubber. A medium-bodied wine with chewy fruit flavors. 89% Syrah, 6% Grenache, and 5% Viognier. 13.5% alcohol. 10,000 cases produced.

Columbia Crest Two Vines Shiraz Washington State 2005 $8
Rating: . (Decent) Aromatics of blueberries, raisins, and a medicinal note. Palate is grapey and sweet, flattening out toward the finish. 13.5% alcohol. 135,000 cases produced.