Spotlight on Washington Syrah: Doyenne Grand Ciel Syrah 2005

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It is always an important exercise to compare different approaches to making wine from the same sites. These sorts of examinations can tell us much about the developing terroir of a younger region. The Doyenne Syrah is, like the last wine in this profile, made from grapes grown in the Red Mountain AVA. But it is of a completely different expression of the grape.

A French Lover in Washington

Doyenne is the Rhone style project of the famed Washington producer DeLille Cellars, which focuses on Bordeaux influenced wines.  Winemaker and co-founder Chris Upchurch, however, has always had a great love of the Rhone Valley and has spent much time visiting wineries in France. Thus, like Bob Betz, Upchurch has a good comparative base for wine styles and wine quality.

Unlike Betz, however, Doyenne only started making Syrah recently and so Upchurch has a little less experience with the grape. Doyenne also makes this particular, “super-premium” syrah from a newly planted vineyard on Red Mountain.

Great Horses in the Sky

The Grand Ciel vineyard is planted adjacent to the famous Ciel du Cheval vineyard that has made many wineries famous, such as Quilceda Creek and Andrew Will. The owner of Ciel du Cheval planted Grand Ciel at the behest of Mr. Upchurch for special bottlings at both DeLille and Doyenne. The vines were only planted in 2001, and so are still quite young. However, Upchurch built the vineyard based on extensive clonal research which so far seems to have shown quite a bit of promise. That said, I’m not sure that this wine is distinctive enough yet for me to say the Grand Ciel vineyard has its own distinctive terroir. The vines are likely too youthful to make any real conclusions about terroir yet.

Objectively, Grand Ciel should share many characteristics with Ciel du Cheval, which has sandy loam on top of calcareous chunks and more loam on top of an ancient riverbed and an aquifer deep below the surface, forcing the vines to search for water. Flavour wise, I cannot quite get the same distinctiveness, yet. But again that will likely change.

An Over-Made Up Wine

Co-fermented with Viognier, I expected this wine to approximate a Cote Rotie much more than it did. Instead, it is made in a high octane style with a luxurious no-expense-spared approach.

The nose is quite sweet up front with cherry, strawberry and heavy oak aromas. This is extremely rich and big on the palate and is missing the balance of the Betz bottling, with oak and alcohol dominating far more than they should. I think the oak will integrate somewhat with bottle age as this was better balanced on the second day – but, overall, I felt the wine was too made up for its own good. The fruit was overly jammy and the wine lacked the finesse, balance and complexity it should carry for this price. 14.9% ABV.

In conclusion, Betz’ La Cote Rousse Syrah is a far more transparent and balanced version of Red Mountain Syrah. This wine also goes to show that even the best raw materials can lose their soul when overly made-up.

Very Good
$80 USD in California


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