OLD WORLD VS. NEW WORLD Great Syrah-based wines like Hermitage and Côte Rôtie (from France's Rhône Valley, the home of Syrah) can be tannic and hard while young. Washington State Syrahs, in contrast, are typically luscious and ready to drink upon release, although the best may require a few years' aging to reveal their full character.
WHY WASHINGTON? The Syrah grape ripens exceptionally well in eastern Washington's long, hot growing season, and the vines thrive in its gravelly soils, which are reminiscent of the rock-strewn vineyards of the Rhône.
WHAT'S NEXT? Syrah is still so new to the state, the best vineyards are yet to be discovered; however, a few star vineyards have already been identified, like Boushey in Yakima Valley, the source for great wines from several producers.
TOP TEN BOTTLES
1999 HOGUE VINEYARD SELECTION ($16) This wine, made from the grapes of several vineyards, includes 10 percent Lemberger (a peppery grape, not a cheese). It's a fruity, easy-sipping Syrah.
1999 COLUMBIA CREST RESERVE ($28) Washington's largest winery has turned out a soft, medium-rich wine that mingles flavors of pepper, black cherry and raspberry with a mildly smoky vanilla scent.