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Northwest Syrah

Whether you call it Shiraz or Syrah, this grape variety is shaping up to be the next big thing. Sure, Pinot Noir became the wine world's darling for a while, but that finicky grape excels in very few regions requiring the perfect terroir and microclimate. Syrah, on the other hand, thrives everywhere from Australia to South Africa and from California to France. In the Northwest, it's one of the most successful and sought-after varieties. Such popularity tends to drive up the price, but one can still find good buys. Idaho is proving that we, too, can make very good Syrah. Two Idaho wines in this tasting showed very well, not quite ranking in the top three, but just a few points shy. Here are the panel's picks, all from the Columbia Valley:

2003 Columbia Winery Syrah, $11.99

This wine has very pretty, sweet cherry and berry aromas leading off, along with notes of mulberry, white pepper and soft oak. It's immediately appealing in the mouth, fairly full-bodied and offers ripe berry and light mocha flavors with hints of leather and smoke. Columbia introduced the Syrah grape to the Northwest back in 1985, and this bargain-priced charmer proves they haven't lost their touch.

2001 Gordon Brothers Syrah, $16.99

The oldest vintage of the group has gained some complexity with bottle age. Deep, dark berry aromas are backed by meaty touches of black pepper, plum, anise, mint and spice. It shows excellent balance on the palate with soft fruit and good acidity that comes through, especially on the finish. Lots of plum and pepper with spicy berry and hints of dried fig. Another Washington pioneer, the Gordon family first planted vines on the sagebrush-covered slopes near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers back in 1980.

2004 Isenhower Looking Glass Syrah, $16.99

This wine has very bright aromas of sweet raspberry with a touch of cola exploding from the glass. It's just slightly more subtle in the mouth, and the silky dark berry flavors are exceptionally smooth with good persistence. This fruit-forward, opulently supple wine makes for a real crowd pleaser. Relative newcomers to Washington, this husband and wife team founded their Walla Walla winery in 1999.

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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