Syncline stays small to make wine fit for the world
In the Columbia Gorge, Syncline winery stays small to keep the focus on wine that, as owner James Mantone says, "fits into the world of wine," where quality matters.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Gouguenheim 2007 Valle Escondido Malbec ($10)
I found this on a restaurant wine list for around $20 — not usually the sweet spot in a restaurant. What a delight: juicy, tangy, fresh raspberry and plum flavors, great structure and no funky flavors.
AMONG THE many strengths of the Washington wine industry are the innovations introduced by small, young, family-owned enterprises. As important as the contributions of the larger wineries may be, the little wineries can do some things more easily, and perhaps more persuasively.
Syncline, a 5,000-case winery founded in 1999 by James and Poppie Mantone, has been a leader on so many fronts I lose count. They are one of a handful of wineries on the West Coast using the Vino-Seal glass closures as alternatives to traditional corks. And they have recently joined the handful of grower/producers who are working with biodynamic (super organic) techniques.
Syncline wines have been instrumental in bringing acclaim from outside the region to the Columbia Gorge AVA (viticultural area), which spans the Washington/Oregon border on the eastern edge of the Cascades.
From the start, the Mantones have produced well-structured, detailed and highly aromatic wines. Better still, they are priced affordably and crafted for both near-term enjoyment and cellaring. Their business approach is based on the European model — small, family-owned — "what one or two people could do," says James. "You make the best wines you can," he modestly explains, "upgrade equipment when you can, pay as you go. There are always new toys every winemaker would love to have, but I see some of these new offerings (from other wineries) and I wonder if I'm paying for their wine or their winery."
Instead of buying expensive toys, he keeps the focus on innovations that are cost-effective and that further his goal of making wines that "fit into the world of wine, not just into our neighborhood. There has never been a better time to be a wine drinker," he believes. "The access to good wine has never been greater. We try to keep our business in that perspective."
The Mantones' focus on southern French varietals has placed Syncline among the leaders in the growing ranks of Washington-based Rhone Rangers, as they continue exploring such fascinating grapes as cinsault, mourvèdre, counoise and grenache, along with syrah and viognier. Branching out still farther afield, recent Syncline releases include one of Washington's first grüner veltliners.
But none of these tops their Washington-grown pinot noir. They have made a small amount of pinot every year since their first vintage, and it has proved to be good enough to make a believer out of me. Washington viticulture is capable of producing a dazzling range of excellent grapes (occasionally juxtaposing grapes — such as riesling and syrah — that grow together nowhere else in the world). But pinot noir has remained one of a tiny handful of truly important wine grapes that have met with limited success here (nebbiolo and tempranillo also come to mind).
Which brings us to the Syncline 2007 Celilo Vineyard Pinot Noir ($28). It's delicate and high in acid with pretty scents of tart cranberry, mineral and pomegranate. It has a lovely presence in the mouth and a finish of medium length. I find it is closer to a Burgundy or one of the better Okanagan (Canada) pinots, than to almost anything I've tasted from Oregon or California.
Other Syncline spring releases include a searingly tart 2008 Underwood Mountain Vineyard Grüner Veltliner ($20); a fresh and pretty 2008 Rosé ($16); a ripe and polished 2007 Syrah ($24) with aromas of carpaccio, olive and violets; a 2007 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Mourvèdre ($30); and the 2007 Subduction Red ($18), a southern Rhone blend bursting with every kind of red and blue berry, and a vibrant, juicy mouthfeel.
Syncline (www.synclinewine.com) is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, 111 Balch Road, near the town of Lyle.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
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