Syrah is my favorite winter wine. Oh, I’ll drink it any time of year, but there is something about its characteristic dark berry, pepper, and spice profile that makes me want to sip it next to a fire while the snow outside brings Washington, DC to a standstill.
I found myself discussing Syrah’s cold-weather compatibility recently over dinner at Proof in downtown Washington. A popular restaurant in Chinatown, my opinion of Proof’s clientele is best described by what it’s not. It’s not 20-something Hill staffers who want to be seen; it’s not high-powered attorneys and lobbyists speaking over one another on their Blackberries. It’s just a local crowd, most of whom, by my observation, like to drink wine amid a modern, warm décor while enjoying intimate conversation. We took one of our best friends out to dinner on her last night in town before moving to Wisconsin (unfortunately, her husband had to head north in advance, so he was not able to join us). The extensive wine list at Proof offers a stunning array of wines with both breadth and depth. Many top selections offer several vintages: want a bottle of Martha’s Vineyard from Heitz (one of my hands-down favorite California Cabernets)? You can go with a more-recent 2002, or go for something from the 60s, 70s, or 80s. How about a first growth Bordeaux? Chateau Latour from 1961, 1982, 1990, 2000…
But Proof also has Syrah from K Vintners. Under this label, winemaker Charles Smith of Walla Walla, Washington makes some of the most complex and ethereal Syrahs I’ve found. I don’t often see them in wine shops or on wine lists on the east coast, but I jump at them when I do. We decanted the 268-case production 2008 Morrison Lane, which offered striking aromas of blackberry, currant, and black pepper. Before taking a sip, our friend said, “Ooooo…this makes me want to curl up next to a fire.” I get a kick out of someone falling for a wine I suggest, and her description of the Morrison Lane was particularly satisfying because it makes Kate and I feel the same way! It’s funny how a wine experience can be so intimately personal, but so perfectly shared with others. A sip brought it all together. I’m not sure I could define “luxurious texture,” but that is the description Charles Smith uses for this wine, and I must agree.
Proof’s focus on wine service shines in the details. The serving temperature was in the mid-60s. Had this bottle come out in the mid-to-high-70s like some restaurants insist on serving their wine, the relatively high 15.5% alcohol would have been almost unbearable. Our server was happy to pour into a stylish decanter and ensured that our glasses were never empty. My entrée was a cassoulet, or French bean stew, with white beans and bacon lardons (thick-cut bacon), crispy pork, and duck confit. The earthy, gamey flavors paired wonderfully with the rich, structured Syrah.
As we head into winter’s final lashings and sit down to the season’s heartier stews and roasts, I’ll continue reaching for the Syrah. Check out my recommendations page for a couple of selections perfect for curling up next to a fire.