Let’s get one thing out the way, right here: the term “homerism” is usually used as a pejorative. It implies insularity and a resistance to outside ideas. BUT…”homerism” IS, after all, another way to say, “Drink Local!” and nobody gets their knickers in a knot over that. It’s a great concept: Support your local economy, so I post this AS a homer but one with outstanding homies, who make wines that will compare with any other place’s stuff and, in many cases, exceed it.
Washington state is arguably the best region for the growing and making of Syrah on earth. Yeah, yeah, Rhone Valley, and I bow to no one in my admiration of Hermitage and Cote Rotie and St. Joseph and Gigondas and all those other appellations that produce mainly Syrah. But I am an American and one who threw off the shackles of his early wine programming several decades ago. I prefer American Syrah to French. And within that statement, I firmly believe that Washington produces the best Syrah in the United States, California be damned.
BUT (Part 2)…we in this state have a problem; a curious set of cultural blinders that say nothing flattering about all of us WA Wineaux, who are supposed to be smarter than the Average Joes and Jills. We are fixated on this idea that great WA wines come from only Walla Walla, Red Mountain, the Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and other places with big names. Even though most of the wines made in Other Places use grapes sourced from those appellations. But just the fact of the winery not being Over There is a black mark.
Which, to quote my grandfather, is horse s**t.
The Walter Dacon Tasting Room, of course, pre-Covid.
Walter Dacon Wines is located around Washington Route 101, just to the northwest of downtown Olympia. It’s back in the forest, not easy to find, and sits in a tree-shrouded clearing with a house up a fairly steep hill, in which live Lloyd and Ann Anderson, a lovely married couple roughly my age, the main difference being that, unlike me, Ann and Lloyd don’t audibly creak when they walk. They run a gorgeous, homey little tasting room where they pour wines which, with little exaggeration, will make you fall in the floor.
Lloyd is the primary winemaker and specializes in Syrah and the other Rhone mainstays, Mourvedre and Grenache. He’s also not afraid to tackle a Sangiovese and, in fact, in certain vintages, that has been in my top three Sangios made in Washington, where we are damned good at Italian varietals.
What gets lost in our geocentric view of our wine is that it frequently – not at all rarely – true that some of the best examples of particular wines do NOT come from wineries East of the Cascade Mountains, where 98% of all the grapes are grown. But those wineries on The Other Side are the ones that get the lion’s share of the press and plaudits. Over Here is where Doug McCrea, one of the West Coast’s emeritus makers of Rhone varietals, has always been located and where Ben Smith, at Cadence Wines, has been turning out stellar stuff for going on fifteen years. (It is also, not for nothing, where Quilceda Creek and Betz Family Wines are located, two of the most celebrated wineries in the country.) And yes, if you google Ben, you will find that he’s located in Seattle and even the state’s largest city is not immune from our snotty disdain for wineries not in anointed places. But Seattle is, after all, Seattle, and Ben’s profile is considerably higher, even yet, than Walter Dacon’s.
But Walter Dacon wines, vintage after vintage, are in the top two or three Syrahs I sample from all of Washington and are sometimes flatly the best I taste. Lloyd makes three primary Syrahs and they somehow manage to be all different and all – to use a term I rarely ever find myself motivated to use – elegant. They’re full-bodied, beautifully pure and fresh, even after extended aging. The Reserve bottling, Walter Dacon “Appanage“, gets extended aging in neutral oak barrels and gushes blackberry, black currant, peppercorns, Black Ruby plums, Bing cherry, a touch of smoke, oaky vanilla, blueberry, and raspberry jam. It’s distinctly silky on the tongue and the current vintage, according to their website, is the 2010! 96 Points
Walter Dacon “C’est Syrah Magnifique” is a brambly, complex, sophisticated wine that somehow spins its terroir notes into a graceful marriage with bounteous fruit – blackberries, currants, cassis liqueur, sugar plums, and figs – with buckwheat honey, caramel, vanilla, and a creaminess that is all the way hedonistic and unapologetically so. This wine is voluptuous and that is not achieved by extraction, showing zero of the off-flavors that frequently come with Extraction Unto Grim Death. Tasted with some of the better Walla Walla and Horse Heaven Syrahs, this wine was as distinct as a snowflake, sporting a freshness and clarity that those other lacked. Gorgeous. 95 Points
The Walter Dacon “C’est Syrah Belle” seems younger than its sisters but really is not. What sets it apart is the vivid immediacy of the flavors. This wine shows off a marked cocoa flavor, wrapped in a swaddle of woody vanilla and a pie-crust note, with mixed berries and red plums, softer tannins, and a slightly lighter body. Violets and allspice lurk on the lengthy finish and it shows a roundness of flavor and texture that is surprising and entirely pleasing. Belle is a gorgeous, Northern Rhone-styed Syrah that goes the French one better, with a marked generosity that is frequently lacking in many of its French cousins. This is a purely delightful bottle o’ red and a HUGE bargain, at its $30 price tag. 94 Points
The Walter Dacon Mourvedre is just a flat-out triumph, especially as compared to the rather meager number of versions of this tremendous grape that we have here in The Nanny State. Mourvedre is known, of course, as a Rhone Valley native grape but it is also native to Spain and there is where the Dacon finds its spiritual kinship. This Mourvedre is big and bursting with spices, both Mediterranean and baking, and juicy red berries, a subtle smokiness, cherry jam, rhubarb, wildflowers, and brilliant earth notes, like minerals, sweet herbs, and wet wood. I’ve had this wine. now, in five different vintages and I’m surprised every time. This is in the discussion for the title of Best American Mourvedre. 95 Points
The Dacon roster also includes a beautiful Rhone-style Syrah/Grenache/ Mourvedre blend, GSM, and the aforementioned Walter Dacon Sangiovese, to which I gave 93 Points in a recent tasting. The Sangio is startlingly Tuscan in style, with a touch more heft and chewiness than its Italian cousins, while keeping the lightness and red fruit verve that makes Chianti one of the world’s most popular regions.
There is also a white, called “Skookum“, which I have now missed out on buying four straight vintages, so I can’t assign a number but when I did taste it last, in the 2013 vintage (I think), it would have stood toe-to-toe with any PG made anywhere in the state of Washington…and I have no reason to think that Lloyd’s skill with whites has declined since.
Walter Dacon does ship wines but only if you live in Florida, New York, Missouri, Minnesota, or Texas. They are almost ridiculously reasonably priced for the relative quality, just $50 for the Appanage, $42 for Magnifique, and thirty bucks for Belle.
If you visit Washington, by all means, see Walla Walla and Red Mountain and The Columbia Valley and The Columbia Gorge and Wahluke Slope and all the other sexy wine destinations. But DO NOT just skim the rest of the state. ASK A LOCAL, google a bit, read reviews. There are STUNNING wines being made all over Washington and MOST of what you find outside the glamor appellations is also not glamor priced. Dacon Appanage at $50 is a howlin’ bargain, as are many of the fine wines made at the 200 or so other wineries that are NOT east of the Cascades. If the driving outside the cities seems daunting, bear in mind that you’re traveling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Lower 48 and food/tourism attractions are absurdly plentiful. Walter Dacon is just one of these wineries but, IMO, stands atop that heap and has for a long time.