Guest Post: 2014 Rhone Rangers Tasting: Spotlight On Syrah

The Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting is a huge event, with far too many wines for me to get through.  While I chose to focus on Grenache, I thought it would be great to also get a sense of Syrah.  I love Syrah – especially “cool-climate” style. So today, I’m thrilled to bring you some bonus coverage of the event by featuring Cyrus Limón (a.k.a. Mr. Syrah) from sólosyrah

Syrah, especially “cool-climate” Syrah, is Cyrus’ thing, and I trust his palate.  

Take it away Cy…

_________________________________________________________________________

By Cyrus Limón

The 2014 Rhone Rangers Bay Area Tasting: Spotlight on Syrah

IMG_1947
Umm, yes, I’d like to taste some wine with this view.

The annual Bay Area Rhone Rangers tasting is a great way for me to get a sense of the state of Syrah in California. Although it’s usually missing some of my favorite Syrah producers like Peay, Arnot-Roberts, and Failla it still has a growing cadre of cool-climate Syrah aficionados that make it a great place to check in on Syrah. This year’s tasting was my favorite so far. The location at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond was beautiful and the wineries were spread out well to allow for a lot of elbow room and a lot of face-to-face contact with winemakers. The crowd wasn’t too big (great for those of us there, but maybe not for the wineries) and although there were a few noticeably inebriated people there seemed to be less general drunkenness than in previous years.

IMG_1948

The beautiful Craneway Pavilion in the Richmond Marina

It’s nice to have a plan when going into big events like this and for me the plan was to taste a lot of Syrah. I checked in with the handful of producers that are doing Syrah in the style I appreciate but was also keen to find some new producers doing a cooler-climate style.

Here’s a list and brief description of wines that I tasted at this year’s Rhone Rangers that most represent the lower alcohol, cooler climate style that I love some much. The wines below are organized by the order in which I tasted them.

Kieran Robinson Wines

I’ve written about this wine before but Kieran Robinson’s 2010 Bennett Valley Vivio Syrah is a great example of elegant Syrah. The wine has mid-palate lift and some great olive and red fruit aromas. The 2009 was a bigger wine from the same vineyard with more of a meaty chocolate profile. The ’11 just got bottled and will come in at about 13.3% ABV and the 2012 at 14.3% ABV. Kieran says that this type of vintage variation is common in Bennett Valley; you pick it when it’s ripe.

Terre Rouge

Terre Rouge in an old Syrah house that wasn’t on my radar until last year’s Rhone Rangers event. Bill Easton makes spectacular Syrahs from special spots in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. His lower end wines tend to see less oak and are made for easier drinking with an emphasis on fruit and lower tannins. His higher end Syrahs are more tannic and see a lot more new oak and are meant to age.

The 2010 Les Cotes de l’Quest was actually my favorite from the tasting because of that judicious use of oak and had a bright and pure fruit profile.

The 2008 DTR Ranch is their estate wine and sees a little more new oak. The oak was mostly in check and the Syrah flavors came through nicely.

The 2008 Sentinel Oak was a much “bigger” wine with more tannins on the finish and more new oak. It’s still got great acidity though and I’m sure this is the kind of Syrah that could age for a long time (and already has) but for me I just would have liked to see the oak dialed back a tad.

The 2008 Ascent is that vintage’s example of their flagship wine. This wine spends 24 months in new oak. It had more of a blue fruit profile. I think this is a good wine for this style but again I think the new oak could be dialed back.

Although there’s no question in my mind that these are well-made Syrahs, my question is why not let the pure fruit aromas come through more on the higher end wines keeping the new oak in check?

Two Shepherds

I love checking in on William’s wines and this was one of the few wineries where I tasted through all the wines. The whites were tasting beautifully and William’s curent release of reds seemed even more cohesive at this juncture then the last time I tasted them.

William does have a yet-to-be-released 2012 Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah that he let me taste off to the side. I really like this Syrah (especially after the Terre Rouge wines) because it only sees neutral oak so it’s a great example of how a completely unadulterated Syrah picked at low alcohol levels can bring forth the true character of the varietal. This wine is young and had just been opened so it was full of mouth-filling acidity but also really delicious fresh fruit character. It’s an elegant Syrah that sets itself apart because of its core of acidity. I can’t wait to taste it in about 6 months to see how it continues to evolve in bottle.

Fields Family Wines

Going from William’s Syrah with it’s bracing acidity to Ryan Sherman’s easy-drinking Lodi Syrah was a study in contrast. I won’t go on too much about them here because I’ve only recently done a blog post on them but I do want to say again I am struck by how Ryan achieves fresh fruit character in his wines in Lodi. Yes they are riper styles of Syrah but these are not big vanilla and blue fruit Syrahs. His judicious use of oak, well-timed picking decisions and the cooler site along the Mokelumne River Valley allow the wines to maintain a true Syrah character.

IMG_1950

The affable Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Winery

Donelan Wines

I hadn’t checked in with Donelan since Tyler Thomas had moved on (link) and it was nice to meet new winemaker Joe Nielsen. Most of the Donelan wines aren’t exactly cool-climate but I was struck by their judicious use of new oak and a nice core of acidity that carried through all the Syrahs.

The 2011 Cuvee Christine is Donelan’s blend from different vineyards and is meant to illustrate the potential for Syrah in Sonoma County. It’s a nice fresh style of Syrah. Not too complex and intensely food friendly.

The 2011 Walker Hill, which I’d had before, was also well done with nice fresh fruit elements and surprising acidity.

The 2011 Richards (which was being poured at small samples off to the side) also showed enjoyable Syrah savory aromas and freshness even after spending 30 months in barrel.

Clos Saron

It was a pleasure to spend some time with Gideon Beinstock at Clos Saron. He’s the type of person I think I could sit and talk to for hours and someday I hope to get a chance to do just that at his winery in the Sierra Foothills. If you want to learn a lot more about the Clos Saron project then you’ve got to check out this excellent podcast with Levi Dalton.

All of Gideon’s Syrahs were great but I did get a common thread in the aroma profile that was both perplexing and alluring. The closest I can come to describing it is that it was almost like the aroma of a root beer candy, maybe mixed with a tootsie roll. I asked Gideon if he got any common thread of aroma through all the Syrah and although he didn’t say yes he did say that it was possible.  Gideon mentioned that it could be the native yeast from the winery and then he laughed and told me that possibly it was just his own stinky feet. (Gideon makes the wine in an old world style and still foot stomps the grapes.)  Regardless of how that interesting aroma got in there it’s clear it’s become part of the “terrior” of the Syrah.

The 2011 Stone Soup Syrah and 2009 Heart of Stone both had great cool-climate profile with savory aromas and a nice acidic core. The 2005 Heat of Stone was a bit more extracted and a riper style which Gideon attributed to an over exuberance on his part at this time of his winemaking career to extract big fruit and flavor from the grapes. He now works the grapes less (less punchdowns, less maceration) to make his wines more elegant and less “new world” in profile.

MacLaren Wine Company

I also checked in with Steve Law to get a chance to taste one of my favorite Syrahs, the 2010 Judge Family Bennett Valley Syrah. I think Steve did a great job with this wine and I’m always impressed with it’s freshness and aromas of salted plum and olive. It’s always a treat to taste.

Qupé Winery

Now these were the wines of the tasting for me.

As I mentioned before, this year’s event was less overwhelming than the previous years and I was thrilled to see that there was some space at the Qupe table for me to actually talk with Bob Lindquist and fawn over his Syrahs. I’d recently had a corked Qupe and one that was hopelessly infected with Brettanomyces so I was thrilled to get a chance to wash away those bad experiences with what I was hoping was some great Syrah.

I started off with the 2011 Bien Nacido Vineyard and boy was it tasting good. Elegant, floral, peppery and bright with a well-structured mid palate this was a delicious example of a classic site for Syrah.

The next wine was an iteration of Qupe’s famed Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The 2011 Sawyer Lindquist “Sonnies” is an homage to Bob Lindquist’s mother and is a selection of the best blocks from the vineyard and the best barrels from those blocks. This wine was tasting spectacular. It had that perfect combination of cool-climate characteristics mixed with rich and delicious mid-palate and an elegant finish.

The 2011 X Block Bien Nacido was also floral and elegant and tasting very much in balance at this moment.

It was a happy moment for me to taste these wines and get to talk with Bob Lindquist to extoll the virtues of cool climate Syrah. At one point Steve Law came over from MacLaren and the three of us geeked out on French Syrah and how food-friendly it is.

IMG_1957

Two generations of cool-climate Syrah lovers meet for the first time: Steve Law and Bob Lindquist

Lagier Meredith Vineyard

I love to check in with Stephen and Carole’s deliciously graceful Napa Syrah. This is a full wine but it’s light on it’s feet at the same time. The 2011 Syrah, Mount Veeder had a classic cool-climate Syrah black olive disposition with a full mid-palate. Again, this is a Syrah that shows that judicious use of oak and smart picking decisions can create an elegant Syrah in an area known for bigger wines.

Skylark Wine Company

I finished the day checking in with a relatively newer winery because I noticed that they had a Rodger’s Creek Syrah which is a cool-climate site near the Petaluma Gap and Carneros. The 2009 Rodgers Creek was a beautiful Syrah, peppery and bright with beautiful elegance. Another winery to get to know more and a style that I hope they stick with.

All in all, I’d say that there are more wineries attempting to make Syrah in a more floral, peppery, savory style; less blocky and big and overly brawny. Few wineries have gone all in on that style and some of my favorite Syrahs from the cooler vintages of 2010 and 2011 have climbed up in ripeness and alcohol level for 2012 and 2013 when the vintages were warmer so it’s hard to say if there’s really a stylistic shift or not. I’m heartened by many of my talks with winemakers who agree with me that Syrah doesn’t need to be jammy and oaky but then they admit that in order to please the general consumer they generally offer Syrahs that are bigger and riper to round out their portfolios. And maybe this is indeed the future of Syrah, that we just have to get comfortable with the fact that it comes in different styles and that consumers appreciate both styles.

As long as the cooler-climate styles stick around then I’m comfortable with that.

Here’s to Cool Climate Syrah – Rhône On Cyrus!

3212

About Cyrus Limón: Is a wine enthusiast devoted to extolling the virtues of cool-climate Syrah. He’s relatively new to the “wine thang” as I refer to it, but he’s dived headlong into it the last few years.  He started where virtually all wine enthusiasts start, with fruity wines. But his wine journey has lead him to perfect a palate for cool-climate Syrah. You can follow Cyrus on twitter @solosyrah

 

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting- The Best of Grenache

Last weekend I attended the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco Bay Area
Weekend Celebration of American Rhones at The Craneway Pavilion, Ford Point, Richmond CA.  Rhone Rangers is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Rhone varietal wines produced in the U.S.

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting

The Rhone Ranger’s new digs for 2014 – Craneway Pavillion

The two-day event featured a Winemaker Dinner on Saturday at The General’s Residence, Fort Mason, San Francisco.  The evening began with a walk-around tasting reception featuring 16 wineries, followed by a four-course meal catered by the Girl & the Fig, and concluded with a live auction of wines and wine-country travel experiences with proceeds used to fund the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. After dinner, Robert Haas, partner and founder, Tablas Creek Vineyard was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the American Rhone movement.

Sunday featured a  two course Seminar Series and the Grand Tasting. I attended both.

It was my first time attending the Seminar Series, which I found both informative and entertaining.  For great recap of the seminars check out  Elaine Chukan Brown’s Hawk Wakawaka Wine Review’s -  Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014, and Tasting Grenache with the Rhone Rangers.

And did I mention there was wine at the seminars?

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting - The Best of Grenache

Wines poured for “Grenache; The World’s Most Widely Planted Rhone Grape Variety” seminar

The Grand Tasting is the LARGEST Rhone tasting held in the US – 90 wineries (For a list of participating wineries-click here), and around 400 wines to try.

This year, the Grand Tasting moved from San Francisco to Point Richmond in the East Bay. I was thrilled with the new location.  Parking was plentiful and easily accessible for drivers.  But  what I really appreciated the new location is that was BART-able by taking the train to the El Cerrito del Norte BART station, the taking the free shuttle provided by Rhone Rangers to the venue.  Glorious views the Bay too!

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting -The Best of Grenache

The calm before the Rhone Rangers storm!

Grenache Deep-Dive

If there ever there is a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this!

Last year I focused on Rosé.  This year, I decided to do a deep dive on Grenache Noir ( as opposed to Grenache Blanc, which also seems to be gaining in popularity or Grenache Gris – a rare pinkish gray mutation of Grenache Noir)

Perhaps you …believe California wines can walk en pointe, evincing both power and delicacy.  At its best, Grenache here can do both with grace and charm. More than that: It can be a grape to reconcile those two often warring sets of taste. It rewards all who seek. It is a Rorschach test for flavor. - Jon Bonné

Why?  Well mostly because I dig Grenache.  It’s vinified in a variety of styles.  It can be almost a Pinot Noir-ish wine or a big fat juicy wine.  And in its lighter iterations, it’s a chillable red that is a versatile wine at the table – particularly in the Spring and Summer.

On to the wines I sniffed, sipped and  (mostly) spit!

Of the 33 Grenache I tasted, favorites I rated at least 90 points were:

  • 2011 Qupé Grenache Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard - Central Coast, Edna Valley - Brilliant dark ruby color with appealing cherry, strawberry and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s elegant and well structured with cherry, strawberry, and spice flavors. Long finish. 87% grenache and 13% Syrah $35
  • 2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber - Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast;  Perfumed cherry, pomegranate, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, concentrated, a with a supple texture with soft well-integrated tannins and cherry, pomegranate, and spice flavors. Long finish. 91% Grenache from Greywacke Vineyard, and 9% Syrah from Las Madras Vineyard. $40
  • 2010 Law Estate Wines Beguiling - Paso Robles; Ruby-violet color with raspberry, strawberry, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, its between light and medium-bodied, and balanced with surprising acidity and raspberry, strawberry, spice and mineral flavors. Lengthy finish. 94% Grenache, 6% Syrah $65
  • 2010 Le Cuvier Winery Grenache, Single Vineyard (Barrel Sample)Paso Robles; Ruby red color with aromatic strawberry, red currant, and dark cherry aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied with wonderful acidity, and strawberry, red currant,  and brown spice flavors.  Long finish. – $50
  • 2011 Carica Grenache Eaglepoint Ranch - Mendocino County; Light red color with appealing cherry, red currant, and spice aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium bodied, and is well-balanced and persistent with cherry, cranberry, and spice flavor. Lingering finish. $30
  • 2011 McCay Cellars Grenache - Lodi; Ruby color with aromatic appealing spiced cherry, cranberry, and a bit of pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with medium acidity, and an appealing grip from soft tannins. It show cherry, cranberry, and spice flavors. Medium long finish. $32

Taster’s Choice

After tasting through the available Grenache, it was time for what I call “Taster’s Choice”.

Yup..it’s just what it sounds like.  I’m off “the clock”, and on to whatever I strikes my fancy. After all, this is gathering of the best Rhone wines America has to offerand I wasn’t about to leave without tasting some other wines too!  I didn’t have as much time as I’d like (time does truly fly when you’re having fun), but I was tasted another to 25 or so wines after my Grenache deep dive.  Favorites  from my post-Grenache walk about that I rated at least 90 points were:

  • 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc Reserve En Bonbonne - Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
    Slightly cloudy pale gold color with intriguing peach, apple, and lanolin aromas. On the palate, it’s fresh with ample weight and peach, tart apple, spice and mineral flavors. Lingering satisfying finish. Blend of co-fermented 62% Grenache Blanc, 38% Roussanne. $50
  • 2013 Campovida Viognier Estate Grown - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County - Pale golden-yellow color with appealing white peach, apricot, and honey aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, fresh, and persistent with focused peach, melon, apricot, and honey flavors. Lingering finish $36
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Light yellow color with penetrating honeysuckle, mineral, spiced hazelnut, pear aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, well structured and focused with a great mouth feel.  It shows pear, green apple, spice and mineral flavors. Long finish. Blend of 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc. $40
  • 2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard - Sonoma County, Russian River Valley - Pale yellow gold color with restrained peach, melon, and honeysuckle aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium-bodied, is well structured and fresh with an alluring creamy texture. It shows peach, apricot, spice and a hint of tropical flavors and a lingering finish.  Blend of 50% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne, 10% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc. $28

Rhone Rangers TCV

  • 2011 Ridge Carignane Triangle - USA, California, Sonoma County
    Dark ruby color with aromatic blackberry, black cherry raspberry, spice and a hint of roast meat aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and well structed with wonderful acidity. It shows focused mixed berry, black cherry, and spiced vanilla flavors. Lingering finish. $26
  • 2011 Kukkula Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color with appealing black cherry, strawberry, black currant and white pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, and fresh with dusty tannins. It shows black cherry, plum, black currant, with a bit of bittersweet chocolate flavors and a lingering finish. Blend of 86% Syrah 14% Counoise $45
  • 2011 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Nearly opaque purple color with exuberant, layered cassis, spice, sandalwood, and spiced aromas. On the palate, it’s rich and concentrated with lush mixed dark berry, and spice flavors, sweet tannins and a subtle mineral undertone. Long finish. Blend of 48% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Petit Verdot. $85
2014 Rhone Rangers - Best of Grenache

Chloe Asseo – Sales, Marketing and Communications Director for L’Aventure Winery

  • 2010 Big Basin Vineyards Grizzly - Santa Cruz Mountains
    Carmine color with expansive mixed berry, licorice, dried herb and pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and vibrant with dusty tannins and dark cherry, raspberry, plum, and spice flavors. Blend of 56% Grenache, 31% Syrah & 13% Mourvedre. $48
Rhone Rangers Big Basin

Bradley Brown – Big Basin Owner and Winemaker (far right) and the Big Basin Rhone Ranger team

Miscellaneous Musings

  • I was a bit surprised at the prices of some of the Grenache.  In fact, the average price for the wines I tasted was $33.50.  I wonder if demand for Grenache is on the rise, and how well  those $35-$45 and up bottles are selling?
  • Coincidence that my three favorite Grenache were not 100% Grenache, but had some Syrah in the blend?  I think not.
  • At last year’s Grand Tasting one was able to purchase wines on the spot.  It’s convenient to have that option, and I took advantage of it and purchased a couple of bottles I liked.  We were unable to do that this year.  I’m sure it’s a licensing issue. That’s an opportunity for improvement for an otherwise awesome event.
  • The event seemed less crowded than last year. While that certainly made for (mostly) shorter lines and higher quality interaction with winery folk, if true, that would be a shame because this is such a great event.
  • Note to self – Plan to go to the Winemaker Dinner next year!

Rhone Rangers Glass

All in all, what a great event!  And if you’re in L.A or Washington D.C., the Rhone Rangers will be riding into your town later this year!  

__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Spread the love!, Share this post

The Best of North Coast Rhone Wines

I attended the North Coast (California) Chapter of the  Rhone Rangers (“NCRR”) tasting last month.  The tasting was held in Oakland, at Campovida’s Taste of Place Oakland.

With the Rhone Rangers riding into the Bay Area next week, April 5-6 for the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco Bay Area Weekend Celebration of American RhonesI thought I’d share some of my favorites from the NCRR tasting.

The NCRR, a regional chapter of the Rhone Rangers, is dedicated to the education and promotion of Rhone varietals and Rhone blends to local trade, media, and consumers, and of the wineries in Napa, Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino counties as a top California region in the production of outstanding Rhone varietal grapes and wines. In other words…sure Paso’s got the big rep for Rhone, but we get our Rhone on here in Nor Cal too! 

NorthCoast2

Source: www.rhonerangers.org (click to enlarge)

The NCRR puts on smaller, more focused events which provide the opportunity for more engagement with the wineries (more often than not it’s the owner/winemaker behind the tables pouring).  Most of the NCRR member wineries are are small, family run operations, making very small lot of wine.

I loved the smaller scale and more intimate feel of this event, which was also well organized.  And the price was definitely right at $20 ( I attended as a media guest).  And what’s a wine event without some food?  There was also delicious paella from Nora – Paella and Spanish Catering available for sale!

NCRR Paella

There were 12 wineries pouring at the event.  Half the wineries were from East Bay and are part of the East Bay Vintners Alliance, a guest sponsor of the event.  All attendees received a clipboard with up-to-date, detailed information about the wines being poured, which was quite helpful.  I tasted 45 wines.

My favorite wines (rated 90 points, or higher) from the tasting were:

  •  2006 Arrowood Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard
The Best of North Coast Rhone Rangers

Arrowood Wines

  • 2011 Carica Wines Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch
  • 2012 Campovida Roussanne Bonofiglio Vineyards
  • 2012 Campovida Campo di Blanca Riserva
  • 2009 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah Stepping Stone
  • 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah Stepping Stone
  • 2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber
  • 2010 JC Cellars Syrah Rockpile Vineyard
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars Petite Sirah
  • 2010 Stage Left Cellars The ExPat
  • 2011 Stark Viognier Damiano Vineyard

Christian and Jen Stark

  • 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard
  • 2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard
  • 2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge
  • 2011 Two Shepherds Syrah | Mourvedre
  • 2010 Urban Legend Grenache
photo 1 (11)

Two Shepherds “All-Stars” line-up

Part of what I really enjoy about events like this is that I get to try new to me producers.  Such was the case with Arrowood Vineyards and Winery, Eric Kent Cellars, and Stark Wine Co.  I also discovered that Urban Legend, a winery that I know for their fine Italian grape varietal wines like Barbera, and Teroldego has expanded their repertoire to include Rhone grape varieties. A very pleasant surprise indeed!

Urban Legend Owner/ Winemaker – Steve Shaffer

All attendees were asked to vote for their favorite wines of the day.  My favorite red was the 2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge. My favorite white was the 2012 Campovida Campo di Blanca – a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

Be sure to check out the Rhone Rangers 17th Annual Rhone Rangers celebration next weekend.  It’s a great chance to tasted over 400 wines (Glad I had a wee bit of a head start at the NCRR tasting!) from more than 100 wineries, including Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, White Blends, Rosés, Syrah, Grenache, Red Blends and some Petite Sirah too!  The Grand Tasting will be at a new location, the world-class Craneway Pavillion, Fort Point Richmond.

Hope to see you at the big Rhone Rangers event next week!

Related posts you might enjoy:

__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

2013 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting- The Best of Rhone Rosés

I attended, as media guest, the 16th annual “Celebration of American Rhone Wines” in San Francisco, at Fort Mason Center last weekend.  Rhone Rangers is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Rhone varietal wines produced in the U.S.

The two-day event featured a Winemaker Dinner on Friday catered by The Girl and The Fig. The dinner also featured the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Randall Grahm, the “Original Rhone Deranger”,and founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard.  On Saturday was the Grand Tasting and Seminars.  The Grand Tasting was a  great opportunity to taste about 500 of the best American Rhone wines from close to 100 Rhone Rangers member wineries (For a list of participating wineries-click here).

RR Fort Mason Shot

If there ever was a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this. After my experience at last years Rhone Rangers SF Tasting, I wanted to narrow my focus a bit.  I decided to limit my tasting to Rosé!

I adore Rosé, and those made from Rhone grape varieties are my favorite! Besides it would give me a chance to get an early start on the first Rosé from the fabulous 2012 vintage.  When I looked at the mostly excellent event program, there were 30 wineries listed under “Rosé”.

Well the early start turned out to be a mixed bag. That’s because a few wineries who’d intended to have their Rosé ready, decided they weren’t ready for primetime.  Likewise,  a couple of my perennial favorite Rosé producers Bonny Doon, and Quivira, Rosé was not yet bottled ( one producer shared with me that they’d bottled their wine two days before the event, and another pour his Rosé from a sample bottle). I think the unofficial start of Rosé season is April.  Nonetheless I tasted some great wines and if the quality of the wines I tasted is any indication, 2012 should be a great season for Rosé!

On to the wines I sniffed, sipped and  (mostly) spit!

2012-04-24-RoseWines

The many shades of Rosé…Photo Credit: goo.gl/iKJXT

My recommendations and complete tasting notes follow (in alphabetic order within each category):

Highly Recommend (90+ pts)

Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting: Best of the Rhone Rosés

Sebastian Donoso; Winemaker for Campovida

  • 2012 Campovida Grenache Trails End - California, North Coast, Mendocino County - Coral color with lifted red fruit, citrus, spice and rose petal aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, dry and fresh with cherry, raspberry, melon, citrus and spice flavors. Long finish (91 pts.) – $34
  • 2012 Curtis Heritage Rosé - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County - Light pink color with pretty cherry, sweet citrus, and hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and dry with medium acidity. It shows slightly tart raspberry, citrus, mineral and spice flavors. Medium plus finish. Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault (90 pts.) – $23
  • 2012 Lagier Meredith Syrah Rosé - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
    Medium pink color with intriguing, aromatic red berry, violet, and spice aromas. On the palate, it between dry and off-dry, and medium-bodied with great acidity. It shows black cherry, black raspberry, and cantaloupe flavors. Long finish. Blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Mondeuse. (92 pts.) – $20
  • 2012 L’Aventure Estate Rosé - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Salmon color with aromatic raspberry, citrus, melon, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, dry, and fresh with a great mouth feel. It shows raspberry, tangerine, melon flavors underscored with an appealing mineral undertone. Long finish. (92 pts.) – $25
margerum rose

Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine Company

  • 2012 Margerum Grenache Riviera - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County - Salmon pink color with appealing aromatic red berry, melon, and stone fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, fresh, and elegant with raspberry, strawberry, melon and spice flavors. Long finish. (91 pts.) – $18
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Dianthus - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Cranberry red color with tight red fruit, and dried rose aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and dry with wonderful acidity, and cherry, red plum, and spiced watermelon, and mineral flavors. Medium-long finish. Blend of 60% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 15% Counoise (90 pts.) – $27
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Pink color with enticing strawberry, stone-fruit,and spice aromas. On the palate, it medium-bodied, fresh and smooth with a great mouthfeel. It’s dry on entry, but closer to off-dry on the back palate with strawberry, watermelon, spice and mineral flavors. Medium + finish. Blend of 75% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise (90 pts.) – $20

Recommended (86-89pts)

  • 2012 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé - California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Light red color with ripe cherry, floral and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and off-dry with medium acidity. It shows ripe cherry, strawberry, and spice flavors. Medium-long finish. (88 pts.) - $18
  • 2012 Anaba Sonoma Valley - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley - Medium pink color with dark red fruit, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s light-medium-bodied with Medium plus acidity. It shows tart cherry, red currant and spice flavors. Medium finish. Blend of 56% Grenache and 44% Syrah (87 pts.) - $22
  • 2011 Bella Grace - California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
    Pink color with aromatic cherry, strawberry and a bit of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, off-dry and smooth with medium-acidity. It shows cherry, strawberry, spice and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. 60% Grenache, 40% Mourvedre (89 pts.) - $22
  • 2012 Broken Earth Diablo Rosado - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium pink color with aromatic cherry, raspberry, and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s between between dry and off-dry for me with medium acidity, and delightfully intense strawberry, cherry, and spice flavors. Medium finish. Blend of 80% Syrah and 20% that was co-fermented (89 pts.) - $18
  • 2011 Cline Cellars Mourvedre Rosé - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County - Deep pink color with cherry, and strawberry aromas. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, and dry with medium(-) acidity. It shows easy cherry, and strawberry flavors. Short medium finish. Nice value (86 pts.) - $12
  • 2012 David Girard Vineyards El Dorado - California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado - Light pink color with spiced cherry and raspberry aromas. On the palate it’s light-bodied with medium(-) acidity. It shows strawberry, raspberry, mineral and a kiss of citrus flavors. Medium finish (86 pts.) – $22
  • 2012 Hagafen Rosé of Syrah Don Ernesto - California, Napa Valley
    Strawberry red color with earthy dark red fruits, and a hint of stone fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and dry with medium(-) acidity. It shows dark cherry and red current flavors. Medium finish (87 pts.) – $18
  • 2012 Halter Ranch Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedere Halter Ranch Vineyard – West Side - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Deep pink color with melon, red fruit and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and dry with wonderful acidity. It shows cherry, melon, mineral and spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Picpoul (89 pts.) – $18
  • 2012 Holly’s Hill Grenache Rosé - California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado County - Pink color with cherry, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and dry with medium acidity. It shows cherry, pomegranate, and spice flavors. Medium finish. (87 pts.) – $18
  • 2012 Meyer Family Syrah - California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
    Pinkish red color with faint cherry, and raspberry fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s dry, medium-bodied with medium(-) acidity. It shows raspberry, tart cherry, and orange rind flavors. Medium+ finish (86 pts.) – $18
  • 2010 Paradise View Rosé Soleil - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast - Pink color with strawberry, cherry, and melon aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied, dry, and fresh with cherry, cantalouple, and watermelon flavors. Medium finish. (88 pts.) – $24
  • 2012 Peterson Vin Gris Donna Bella Bradford Mountain Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley - Vibrant light red color with raspberry, cherry, and a kiss of melon aromas . On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied with raspberry, cherry, melon and spice flavors. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane (88 pts.) – $16
  • 2012 Peterson Rosé Bradford Mountain Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley - Salmon pink color with wild strawberry, cherry and a hint of citrus aromas. On the palate it’s light-medium bodied with strawberry, cherry, mineral flavors. Medium finish. Blend of Grenache, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. (88 pts.) – $21
  • 2012 Qupé Grenache Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley - Light salmon pink color with strawberry, watermelon, mineral and a hint of stone fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s dry, fresh and medium-bodied with tart strawberry, cherry, watermelon and spice flavors. Medium+ finish. (88 pts.) – $22
  • 2012 Tercero Mourvedre Rosé - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County - Slightly cloudy darkish pink color with slightly earthy, dark fruit, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, fresh and dry with an ample mouth feel. It shows vibrant black cherry, plum and spice flavors (unlabeled sample from bottle) Looking forward to the finished version! (89 pts.) - $18
  • 2012 Unti Vineyards Rosé - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Pretty salmon pink color with raspberry, citrus peel and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied, dry,fresh, and slightly tart with raspberry, watermelon, spice, and a kiss of citrus flavors. Long finish (89 pts.) – $22
  • 2010 Venteux Vineyards Mourvedre - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Light crimson color with earthy dark red fruit and anise aromas. On the palate, it between light and medium-bodied, dry with good acidity, and ripe strawberry, dark cherry, and spice flavors. Medium + finish. (88 pts.) – $28
  • 2012 Viña Robles Roseum Huerhuero - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Coral color with cherry, pomegranate, and a touch of brown sugar aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-full bodied with medium plus acidity, and a smooth mouth feel. It shows cherry, pomegrante and a kiss of spice aromas. Medium long finish. 100% Syrah (89 pts.) – $13
  • 2012 Zaca Mesa Z Gris - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light pink color with raspberry, tangerine, watermelon, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied, dry and fresh with raspberry, melon, tangerine, and a bit of mineral flavors. Medium finish. (87 pts.) – $16

Other

  • 2012 Clos Saron Tickled Pink - California, Sierra Foothills
    Salmon pink color with faint red fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, and dry and tart with medium (-) acidity. It shows tart cherry. Short finish. Blend of 50% Syrah/50% Tempranillo (85 pts.) - $25
  • 2012 Pomar Junction Vineyard Syrah Rosé - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Pink color with cherry and mineral aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied with medium acidity cherry, pomegrante, and spice flavors. Medium finish (85 pts.)$18

Taster’s Choice

After tasting through the 28 Rosés from the wineries listed event program guide, it was time for “Taster’s Choice”…Yup..it’s just what it should like.  I’m off “the clock”, and on to whatever I strikes my fancy.  After all this is gathering of the best Rhone wines America has to offer, and I wasn’t about to leave without tasting some white and red wines too!  I didn’t have as much time as I’d like, but the following wines stood out for me…

  • 2011 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley - Pale golden color with aromatic stone-fruit, mineral, and spiced honey aromas. On the palate, it’s approaching medium-bodied, crisp and dry with white peach, pear, mineral and a bit of citrus flavors. Medium-long finish. (91 pts.) – $24
Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting: Best of the Rhone Rosés

2009 Tercero Watch Hill Grenache

  • 2010 Lagier Meredith Syrah - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
    Deep garnet color with lifted mixed black and blue fruits, pepper, and dried herb aromas. On the palate, it’s ample, fresh, well-balanced and elegant with blackberry, blueberry, and spice flavors. Long finish.(92 pts.) – $48
  • 2010 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Carmine color with black raspberry, plum, smoked meat, and pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s ample with an intense supple mouthfeel. It shows black raspberry, plum, and a kiss of bittersweet chocolate flavors. Long finish. Blend of 45% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 4% Counoise (92 pts.) – $55
  • 2009 Tercero Grenache Watch Hill Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County - Garnet color with beautifully aromatic mixed berry, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium/full-bodied, fresh, focused with fruity, but not jammy, cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and spice flavors. Long finish. (91 pts.)

You can’t come to an event like this and not have some food (albeit in my case, after, a few hours of wine tasting).  I had a little snacky-snack from The Girl and The Fig which was downright delicious, and left me envious of those who had a chance to partake of the dinner they served on Friday.

Note to self: Must go to The Girl and The Fig next time I’m in Sonoma!

The pièce de résistance on my Rhone Rangers experience was a couple of scoops of ice cream served up Three Twins Ice Cream.  One was Dad’s Cardamom, the other was Sea Salted Caramel…Daaaaaum it was all that! 

My takeaways from the event?

  • The state of the American Rhone Rosé is strong – more great choices than ever!
  • The prices seem to be creeping up on Rosé.  Though I prefer not to spend more than $20 for a Rose, I have from time to time for something I felt was special. But Rosé mostly falls into the “weeknight” category for me all year round. The median price for the Rosé I tasted was a tad over $20.
  • It was great to be able to purchase wines on the spot from some producers. In fact I ended up buying a couple of bottles of the Margerum Rosé.
  • The event seemed less crowded than last year, a good thing in my book, but if attendance was down, that’s a shame…

All in all, what a great event!  It’s circled in red on my calendar for next year!

Related articles

Wine of the Week; 2011 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare

The Winery

Bonny Doon Vineyard, located in Santa Cruz, CA was established in 1983 by the inimitable Randall Grahm, a man of many interests, not the least of which is “thinking of fiendishly cunning stratagems for producing wines which express a sense of place and which actually make the world a more interesting burg“. He’s an interesting man. In fact, as I write this, based on what I know of him from his bio, and blogs about Bonny Doon, and social media, the first thing that popped into my head is that he could be the real life “Most Interesting Man in the World” (This from his Twitter profile – “Founder, Winemaker, Terroirist/Vinachrist and Prez-for Life @BonnyDoonVineyd, Defender of the Misunderstood and Underappreciated Doon-trodden Cépages of the Earth” - peep the bio here).  The wines Bonny Doon produces are a reflection of Grahm – they’re thoughtful, eclectic, often unique, and interesting wines. )  Sure, the packaging is clever with inventive names, and beautiful art work.  But don’t let the slick marketing fool you (Hell, I enjoy looking at the website because it’s just plain fun to read the marketing spiel) into thinking the wines don’t live up to the hype. The wines are seriously good.

My first visit to Bonny Doon was a couple of years ago. I’m a Rose fiend,and I’d heard good things about Bonny Doon’s. On top of that I’d read good reviews of the co-located restaurant (at the time – the Cellar Door – since April this year re-branded as Le Cigare Volant, same as their signature Syrah)  We had a fantastic meal there, and while we went for the 2010 vintage of this wine, we actually preferred their other Rosé the 2009 A Supposedly Clever…Rosé – a puncheon fermented in 100% new wood.  Um…last time saw a Rose produced that was never!  It turned out to be a happy (and quite tasty) accident.

We returned about couple of months ago to eat at the restaurant and do some tasting.  I’m glad we diid…I was saddened to learn according to the restaurant would cease operations on December 31!  The restaurant has straight up novel and delicious fare. (see pics below)…I definitely recommend.  Try to get there before year-end!

We had a wonderful meal, and a great tasting (picked up this wine and few others) even had a chance to see Grahm (he was there our last visit too…the man puts in work).

The Wine

Yes…it’s the middle of December, and I’m drinking the quintessential summer wine – Rose.  Having flashbacks to the long warms days of summer? Nah, (OK..maybe just a little) I just know that Rosé is one of the most food friendly wines one can drink. So I buy a couple of cases of the stuff every year and drink it all year-round (in fact, a Rose was the best wine I with my Thanksgiving meal this year)

This Rose is a bit different from most because it’s not made exclusively from red wine grape varieties.  Bonny Doon adds two white grape varieties - Roussanne and Grenache Blanc – to what would otherwise be typical Southern Rhone red varieties. According to Bonny Doon..

 …we find the addition of mineral-rich white wine adds incremental gravitas without creating ponderousness–a mortally dangerous element in a perfect apéritif wine.

They also employed the practice of bâtonnage–an Old World technique of the stirring or re-suspension of lees after fermentation–to add creaminess to the texture of the wine.

Boony Doon  Vin Gris de Cigare

2011 Boony Doon Vineyards Vin Gris de Cigare

My tasting notes follow:

Pretty salmon pink color with citrus, red fruit, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied and fruity with good balance and acidity followed by cherry, strawberry, and citrus flavors. Medium-long finish. 

Rating: Highly Recommended…This one goes on my buy every year list when I stock up on Rosé!

Pair with: I paired with Crockpot ChickenSpaghetti because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go with a red or white wine. I had a feeling this wine would be a wonderful match and…SCORE!  This is a food friendly wine that will pair well with a variety of cuisines (It will be a great wine for upcoming Holiday meals) including charcuterie, many popular Mexican, Indo-Paki, Thai, Vietnamese dishes, along with a variety of salads, poultry and seafood. 

The Wine Geek Stuff:

  • Alcohol: 14.3% alcohol.
  • Closure: Screwcap
  • AVA: > California>Central Coast
  • Grape Varieties: 73% Grenache, 10% Mourvédre, 8% Grenache Blanc, 5% Roussanne, 4% Cinsault
  • Cooperage:
  • Retail: $16
  • Cases produced: 5,400
  • Drink: now – 2014
  • >>Find this wine<<

This above wine was purchased for review

Related post you might enjoy:

Wine Of The Week – 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel

It was a tough call for wine of the week for March 24-30.  Why?  I went to a big Rhone Rangers tasting  on March 25th and tasted dozens of wines!  But at the end of the day (several days thereafter actually), I kept reminiscing about the 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel.

When I think a about a great wine, it brings to mind my experience of watching a movie with a great plot. For days thereafter, I find myself thinking about the nuances of the plot, perhaps replaying crucial scenes in my mind.  And often, upon further reflection, I find myself having a deeper appreciation for the movie.  It’s the same thing with a great wine for me.  I find myself reminiscing about the wine, sometimes for days afterward, and it brings me a bit of joy.  That was certainly the case with this wine.

Tablas Creek Vineyard (“TCV”) is a partnership between the Haas family, and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel of France.  The partners imported vines from the Perrin’s famed estate in Rhône to the Paso Robles where the vines were propagated and grafted in Tablas Creek’s nursery (for a complete history click here)

Espirit de Beaucastel - Image courtesy of Tablas Creek

I must confess though that I’m a sucker for Rhône blends. But what really struck me about this wine were two things, the remarkable balance it possesses, and the smooth creamy mouthfeel.  I’m definitely a believer in the synergies of blending. This bottling, which is TCV’s signature red Rhone blend, is based on Mourvèdre, but also has Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise in the blend.  What does each of the components add to the blend?  According to Tablas Creek…

The wine is based on the dark red fruit, earth, spice and mid-palate richness of Mourvèdre, with additions of Grenache for forward fruit, approachability and lushness, Syrah for mineral, aromatics, and back-palate tannins, and Counoise for brambly spice and acidity.

My tasting notes follow:

Intense dark red fruit, violet and spice aromas. Medium-full bodied, and well-balanced with vibrant dark red cherry, spice, and mineral flavors. Blend of Mourvèdre (40%), Syrah(28%),Grenache (27%), and Counoise (5%) (92 pts.)

I’ve got a bottle of the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel that I’ve been trying to hold on to for a bit…wish me luck. Or better yet…willpower…I’m going to need it!

Related articles:

Wine Of The Week – Core Wine Company 2007 “Hard Core”

My wine of the week for March 3-9 is the Core Wine Company 2007 “Hard Core.  It’s an interesting, and oh so tasty blend of the three main Rhône varietals, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s not a blend you’ll find everyday, and Core hit a home-run with this one!

Core Wine Co. is a family-run small production winery run by Dave and Becky Corey, who tend to the vineyards, make wine, and run the tasting room operations themselves.  Makes me tired just thinking about it!.  The winery is located in Santa Maria, California.  They produced 900 cases of “Hard Core”

My tasting notes follow:

 Dark opaque violet color with floral, and dark fruit aromas with hints of meatiness, and leather. On the palate medium bodied, and round with good acidity, and black cherry, cassis, and vanilla spice flavors. Long finish. 37% Mourvedre, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 4% Grenache All the fruit is from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard at 3000 feet in Santa Barbara County. From low yielding vines impeccably farmed year after year. The wine was aged for 30 months in a combination of 10% new French and American barrels and 90% neutral barrels. Unfined and unfiltered – 90pts

Core came to my attention when I attended 2011 Family Winemaker’s Tasting in San Francisco last year (see my recap below), when I was on a mission to taste I Rhône varietals.  Winemakers in the Central Coast region of California, including the Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara areas are doing big things Rhône-wise, and Core is definitely part of the movement!  I recommend you check ‘em out!

Recap of 2011 Family Winemakers Tasting in San Franciso

Last week I attended, as a media guest, the Twenty-first Annual Family Winemakers of California (“FWC”) tasting held at Fort Mason. The event was held over two days, August 21st, and 22nd. Alas, duty (work) called on Monday, so I opted to attend Sunday only. This was a huge event, even bigger than Sonoma InThe City, which to date, had been the largest tasting I’ve attended. There were over 300 producers (probably about 1000 different wines would be my guess) from throughout California pouring at the event. On Sunday, the event was from 1:00-6:00p (trade/media from 1-3p, open to the public thereafter), so I needed a plan to maximize my time there. After considerable teeth gnashing, I decided to focus on red Rhône wines.

Red Rhône wines are primarily comprised of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (a.k.a. “GSM”) sometimes as a blend, sometimes on a stand-alone basis (for a PDF of red Rhônes click here). Red Rhônes are certainly on the rise in California, with Paso Robles leading the way. I once saw Rhônes described as the vinous equivalent of a “primal scream”. That’s what I love about them, along with their affinity for food.

I thought the event was very well organized, although there was a bit of a challenge with a long line, and a bit of chaos getting in when the doors opened at 1. The wineries were arranged alphabetically, which made it easy to find the wineries I was looking for. There was good news and bad news about the tools and resources provided by FWC. The good news is that the FWC had a helpful website that included a list of participating wineries, and a sortable Varietal map showing who was pouring what. There was also a very informative brochure with details about the participating wineries. The not so good news is that the Varietal map wasn’t as accurate as I hoped. As I worked my way through my red Rhone list, I discovered some wineries listed as pouring red Rhônes were in fact pouring either a Rosé made with red Rhône grapes, or red wine blend that may have included red Rhône varietals. Additionally, wineries pouring Petite Sirah were counted as red Rhônes, when technically Petite Sirah isn’t considered to be a Rhône varietal (at least not in France, though the California based Rhone Rangers list Petite Sirah as a red Rhone varietal) That didn’t create any heartburn for me because I enjoy Petite Sirah, and I consider them to be spiritually akin Rhône, if not genetically, or otherwise deemed to be Rhônes. In fact, for the first time, I came across a few “GSP” (Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah) blends which I found quite enjoyable! Purists…you have been forewarned ;-).

My tasting plan included 38 wineries listed as pouring red Rhônes, and 8 of the wineries were new to the event. After I tasted through the red Rhônes on my list, I had about 30 minutes of “Taster’s Choice” time, and arbitrarily selected a few more wineries for tasting. I tasted 70 wines from 40 wineries. My favorites (I scored 90 points, or higher) including my detailed tasting notes follow. Note: The price range represents the range for wines poured at FWC. Cs/Yr = Annual case production.

Carica

Carica was established in 2005 by Charlie Dollbaum. I’ve visited the winery, which is one of several wineries at Rockwall Wine Company, a couple of times. In particular, I remember enjoying their Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, and Temptation Rhone blend. 975 Cs/Yr. Range: $18-$36. Nice QPR on these!

  • 2008 Carica Petite Sirah Kick Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County – Dark fruit aromas with rich blackberry flavors. Good balance with supple tannins and medium long finish (90 pts.)

Core Wine Company

This was a new to me winery out of Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County. I’ve been to a couple of different wine festivals in Santa Barbara the last few year, but don’t recall seeing them pouring. My loss…very nice wines! Founded in 2001. 4,000 Cs/Yr Range: $19-$61

  • 2007 Core Elevation Sensation Alta Mesa – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red fruit, bittersweet chocolate, and spice aromas with intense dark cherry, spice, vanilla flavors. Medium long finish. 62% Grenache, 38% Mourvedre (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Core Grenache Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Cherry, plum, and spice aromas which follow onto a round palate. Long finish. 85% Grenache; 15% Syrah (90 pts.)

Enkidu Wine

This was another new to me winery. This one is located in Sonoma, and was founded in 2004. 5,000 Cs/Yr. Range: $20-$45

  • 2008 Enkidu Humbaba – USA, California, North Coast
    Blackberry, dark cherry aromas, and palate. Well structured and intense with medium long finish. 63% Syrah; 25% Petite Syrah, and 12% equal part of Grenache, Mourvédre, Counoise, and Tannat from 4 vineyards in Sonoma (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Enkidu Syrah Odyssey – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Intriguing floral, dark fruit, and spice nose. On the palate moderately complex with dark red fruit, currant, spice flavors. Round with a medium finish. From cool climate vineyard in Santa Rosa. Unfiltered and unfined. (90 pts.)

Grey Stack Cellars

Santa Rosa based winery established in 2005. 2,000 Cs/Yr Range: $24-$45

Harrison Clarke Vineyard and Winery

This is one of the wineries I stumbled upon during my “Taster Choice” time. They had several Rhone blend, but didn’t turn on my search for red Rhone producers. The winery is in Solvang. They produce about 800 Cs/Yr. Range: $18-$52. I tried their flagship wine, but would also have liked to have tasted their Grenache, and Estate Syrah.

Jemrose

This is one of the wineries I didn’t get to at the last large tasting I attended, Sonoma In The City. Fortunately, my fellow wine blogger Richard Jennings didn’t. After I read his recap, this winery hit my radar. They produce very good wines. The winemaker is Michael Browne of Kosta Browne. They are located in Santa Rosa. Range: $32-$65

  • 2007 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Dark fruit, sweet wood, and smoky aromas. On the palate, dark fruit, vanilla flavors. Full bodied anad supple with a medium long finish. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Dark red fruit, oak aromas with plum, dark red cherry, and cocoa flavors. Round and elegant with a medium long finish. (91 pts.)

Justin Vineyards and Winery

This is a winery I sought out during my “Taster’s Choice” time. The winery is located in Paso Robles. I didn’t get a chance to go the last time when I was in Paso, but I’d heard nothing but good things about Justin. The wine I tried was a Bordeaux blend, and it lived up to the hype. The next time I’m in Paso, Justin will be a “must” visit. Founded in 1981. 50,000 Cs/Yr Range: $15-$62

  • 2008 Justin Vineyard Isosceles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red fruit, oak, cassis aromas with ripe dark cherry and cassis palate. Well structured with a long finish. Bordeaux blend – 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot (91 pts.)

L’Aventure Winery

This is another wonderful Paso Robles producer. I had the pleasure of visiting last month. If you’re ever in Paso, this winery is a must. Founded in 1998. 6,500 Cs/Yr. Range: $50-85

  • 2009 L’Aventure Côte-à-Côte Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    GSM Blend. Dark red fruit, tea, hint of tobacco aromas. Vibrant dark red cherry, red currant, and vanilla flavors. Young, but smooth. Should just get better with time. Long finish.(92 pts.)

Orin Swift

I’m familiar with Orin Swift, having enjoyed their “Prisoner” Zinfandel blend a couple of years ago. They are a well known Napa based winery. Founded in 1998. 10,000 Cs/Yr Range: $25-$55

  • 2009 Orin Swift Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes D66 – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
    Dark red fruit, with subtle floral, and oak aromas. On the palate well structured with burst of ripe dark cherry, spice flavors. Medium bodied with a long finish. Inaugural release of new winery and vineyard in France. 80% Grenache, 12% Syrah, and 8% Carignan. Aged in 100% French oak, 25% new for 12 months. (91 pts.)

Robert Biale Vineyards

This is a winery that first came to my attention earlier this year, when I attended “Dark & Delicious”, the annual Petite Sirah (a.k.a. “Pet”, “PS”) put on by P.S. I Love You. I really like their Pets, and Zinfandels. They are definitely on the rise! 9,000 Cs/Yr Range: $40-$75

  • 2008 Robert Biale Basic Black North Coast – USA, California, North Coast
    Dark fruit, violet aromas with ripe blackberry, vanilla flavor. Fruit forward, nervy, and vibrant in the mouth. Medium long finish. (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Royal Punishers – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Blackberry floral aromas with ripe baked blackberry, vanilla and spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Young, but relatively supple. (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Thomann Station – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Blackberry, dark red cherry, spice aromas with a blast of juicy blackberry, cherry, spice flavors on the palate. Well behaved tannins, and a long finish. (91 pts.)

Stage Left Cellars

Stage Left is an Oakland based “Urban winery”. They source fruit from throughout the state of California. I’ve been to their winery a few times, and am a fan. Founded in 2004. 1,200 Cs/Yr. Range: $22-$48

  • 2008 Stage Left Cellars The Globetrotter – USA, California
    Dark red fruit, dust, and spice aromas, with dark red cherry, black currant, and spice flavors with fine grained tannins, nervy acidity, and a medium long finish. 41% Syrah, 39% Grenache, 20% Mourvédre (90 pts.)

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Definitely one of the gems in Paso Robles! The winery is a partnership between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas founder of Vineyard Brands. The wine I tasted is their flagship red Rhone blend. Their vine were imported from France. They make great Rhone blends. Founded 1989. 20,000 Cs/Yr. Range: $20-$55l

  • 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Intense dark red fruit, violet and spice aromas with intense dark red cherry, spice, and mineral flavors. Balanced, and well structured with a medium long finish. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, and Counoise (92 pts.)

Turley Wine Cellars

Another Paso based winery. They have a well-earned reputation for Zinfandel, and Pets so I was a bit surprised to see them pouring a Cinsault, which you don’t find a lot on a stand-alone basis. According to Richard Jennings it’s only distributed to restaurants. That’s a shame, because it was excellent!

  • 2010 Turley Cinsault El Porrón – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Earthy red fruit and spice aromas with vibrant red cherry, spice, and vanilla flavors. Medium long finish. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Turley Zinfandel Dragon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
    Black raspberry, cherry aromas with juicy red cherry, red currant, flavors. Medium bodied, smooth with wonderful intensity and balance. Medium long finish. (90 pts.)

Earlier I mentioned trying several “GSP” wines. The couple I tried, and enjoyed were from Pierce Ranch (the best “value” producer I sampled), and Sycamore.

What I always enjoy about big tastings such as this, is finding exciting wines from producers I haven’t previously tasted. The “discoveries” for me at this tasting were Core, Enkidu, Jemrose, and Harrison Clarke. It was also good to check in on producers whose wines I’ve previously enjoyed as they continue their ascension. It was a great tasting, and next year I hope to attend both days!

My Wine Tasting Hero…

March 2006 tasting panel convened to determine...

Image via Wikipedia

While getting a bit of exercise this morning, I was catching up on some of the wine blogs I enjoy reading when I came across this post by Richard Jennings of “RJ on Wine.com”, wherein he summarizes his tasting notes of 128 from 30 producers at the annual Rhone Rangers tasting in San Francisco a couple of weekends ago. “RJ” is the most prolific wine taster I’ve come across!  The man is a wine tasting machine!  And what’s more amazing to me, is that he does this while maintaining his “day job” being an HR executive!

I first came across RJ via Cellar Tracker, where according to his blog he holds “the record for most tasting notes (currently over 21,000 and counting)”!   Likewise, I use Cellar Tracker to track and review wines.  He first came to my attention because as I would post my tasting notes, I would see his name pop up more than a few times because he’d reviewed the same wine.  At the time, I was less confident in my ability to taste and write reviews of wine.  Yet, I noticed that his scores and mine were comparable most of the time.  That gave me some confidence in my ability to taste and review wines.  That was well over a year ago. Since then I’ve made a few attempts to quickly summarize my tasting notes when tasting wines at various wine events.  It’s very challenging work. And I do mean work!  It requires much more discipline and organization than the uninitiated might think.

Nowadays, I find myself a bit conflicted between putting in the work necessary to capture meaningful tasting notes on more than a handful or so of wines, and simply enjoying an event.  For the time being, I suppose I’ve settled on a compromise, which is to blog about the most memorable wines.  The compromise comes in part because my wife and I attend wine events together, and it would be virtually impossible to both enjoy our time together at the event and put in work. But part of the compromise is also because I simply haven’t acquired all the skills necessary to taste, summarize and recount, as I said, more than 5-10 wines at this point.  It’s a work in process, and I’ll get better at it.  But I’ll never be an RJ!  And that’s OK.

There is a link to “RJ on Wine.com” on my blogroll.  Check it out sometime.

In Vino Veritas!

Do you know the way to Viognier?

The clarification process can bring out the cl...

Image via Wikipedia

We recently went to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant.  We decided to take a bottle of 2008 Yalumba Viognier -Eden Valley South Australia ($14/bottle; 14.5% A.B.V).  It’s a wine I purchased from my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants six months ago.  It paired wonderfully with the Thai dishes we selected, Crab fried-rice, Pad Thai, and a moderately spicy dish called “The King and I”.

Have you tried Viognier ( pronounced Vee-on-yay)?  If you haven’t you’re in a a treat!  Viognier is a white wine grape that can be difficult to grow, but in loving hands, it produces wine that is  intensely aromatic with stone fruit, tropical fruit,   spice, and floral notes on the nose.  It can be made into dry, off-dry, and dessert style wines.  It’s made all around the world, including France, South America, Australia, and here in the US.  In California  the Rhone Rangers have been tireless advocates of Viognier along with other Rhone varietals.

While I’m not an “ABC” (Anything But Chardonnay) guy, and I do enjoy Chardonnay, I generally  find other white wine varietals more interesting.  Probably because I feel other white wine varietals like Riesling, and Gewurztraminer are more versatile with the foods I tend to eat. That’s definitely the case with Viognier.  It pairs better with the foods I enjoy.   Beside Asian food, Viognier should pair well with grilled seafood, and shellfish including lobster.  It would also pair well with foods served with fruit salsa.  Be sure to keep the wine chilled, otherwise it can taste too “warm” – out of balance.

Since I’m a red-wine drinker, probably 3-1 compared to white wine, I also find it interesting that Viognier is added to Syrahs for it’s aromatics.  Whenever I’ve had a Syrah that included Viognier, I’ve really enjoyed it.

As for the Yalumba Viognier we had last night I scored it 90 points – Here are my tasting notes: Very light straw colored, with a touch of green.  It has a wonderfully perfumed nose with stone-fruit, flowers, and a touch of spice.  The light color of the wine belies its elegance.  On the palate it was viscous,  medium-full bodied, round, and creamy with  nice acidity. I picked  up ripe pear, and pineapple with a hint of spice with a long finish.   Great QPR (Quality-Price Ratio) at $14.

Looking to find a Viognier locally here in Northern Cali?  Try Rosenblum Cellars Kathy’s Cuvee Viognier ($18).  It’s has more residual sugar than the Aussie Viognier.  It’s the first Viognier we tried, and it’s one of our favorites too!

Find your way to Viognier!