Wine fans can be eternally thankful to the Rhone Rangers organization and their founders for the efforts they have expended in bringing the exciting, complex, and varied Rhone style wines and grapes more into our lives. They have brought us wine tastings, educational opportunities, and their energetic devotion which includes the efforts of the founder’s individual wineries in bringing Rhone style to the marketplace. We definitely owe the Rangers a debt of gratitude for their devotion to Rhone style and the positive difference it has made to wine fans.
The 2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting took place April 6 at the Craneway Pavilion on Ford Point in Richmond. This location is near a confluence of major freeways and bridges which provides good access. For me in my Napa location Ford Point is closer, less congested, and without parking issues than most other venues. The Pavilion is a spacious work of architectural significance. The main building has patios and views over the Bay waters just a few yards away.
The popularity and plantings of Rhone Style wines continue to rise. There are 22 varieties recognized by both the French Government and the Rhone Rangers as official Rhone grapes. The more prevalent red Rhone grapes in California according to recent planted acreage are Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsaut, and Counoise, with Syrah’s total roughly doubling the sum of the others. The most prevalent white Rhone grapes in California are Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Marsanne, with Viognier’s total far outstripping the rest at roughly six to one. Many of these grape varieties are combined into blends which have achieved harmonious, delicious results.
When it comes to wine and grapes, what you like is simply whatever you like. Irrespective of which grapes are the volume leaders, let your palate by your guide. New producers appear often these days in the USA’s rapidly expanding wine industry. Wine making styles and techniques, vinicultural practices, élevage state of the art in the cellar, agronomics, and demand for certain wine types all change and evolve. To stay currant and evaluate marketplace offerings the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting as well as their regional tastings are excellent platforms not to be missed.
The whites really caught my attention this year with their delineation and flavor. There were certainly some superb reds being poured too. The main attraction – loads and loads of Rhone style wines of all colors being poured for eager attendees.
My tasting notes
91, Acquiesce Winery, Roussanne, Estate, 2012, $24
Acquiesce is a specialist of white and rosé wines. That is the bulk of their product line, and judging from the recent past they are producing some very good wines with character, flavor, and precision. Their 2012 Roussanne yields floral aromas with pear and apricot on the palate and contrasting absinthian and honeyed notes on the finish. A complex wine with medium body, slight oily viscosity, and a supple touch and feel.
90, Acquiesce Winery, White Blend, Belle Blanc, Estate, 2012, $26
This complex white blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier delivers sweet aromas of white flowers, stone fruit, and honey, all contrasted against notes of wet gravel. An exciting effort that offers a velvety texture, purity of fruit, clear definition, and a lengthy, flavorful finish.
90, Arrowood Vineyards, Viognier, Saralee’s, 2011, $30
This Viognier by Arrowood is loaded with lovely aromas of anise, fennel, and orange followed by honey, anise, and fennel on the palate. The acid level provides focus and freshness. A well balanced wine with medium bodied fullness, quality fruit, and an enticing and refreshing bitter Seville orange finish.
91, Bonny Doon Vineyard, White Blend, Le Cigare Blanc, Normale, 2011, $28
Bonny Doon has produced this beguiling blend of Roussanne and Grenache from the biodynamically farmed Beeswax Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco area of Monterey County since 2003. Pale gold in color, notes of melon with mineral overtones emerge from the glass. The considerable body and viscosity in this 2011 version with malolactic fermentation contrast starkly but beautifully with the elevated acid level which provides lift and focus. A wine with lovely fruit, mid-palate texture, and an elegant touch.
90, Kieran Robinson Wines, Syrah, Vivio, 2009, $43
This Red-purple Syrah from the developing appellation of Bennett Valley yields complex notes of game, tar, and red berry fruit. A slightly lighter style Syrah of medium to light body, this wine is smooth and well balanced.
90, Lagier Meredith, Syrah, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, 2011, $48
This deep purple 2011 Syrah made by Lagier- Meredith from their vineyard of fractured shale and sandstone at 1,300 feet on Mt. Veeder is classic Hermitage in style. Enticing aromas of spice, white pepper, and dark berry fruit are followed on the palate by blackberries with mineral highlights. Smooth and medium bodied with mild tannins, the acid level provides excellent focus and should make this a fine food pairing wine.
90, Lagier Meredith, Mondeuse, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, 2011, $42
Ruby-purple in color, this little seen Mondeuse noire presents floral aromas with notes of spice and black cherries. From the Savoie department in the mountainous Auvergne/Rhône/Alpes region in eastern France, this medium-full bodied, well balanced 2011 offers rich, sweet fruits on the palate, with well managed tannins, and an unconventional but inviting flavor profile of red and black fruit with a umami touch.
90, Quady North, Rosé, Rogue Valley, Oregon, 2013, $14
Significant aromas of wet gravel rise from the glass of this almost radiant-pink rosé. The acid level makes for a very animate, fresh, and focused wine. This 2013 is lightly structured and shows good balance. The mid-palate is full of ripe, crisp, slightly textured light red fruit with a raspberry nuance.
91, Qupe, Syrah, Bien Nacido Hillside Estate, 2009, $40
This dark purple Qupe Syrah offers aromas of blackberries, tar, and bouquet garni. The mid-palate of this complex, medium-plus bodied 2009 is loaded with nicely textured rich, ripe dark fruit. The well behaved tannins should permit aging.
91, Roussanne, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2012, $35
Aromas of white flowers and honey. Exemplary delineation of characteristics and flavors, clover honey with a hint of pleasing bitters in the background. Exhibits excellent balance. A unique and lovely wine.
90, Patelin de Tablas Blanc, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2012, $20
This delicious white shows a slightly contrasting sweet and sour character while also demonstrating excellent balance. Whole cluster pressed, this white blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne offers subtle aromas of white peach and honeysuckle. Acidity provides lift in this stainless steel fermented white, which also demonstrates richness of fruit. Uniqueness of character stands out.
90, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Côtes de Tablas Blanc, 2012, $27
This medium bodied white blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne from Tablas Creek’s 120-acre certified organic estate vineyard features lovely aromas of honey and citrus fruit. In the mouth this native yeast fermented, whole cluster pressed, stainless steel fermented wine is well balanced and quite delicious with notes of stone fruit and cream carrying into a fresh finish. Tablas Creek continues to produce exciting wines that show delineation, flavor, and originality.
91, Esprit de Tablas, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2011, $55
This blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise is bursting with sweet blackberries, truffles, and bits of spice and savories. Medium bodied, supple in texture, and showing smooth tannins, this native yeast fermented wine was aged in 1200-gallon French oak foudres. Note the new name of this delicious top echelon Tablas Creek offering, Esprit de Tablas, which has replaced Esprit de Beaucastel, the moniker used for the past decade, Beaucastel being their high profile winery in France.
90, Mourvèdre, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2011, $40
Aromas of red and black fruit, scorched earth, and well seasoned grilled meat rise from the glass of this 2011 Mourvèdre. The palate is medium-plus bodied, plentiful with intense dark fruit and notes of mint. Deft in character with chewy tannins and a pleasant hint of astringency into the finish.