I have always found Rhone style wines to be exciting. I am talking about wines made from the grape types originally cultivated in France’s Rhone River area. When I think of Rhone wines what comes to my mind is a lunch time al fresco garden party with corks being pulled from a variety of Rhone types. But the reality is that due to the diversity of Rhone grapes there are many different occasions where the various Rhone style wines can be enjoyed and appreciated.
One of the Rhone-style grapes, Syrah, can produce wines that can be quite serious and introspective, with heavy-weight, and long lived. In California, Syrah tends to give more forward fruit and show some juiciness. GSM wines, blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, are intriguing and seductive with their particular flavor profile. They are currently experiencing a wave of popularity. Grenache based reds, originally from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone Valley, are somewhat lighter in style and should be consumed earlier. Not yet that common in California, they are on the rise. Rhone-style rosé wines, depending upon vineyard location and grape variety, can be quite dry and thirst quenching with aromas of stones and gravel, or more fruit forward especially in California. The whites made from Rhone-style grapes, especially Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, are a whole other spectrum, and range from rich and viscous, to balanced, and may include tropical fruit flavors. The Rhone style whites are not to be missed!
I have noted from 16 to 34 grape varietals, some red, some white, considered to be Rhone, depending upon the authority. The French government recognizes 22 specific varietals, which is the same standard the Rhone Rangers mandate for their tastings. At Ranger wine tastings wines poured must consist of a minimum of 75% of these recognized grapes in their blend.
Many Rhone style wines are now grown and vinified in California. In the USA close to 40,000 acres of Rhône wine varietals are growing. Fortunately, a non-profit organization known as the Rhone Rangers brings together the makers of these delicious wines in one place to pour their wines for all to discover and admire. Their celebration of American Rhone Wines takes place over two days and generally consists of a winemaker dinner, live and silent auctions, at least one seminar, and the Grand Tasting.
I attended the Trade and Media portion of the 18th annual Grand Tasting held on March 28 at the Craneway Pavilion on Ford Point in Richmond. This venue is a 45,000 sq. ft. facility with the water just outside the windows and bordering the patio offering a panorama of the Bay. What a great and readily accessible venue for a wine event! Fans, Trade, and Media all came with a common purpose – to explore the exciting Rhone style wines.
My tasting notes:
91, Syrah, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Bien Nacido, X-Block, 2011, $50
Luscious tangy mulberries permeate the intense aroma of this nicely balanced 2011 Syrah by Bonny Doon. This wine has a complex flavor profile with mulberry notes predominating over the other red and dark fruits. A classic Syrah in every way, and the very smooth touch and feel is notable.
92, Grenache, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Clos de Gilroy, 2013, $20
Pungent aromas of roasted peanuts, strawberry, rhubarb, and Kirsch overflow the glass. The inviting flavor profile is complex, centering on red fruit, stone, and mineral. This 2013 Clos de Gilroy is a very nicely balanced Grenache in all aspects.
91, Red Blend, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, Reserve, 2009, $79
This 2009 Reserve Cigare Volant by Bonny Doon is classic Rhone in character sporting a complex flavor profile. Founder Randall Grahm and his cohorts employ an anaerobic élevage method for this wine in five-gallon glass containers. On the palate, this wine shows boysenberry and cherry while evidencing fine purity of fruit. From mid-palate to finish, this lovely Rhone style blend exhibits a really smooth texture.
91, Roussanne blend, Lagier Meredith, Chester’s Anvil Gretna Green, 2012, $30
Medium-light straw in color, mango, guava, with tropical and mineral notes abound in this complex and bright Roussanne blend. Lagier Meredith say about the blending, “Roussanne with a soupçon of Viognier”. A granite-like nuance also comes to mind in this very precise but supple wine, which shows great clarity and purity of fruit. The acid level creates nice lift. Kudos to Steve Lagier and Carol Meredith for creative label names, and oh yes, splendid wine!
91, Syrah, Lagier Meredith, Estate, 2013, $48
Deep and dark purple in color, with hints of spice, hickory, and white pepper in the aroma, while controlled dark fruit fills the palate. This mountain Syrah is bright with acidity and shows significant complexity. A medium-weight wine with fine balance and construction. Good aging results are anticipated.
90, Roussanne, Qupe, Bien Nacido Hillside Estate, Block 11, Santa Maria Valley, 2011, $40
Light straw-gold in color, the aroma in this 2011 Roussanne by Qupe has delightful notes of aromatic wild spice, with honeyed stone fruit in the mouth. This lovely rich white has a smooth touch and feel, and shows a pleasing high viscosity.
93, Roussanne, Domaine de la Terre Rouge, Sierra Foothills, 2011, $25
This medium-light gold Roussanne from Terre Rouge in the Sierra Foothills has remarkable purity of fruit as well as intensity of characteristics. The wine is thick with lush, ripe fruit, and displays extraordinary viscosity allied with a smooth texture and supple feel. Along with good overall balance, sufficient acid, and a lingering finish, this outstanding Roussanne demonstrates extraordinary complexity without excesses.
90, Patelin de Tablas, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2013, $20
The aroma is brimming with notes of complex, dark fruit, with saline, black plums on the palate. Medium-plus to full-bodied, this wine demonstrates the dark, rich fruit of Syrah, and the structure of Mourvedre. This GSM red blend of 45% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre, with a 4% adder of Counoise is sourced from several California vineyards. A good effort from a collaboration of Tablas Creek with Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands.
91, Patelin de Tablas Rosé, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2014, $20
This remarkable rosé from Tablas Creek Vineyard is finely balanced in all respects. Bright with refreshing acidity, this wine shows a smooth touch and feel with generous mineral and gravel on the palate. The fruit is disciplined yet flavorful from the Grenache grapes sourced at seven different vineyards, with Tablas-clone Mourvèdre and Counoise also in the mix. This delightful effort is complex in character, and avoids unnecessary surpluses.
90, Côtes de Tablas, Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2013, $35
This lovely red blend opens with an aroma of dried red fruit and cranberries. Fermented with native yeast, this wine displays plenty of intensity of aroma and taste, and boasts the structure to support the whole. On the palate, notes of red and black fruit are apparent in a complex mélange. The estate grown, organically farmed fruit is assembled in a southern Rhone-style GSM blend with 55% Grenache predominating, 30% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, and a 10% Counoise companion. The vines, imported from Château de Beaucastel in France, are located on limestone soils in the hilly Adelaida District on the west side of Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast.