The Rhone Rangers annual Grand Tasting that just took place was the 19th iteration of the event. Judging from the turnout of wineries, wines, and guests, I would say there will be many more. At least I hope so. I counted 52 wineries pouring, and with wineries averaging about six wines each, there were over 300 different wines being poured. Pretty amazing, yet in another way it is just another day behind the tasting bar. Because there are 22 different grape varietals officially recognized by the French government, and sanctioned by the Rhone Rangers, there are many, many Rhone-style wines produced. The home locations of participating wineries included California’s Central and North Coast, Paso Robles, Lodi, Sierra foothills, Santa Cruz including its mountains, Arizona, and Washington.
The venue for the event on Saturday, June 11 was at the Golden Gate Club, at the Presidio in San Francisco. This is one of my favorite locations for wine events. There are several large indoor great-rooms in the Mediterranean-style building where the wineries were situated, and the plentiful huge windows thankfully provided natural lighting. Just outside the windows were large fir trees making shady spots in front of the panorama of the blue Bay outdoors looking in.
My Tasting Notes
91, Syrah, X-Block, Bonny Doon, Bien Nacido Vineyard, 2011, $50
Dark-purple and medium-plus in weight, this 100% Syrah effort opens with aromas of hickory and lush blackberries. The wine shows a particular, complex, and pleasing green, viney character. A vein of acid provides lift to the mid-palate’s tangy mulberries and ripe, well behaved tannins. Smooth and sensual, finishing long and flavorful, this is a remarkably low alcohol wine for our times at only 12%, not a bad thing.
90, Le Cigare Volant Reserve, Red Blend, Bonny Doon, 2011, $60
Textured in velvet, and laced with rich, light-red fruit. Intense in flavor with hints of raspberries and strawberries, and excellent overall balance. The Original Rhône Deranger, Bonny Doon founder and winemaker Randall Grahm, anaerobically cellared this wine in 5-gallon glass demijohns on its lees in order to “perfect” it, continuing with the distinctive and uncommon wines he is reputed for. His 840 case blend of 39% Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache, 26% Syrah, and 2% Cinsaut is basically a GSM with a dollop of Cinsaut tossed in, and is sourced from some interesting vineyards. Grahm says the Alta Loma Vineyard in Monterey sourced the organically farmed, “weapons-grade” Grenache, with the Cinsaut coming from the Bechthold Vineyard (possibly California’s oldest) in Lodi.
90, Old Telegram, Red Blend, Bonny Doon, Del Barba Vineyard, 2014, $45
Opaque purple with red hues. This 100% Mourvèdre offers intense Mulberries on the palate, with gamey notes. Rich fruit, good complexity with power, and a lengthy finish.
90, Roussanne, Stolpman Vineyard, 2014, $30
Medium-lite gold color. The wine opens with aromas of white flowers, light clover honey, and just a hint of almonds. Same on the palate with some nice bitter apricot replacing the almonds. Smoothly textured, medium weight, and some viscosity. Displays purity of fruit and a note of refreshing acidity.
93, Syrah, Austin Hope Family Wines (Treana), 2013, $55
Deep purple in color. Dark berries and hickory on the nose, followed by intense flavors of black raspberries and chocolate mousse. Richly fruited, thickly textured, and very well balanced, this is an uncommon, stellar Syrah. The medium tannins provide solid structure, and are nicely integrated and tempered by the other characteristics.
93, Grenache, Austin Hope Family Wines (Treana), 2013, $55
Deep purple in color. Aromas of roasted peanuts, lavender, and black cherry, compliment a unique, complex flavor profile including orange rind, black cherry, and cinnamon. Ripe, sweet fruit help to make this a fully-loaded Grenache. The notable tannins in the long finish of this massive effort are tempered by the considerable fruit. A sleeper!
90, Treana Blanc, White Blend, 2014, $24
Very light-gold in color. A big, viscous blend of white Rhone grape varietals, with notes of white flowers, melon, and fig. Packed full of ripe, rich fruit, the viscosity makes tears and rivulets down the walls of the glass. The heightened acid level perfectly counterbalances the lush fruit and extract.
90, Syrah, Jaffurs, Bien Nacido Vineyard, 2012, $50
Deep black-tinged purple color. Nose of blackberry jam nuanced with hickory and mocha. In the mouth blackberries with hints of black pepper and spice. Loaded with ripe, sweet, black fruit, this middle-weight boasts a lasting finish and hedonistic character.
90, GSM Blend, Jaffurs, High Tide, Santa Barbara County, 2012, $46
Red-purple in color. Flowers, red berry fruit, and kirsch on the nose. Supple, delicious red fruit on the mid-palate, with red cherry, raisin, and roast game in a savory frame. A pleasingly firm finish with the tannic framework clear, with just the right level of acidity.
89, Mourvèdre, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County, $36
Transparent medium-light ruby in color, this middle-weight boasts aromas of juicy red fruit and a trace of mint-leaf. On the palate, bright and intense red berry fruit. On the long finish a vein of acidity provides lift, and a few tannins give structure.
90, Petit Syrah, Halter Ranch Vineyard, 2013
Black-purple color. Very expansive entry with enveloping aromas of sugar-plum and chocolate. Medium weight with ripe, luscious fruit, smoothly textured, with the acidity level lifting the finish.
89, GSM Blend, Tenet, Columbia Valley, 2013, $70
Impenetrable black-purple in color. This is a huge wine! Dense aromas of black fruit with savory, sweet, creamy black fruit on the rear palate. Cellaring will eventually give the copious extract and massive tannic structure a background role. But impressive as-is today. A sleeper!