Thursday, August 12, 2010


Rhone Rangers Tasting Event

The organization which devotes its efforts toward the furtherment of the 22 grape varieties of France's Rhone Valley rolled into Santa Monica August 8th with a big roomful of disciples in tow.  Rhone-styled wines were the order of the day and they drew a big crowd.  Most of the winery tables had folks lining up at least two or three deep all afternoon.  Some stayed so crowded I couldn't elbow my way in!  I expected a lot of Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne, and I was not disappointed.  I was a little taken aback at the number of Mourvedre-based wines being poured.  It has become quite a popular grape in California, and it's not just for blending anymore.  Some of the post-tasting comments on Twitter concentrated on how many good Mourvedres were poured.
Here are the tables from which I tasted, and some of my impressions of what was being poured.
10 Knots Cellars - This San Luis Obispo producer is an offshoot of Sextant Wines. Their Beachcomber 2007 white blend is a mix of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, and it's a nice quaffer.  Their Atlantis '08 red blend combines Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache has a great nose and is lively on the palate.  The '08 Syrah is not yet released, but despite its youth, it feels like it has the makings of a good wine.

Anglim - From Paso Robles, Anglim's 100% Grenache Blanc 2008 from the Red Cedar Vineyard shows plenty of nuts and pears.  Their '07 Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyard plays up the floral and tropical notes.  The '07 Roussanne is smokey from just a touch of oak, while the Cerise 2006 red blend comes from the French Camp Vineyard and has a forceful nose and a delicious sour cherry palate.  The '06 Grenache is a little funky on the nose with cherry and raspberry dominating the flavors.  The Mourvedre from the Hastings Ranch Vineyard shows cherry and smoke and is very dry and dark.

Clavo - Located in Templeton in the Paso Robles AVA, Clavo offered a 2009 Viognier which is floral on the nose with lots of tropical flavors.  Their Grenache Blanc has a nutty nose with tropical notes on the palate.  The '07 Petite Sirah offers a big, intense nose and a chocolate edge.

Cliff Creek Cellars - This Oregon producer brought a Syrah to the table that was one of my favorites.  A 2004 vintage, it shows lovely chocolate notes.  Their 2005 Syrah has tons of blackberry and licorice, while their '03 was nice, too.  The middle sibling was the one for me, though.

Cline Cellars - This Sonoma vintner has a North Coast '09 Viognier that is crisp and tropical and a 2009 Mourvedre Rose that shows lovely raspberry fruit alongside complicated earthy tones.  Their 2008 Cashmere red blend is Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre - a dry, chalky delight.  Cline offered two "Ancient Vines" wines, an '08 Mourvedre and an '07 Carignan produced from 125-year-old vines in Contra Costa County.  Dry farmed in riverbed silt, these stressed vines produce grapes a little larger than a pea.  Both wines show a dark and earthy taste.

Columbia Crest - From Washington state, this winery is visible in most supermarkets in Southern California.  Their 2009 Reserve white blend is from the Coyote Canyon Vineyard.  It features Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier with a big, floral nose and is very smooth but is somewhat lacking in acidity.  Their '07 Grand Estates Reserve Syrah, however, is quite nice.  Good fruit and acidity, it's dry with a very nice nose, and smooth with fine tannins.

Curtis Winery - Near Los Olivos on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Curtis has some very special wine.  Their '09 Heritage Blanc white blend is a mix of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne - a floral and tropical delight.  The 2009 Heritage Rose features Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault in a light strawbery format.  Their Heritage Cuvee red blend utilizes the same grapes and blend as the rose, it just spends longer with the skins.  It's a delightful, light-bodied red.

Derby Wine Estates - Derby's 2007 Fifteen 10 is a Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne blend, in equal parts.  The fruit is from Paso Robles, the Derby Vineyard.  It seems a bit light in acidity, but it certainly makes up for that in flavor and is extremely drinkable.  Fifteen 10 - the '06 red blend - shows white pepper on the nose with good acidity and grip.  Their '06 Petite Sirah is dark and jammy with lots of earth and good tannins.

Edward Sellars Vineyards - The producer from Paso's west side offered a Viognier and a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne, both with faint noses but nice acidity.  Their red blend, the '07 Cognito - a heady brew of Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache - is earthy and mouth-puckeringly dry.

Epiphany - The Los Olivos label has a 100% Grenache Blanc with a tiny bit of residual sugar which really sets it apart from all the others and gives it a more rounded mouthfeel.  Their 2007 Revelation was just that.  20 months in oak gives it a chocolate nose and a campfire-smoke flavor profile.

Fess Parker Winery - Dave Potter - not pouring his own Municipal Wines for a change - had those delicious Fess Parker wines, highlighted by the '06 Big Easy Syrah.  100% Camp Four fruit, this is dry and smacks of chocolate and spice.

J. Lohr Vineyards - The '09 Gesture Rose is 100% Grenache, tart, fruity and dry.  Their '08 Gesture Mourvedre is very dry and dark and full of blackberry.

Jada Vineyard - Another PasoRobles producer brought their '09 XCV white blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, which is tart, fruity and refreshing.  Their 1149 rose blend has 5 varietals: Grenache, Merlot, Tannat, Syrah and Roussanne.  It is the darkest tasting rose ever!  Strawberry and raspberry meet in a delightful earthiness with some great acidity.

Justin Winery - This Paso Robles outfit brought their '08 Savant - a red blend with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec - those last two had them running the risk of being kicked out of an event touting the grapes of the Rhone!  Earthy aromas lead to a velvety black cherry taste with coffee notes at the finish.

Koehler Winery - Another entry from Los Olivos' Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Koehler's '08 Viognier has a lemon peel and floral nose with tropical and guava notes on the palate.  The '07 Grenache is a 100% varietal wine that's all sour cherry with a lovely nose and taste.

Meyer Family Cellars - The Syrah rose sports Anderson Valley fruit from the Yorkville Highlands Vineyard with 10% Petite Sirah.  It's fruity and dry.  Their '05 Syrah from Mendocino County has cherry on the nose and is slightly chalky and dry, but smooth.  The 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands has lots of the earth in the nose and it's quite dry, too.

Michael-David Vineyards - This is the label that got me interested in Lodi.  Both their '09 Incognito white and the '08 Incognito red blends were poured publicy for the first time at this event.  Both are somewhat lighter in alcohol than their predecessors.  The white combines Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blance, whereas the previous vintage was almost all Viognier.  The red blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault has a nice earthy quality.  Their '07 6th Sense Syrah has a very smokey quality from 16 months in oak and a hint of Petite Sirah.

Ortman Family Vineyards - Another winery from Paso Robles, Ortman poured only the 2007 Cuvee Eddy.  It's a red blend with a  brilliant cherry nose - juicy and eay to drink.

Tablas Creek Vineyard - 'The noted 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc features a tart nuttiness with guava and pear notes.

Tercero Wines - The crowd around this table kept me away and I never got the chance to taste what some were calling the hit of the show, the Tercero 2007 Mouvedre Camp Four Vineyard.

Unti Vineyards - From Healdsburg, Unti's Rose 2009 is 77% Grenache and  23% Mourvedre.  The light salmon color is appealing and it's very dry.  Their GSM blend has 80% Grenache and 10% each Syrah and Mourvedre.  It's dry and full of cherry flavor.  The 2006 Syrah Dry Creek Valley Estate is very dry with lots of spice and earth   The '06 Syrah Benchland is very earthy too.

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