Friday, September 26, 2014

Wine Event: Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2014

Early September held a great treat for Los Angeles lovers of the Rhône style of wine.  The Rhône Rangers convened for their annual SoCal event at Vibiana in downtown L.A.  The repurposed church is a great place to hold an event for those who worship the grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.  A more irreverent reverence you will not likely find, church or no church.

For the unordained, the Rhône Rangers are an organization formed solely to celebrate the grapes of Rhône, especially as realized in California terroir.  Bring on Syrah, bring on Grenache, bring on Viognier, yeah verily, bring on Roussanne - and plenty of it.  Our prayers have been answered.

Cornerstone Cellars’ managing partner Craig Camp (right) poured a single vineyard Syrah rosé, the 2013 Corallina by Stepping Stone.  It's one of my favorite California pinks.  The Napa Valley vineyard from which these grapes come is west of the Oak Knoll district, almost in Carneros.  The aromas and flavors, while fruity, are more complex than those generally found in pink wines.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up for work. It's deeply-colored and richly textured.  It looks pink, but it drinks red.

Camp had been in Maine the previous week on a sales trip.  He noted that "the sales of whites and rosés just fall flat there after Labor Day,” which is a shame, considering how much lobster there is to be consumed there.  Camp says his Corallina rosé does hit it off with lobster, but it will really go great with the Thanksgiving turkey, so there is no need to retire it until spring.

The Stepping Stone 2012 Syrah comes from a vineyard “right at the top” of Atlas Peak in Napa.  It’s beefy and rich with a brilliant acidity.

The Crux Russian River Valley GSM rosé was the next stop.  Terribly warm day out, so plenty of great rosés were more than welcome.  In this one, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend to make a bright and vibrant wine.  Very nice acidity marks this fruity but dry pink wine.  The Crux Viognier has a five percent splash of Sauvignon Blanc.  Floral and fruity, this was another real refresher.

When I told Zaca Mesa’s Dane Campbell of an upcoming Now And Zin series on holiday wines, he said, "Rhone wines go great with Thanksgiving."  The Zaca Mesa Roussanne fits that bill, with a great nutty flavor and bright acidity.  The Zaca Mesa Viognier throws pear and peach flavors into the acidity and comes up with a lovely, savory finish.

Tercero WinesLarry Schaffer (left) always seems to be going for the title of “Hardest-Working Wine Man in the Santa Ynez Valley.”  At every event - and he’s at them all - Schaffer is always pouring.  One more taste for one more potential customer.  It's why my pictures of him always feature one blurry arm.  He pours his reds from huge flasks, which is always an attention-getter.

The Tercero Mourvèdre rosé is “foot-stomped, with only an hour of skin contact,” he says. Great fruit is on display here, with only a slight funkiness.  It’s the funky part that makes this another of my favorite rosés.  Tercero's Grenache Blanc has a bold savory note and great acidity.  The Tercero Roussanne shows complex aromas and flavors, led by almonds and apricots.

Paso Robles producer Summerwood Winery makes a Grenache Blanc which is fermented half in concrete and half in neutral oak.  It's great nose has bushel baskets of peaches and a fabulous savory component on the palate.  The grapes were grown at an elevation of 1,800 feet, and the cool nights makes for wonderful acidity.  It's a really beautiful wine.

Pomar Junction's Rosé of Syrah has a very deep color, quite like a Spanish Rosado.  It is loaded with fruit and flavor.  The Pomar Junction blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier is a natural choice for the holiday table.  It has great body, yet it's fresh and crisp.  The spicy palate is a treat.

The Kenneth Volk table is the one to which the genuine grape nerds always gravitate. Volk was not present at this event, but his assistant filled in ably, chatting with the tasters about vineyards and clones and proper ph levels.  The Volk Grenache has a very nice, light color.  It looks like it may be trying to slip by as a rosé. Fantastic acidity will make this a hit at the dinner table. An unbelievably savory note gives way to a bright cherry flavor in one of the most dramatic start-to-finish changes I have experienced.  Of the few wines time allowed me to taste, this was my favorite.


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