Showing posts with label Rhone Rangers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rhone Rangers. Show all posts

Friday, April 1, 2022

Lip Stinging Picpoul From California's Central Coast

The imaginary Bonny Doon timeline stretches from a 1954 decree in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which banned aliens from landing their flying cigars in vineyards, to 1986 when Bonny Doon Vineyard released their Le Cigare Volant wine, and on to today when the stripped-down Dooniverse includes a wine made with the Picpoul grape.  

It was Randall Grahm's decision to move from trying to make Burgundian wines in sunny California to giving the Rhône a go.  It worked.  His little winery that could, did.  He became the Rhône Ranger.  The winery became huge, he became disillusioned and sold off parts of it over the past couple of decades.  

His mood can lift, though, with the release of a fantastic expression of Picpoul, which means "lip stinger" en Francais.  It is a much-loved grape in the south of France, carrying a brisk acidity, dancing light on its feet and providing an ultra savory accompaniment to food, according to Grahm.

More closely aligned with France's Languedoc region, the Picpoul Blanc grape has taken root in California's Monterey and Sonoma counties, as well as in places like Texas, Arizona and Washington state.  

Bonny Doon's 2021 Picpoul is 90% Picpoul and 10% Grenache Blanc, mostly from the Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco with support from the Nolan Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.

Grahm says the Beeswax Vineyard produces white grapes which have the scent of "well… beeswax," white flowers and pineapple.  He credits the wine's "bracing acidity," savoriness and a bit of brininess for its easy pairing with crabs, lobster, oysters and the like.  Alcohol is a minimalist 11% abv.

Wendy Cook drew the label art, which shows the French pronunciation of the grape's name and a visual description of the way it translates.

This white wine is bright, savory and full of acidity - ready for pairing with your favorite seafood.  The winemaker speaks of its brininess, which I get as a bit of seashore, much as in Vermentino.  There is a floral aspect, but the primary focus is on minerals and salinity.  It is a fantastic white, perfect for the coming warmer months and just as good until then.   

In addition to the wine, I received a cardboard standup of the Bonny Doon alien, who may have touched down in the Beeswax Vineyard, since there is no decree banning the practice in California.  It now lives at my home until the property management suits come nosing around.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Get Offa My Grapevines!

It's the 30th anniversary vintage of Bonny Doon Vineyard's flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," knocks me out every year with the "flying cigar" release.

The label, by Chuck House, depicts a strange airship sending down a beam of red onto a pastoral vineyard.  Legend has it, in 1954 a UFO scare terrified the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so much that a decree was issued, banning any "flying cigar" from landing and destroying the vines.  To my knowledge, it's still on the books today because, why not?  It's a great story and one of the better back stories for any wine ever.

Le Cigare Volant is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-ian blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault.  The grapes came from six noted California vineyards, Rancho Solo, Bien Nacido, Ventana, Del Barba, Bechtold, Alta Loma.  Alcohol stands at the usual 14.5% abv, 2,400 cases were produced and the wine sells for $45.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm remembers the 2013 vintage as "cool and elegant" and says the 2013 release is "slightly less muscular than '12."  Grahm expects the wine to age well for 10-15 years.

The Syrah in the mix came mostly from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, possibly my favorite vineyard, and one which Grahm says has the "closest analogue we have found to a Northern Rhone Syrah."

I love smelling the wines of Randall Grahm.  He makes savory walk and talk and jump through hoops.  This wine, the 30th anniversary vintage of Cigare, brings it home like it always does.  It shows a medium dark color in the glass and on the nose.  There is cassis and licorice, but the savory notes carry the load.  Black olive is the first smell I get, followed by a bit of tar and a whiff of smoke.  Cigar box, leather and bacon fat finish out a complex aroma package.  The palate is delicious as always.  Grahm says the '13 is "less muscular," but I think there's more to it.  This Cigare drinks with the weight and elegance of a Pinot Noir.  Black fruit is forward, while more savory aspects of sage and mint come in to join it.  The tannins are gentle, the acidity fresh and the finish long. 

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Pair Of Cigares

It is sometimes remarkable to taste the same wine from different vintages back to back. In the case of Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Le Cigare Volant red Rhône blend, the differences are striking. Not only does the growing season show itself, but the actual blend varies from year to year, making for a wine that is not only a delight, but also a surprise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2010 Unfiltered

This flagship wine from the land of Bonny Doon is a Rhônish blend: 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre and 16% Carignane. The grapes were picked from a wide assortment of great Central Coast sites: Bien Nacido Vineyard (27%), Evangelho Vineyard (23%), Alta Loma Vineyard (17%), Bechtold Vineyard (16%), Gonsalves Vineyard (9%), Ca’ del Solo Vineyard (5%), Alamo Creek Vineyard (2%) and Enea Vineyard (1%).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying Le Cigare Volant right now - it’s hard to resist - but it is billed as a wine that will age gracefully for ten to fifteen years from release, which was in February, 2014. Alcohol is a very reasonable 13.3% abv, 1,344 cases were produced and it sells for $45 per bottle.

 A beautiful purple tint looks great in the glass. It is wonderfully fragrant with cherry tart and a touch of spice, a little light clove. A hint of earth peeks through, but in an elegant way - not rustic. On the palate, black pepper meets blackberry. The mouthfeel is quite full and juicy, and earth notes last well into the lengthy finish. There is a sense of dirt, but it's elegant dirt. Cigare’s acidity is refreshing and its tannins are brawny enough for beef,but its flavors are pretty enough for pork.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2011 Normale

The 2011 Cigare is a different mix of grapes: 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault. The Carignane did not make it into this bottle. The vineyard selections are a bit different, too. Again, eight vineyards contribute fruit, with the addition of Ventana, Del Barba and Rancho Solo vineyards joining Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves.

"This is a wine from an extremely cool and elegant vintage,” winemaker Randall Grahm notes, and he figures this 2011 Cigare will age gracefully for ten to 15 years from right now. Alcohol is almost a full point higher, 14.2% abv, and the bottle retails for $45.

The nose is full of red berries, with a dark flair. Raspberry, cherry, and red currant are met with Grahm’s signature savoriness of roasted meat, beef jerky and black olive tapenade. The sip reveals that the ‘11 Cigare is a festival of darkness. The savory aspects come forward in a rush. The forest floor, the olive, the spice - all are cloaked in a dark fruit setting. Black plums, currant and berries work hard to mesh with the wine's earthy character. The acidity is remarkable and the tannic structure is firm.

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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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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Rhone Rangers L.A. Wine Event 2013

California is well populated with wine grapes of other regions - varieties from all over the world seem to wind up in California soil.  Supporters exist for wayward Italian, Spanish and Portuguese grapes and, of course, the French varieties are certainly represented well.  They are the backbone of the California wine industry.

The Rhone Rangers get more specific.  They are a non-profit group waving, blowing the horn and attracting attention to American Rhône varietal wines.  As they describe, “American Rhône-style wines are made from the same grapes that have flourished for centuries in France’s Rhône River Valley, and their growing popularity in the United States speaks to their versatility with food, wide range of rich flavors, and to the skills of American winemakers.  Twenty-two traditional grape varieties may be grown [in the Rhône].  Twelve of these grapes are planted in the United States, including the best-known, Syrah and Viognier, the up and coming Mourvèdre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne, and the truly obscure (but delicious) Counoise, Cinsaut, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul.  Plus Petite Sirah, whose parentage places it clearly in the Rhône.”

The annual get-togethers of the disciples of these grapes are always fun.  How could a group of people identifying themselves as "Rhone Rangers" not be good company?  The tasting is great, too, with plenty of samples to try - the 22 grapes of the Rhône Valley are the stars of the show, in varietal and blended form.

When it comes to vitis vinifera, Cabs, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay all have their place with me.  But when I sit around and think about my favorite wine grapes - please tell me I’m not alone in this behavior - the Rhône varieties always end up highly ranked.

The Rhone Rangers L.A. stop on June 23, 2013 was held downtown in the repurposed Vibiana cathedral.  Here are a few of the wines I tried and liked at this event.

Andrew Murray Vineyards
Andrew Murray (left) is always mentioned on the short list of Santa Barbara County winemakers to watch.  Taste his wines and find out why.  Big floral notes grace his 2012 Viognier ($25).  The red blend "Experance" 2011 ($25) is a familiar Rhône mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre which shows a funky touch.  Two Syrahs rocked the table, the outstanding, meaty 2011 Watch Hill Vineyard ($30) and the lovely, dark 2010 Terra Bella Vineyard ($36).  The 2011 Mourvèdre is a lighter expression of the grape, but still pretty bold.

Bonny Doon Vineyard
Randall Grahm's mother, Ruthie (right), stood in for her winemaker son.  I overheard a great quote from her: "...and I never made another suggestion to him again."  I don't know what she was talking about, but the quote really seemed funny to me even out of context.  The warm afternoon was highlighted by Grahm's amazing whites.  The 2011 "Le Cigare Blanc" ($28) is smoky and fruity with great acidity while the 2010 "Le Cigare Blanc" Reserve ($50) has great savory tones with a beautiful finish.  Grahm's reds are favorites of mine, too, and his 2009 Bien Nacido Syrah ($40) sings.

Clavo Cellars
Neil Roberts makes wine in Templeton, in the heart of the Paso Robles AVA.  His 2011 Viognier ($18) offers more fruit than flowers and the 2011 Grenache Blanc ($20) pits wonderful fruit against magnificent salinity.  His 2009 Syrah ($25) is gorgeous.

Cornerstone Cellars
The Napa Valley winery is becoming as well-known for their everyday line, Stepping Stone, as for their top-shelf Cabs.  The 2012 Corallina Rosé of Syrah has beautiful acidity and great fruit expression.

Derby Wine Estates
The Paso producer poured a white blend, the 2010 "Fifteen 10," ($24) that shows Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc in a floral and savory setting.  The 2009 "Fifteen 10 Red" ($28) adds Counoise to the GSM blend for a bright and tart pleasure.  Derby's 2009 Petite Sirah ($26) is dark and deep with lip-smacking grip.

Donelan Wines
From Santa Rosa, Donelan's 2010 red blend "Cuvée Moriah" ($40) is heavy on the Grenache and surprisingly light and breezy.  A great, funky nose defines their 2010 Syrah from Walker Vine Hill Vineyard ($45) with lots of blue fruit following on the palate.

J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines
They poured mainly their Gesture line of Paso Robles wines.  Flowers and peaches on the 2012 Viognier ($25) while the 2012 Rosé of Grenache ($18) is a dry strawberry delight.  The 2012 white blend ($25) combines Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc with great lime and almond notes.  Brilliant cherry flavor lights up their 2011 Syrah ($30) and the 2011 Petite Sirah has licorice, dark fruit and great acidity.

Kale Wines
Kale Anderson (left) poured a brilliant 2012 rosé ($22) made from Sonoma County Syrah and a straight up 2009 Syrah ($40) from Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County.  There's a 10% splash of Viognier in it and it is lush with a great herbal edge.

Using fruit from several vineyards in Paso's Westside, the 2008 Syrah ($28) gives eucalyptus notes while their two red blends, "Osiris" ($32) and "Morpheus" ($36) are bright Grenache-based wines.

Larner Vineyard and Winery
Estate fruit from Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley make up the Michael Larner (right) offerings.  The 2011 Viognier ($28) has a delightful savory aspect and their 2009 Grenache ($40) is pure cherry.  Larner's 2009 Reserve Syrah ($65) utilizes stem inclusion - fermenting the grapes stems and all - for an herbal tone and greater tannic structure.

Mira Winery
This Napa producer recently experimented with aging bottled wine under the sea.  They were so intrigued by the results, they have plans to age more wine - pre-bottling - beneath the waves in September.  Gustavo Gonzales poured his 2009 Hyde Vineyard Syrah ($48) full of dark fruit, slight funk and racy acidity.

Mitchella Vineyard and Winery
This Paso outfit ages their 2012 Grenache Blanc ($24) half in steel and half in neutral oak.  Great freshness and a beautiful finish are remarkable.  Their 2012 Viognier ($22) has a nutty edge and the 2010 "Shameless" red blend ($28) is a GSM with the Grenache and Mourvèdre cofermented.

Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery
Winemaker Jim Shumate (left) told me he doesn't like to over oak his wines, and his easy touch shows.  His 2010 Viognier ($20) has a floral nose leading to a savory palate.  A trace of funk dots the nose on the 2010 Syrah ($34) and the 2010 "Fiesta Red" ($34) makes a bright and spicy blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Merlot.  Shumate offered dessert at his table, in the form of his gorgeous 2010 Reserve Late Harvest Viognier ($68).  How late was the botrytis-kissed harvest?  During the first week of December, at 39 brix.  He says he's seen grapes harvested even later, at 50 brix.

Stolpman Vineyards
Tom Stolpman's (right) 2012 Viognier ($22) has a lovely, savory side and his 2011 "Golden Point" ($19) combines Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux grapes, spinning Roussanne, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to an almost buttery extreme.  Both are excellent, and it's hard to believe the latter wine costs less than a twenty.

Two Shepherds
William Allen traveled a far piece from his home base of Santa Rosa for the Santa Ynez Valley grapes that went into his 2012 Saarloos Vineyard Grenache Blanc ($25).  He sees it as his flagship wine, and with good reason.  Plenty of fruit with a savory edge should please a lot of people.  Allen's 2011 white blend ($26) from the Russian River Valley has Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc mixing it up with salinity that absolutely stuns.  Perhaps most outstanding is the Two Shepherds 2011 Grenache ($35) of Saralee's Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.  He calls this cool-climate wine "the lighter side of Grenache."  Beautiful cherry flavor and great acidity constitute a home run.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Wine: Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2010

When I ran into Bonny Doon Vineyard’s founder and President For Life, Randall Grahm, at the Los Angeles Rhone Rangers tasting event, he seemed baffled at the popularity of his Le Cigare Blanc.  Grahm told me he never thought he’d see a “wellspring of interest in white Rhone grape varieties,” hypothesizing that it may have been connected with the Mayan calendar and the end of the world.  If that’s the case, drink up.  There’s not much time left to enjoy it.

The grapes for this wine - 55% Roussanne and 45% Grenache Blanc - come from Beeswax Vineyard, a biodynamically-farmed plot in the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County.  The Bonny Doon website describes, “Surrounded on three sides by wilderness and shielded from the cool Pacific Coast winds by the Santa Lucia Mountains, Beeswax Vineyard grows complex, concentrated and mineral intensive grapes, produced from deeply rooted vines."

It’s called, on the label, “white wine of the earth,” and the minerality found in it bears that out.  At a breezy 12.7% abv, this wine refreshes, and won’t leave you feeling woozy on the porch.

For the uninitiated, the name is taken from Bonny Doon’s flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  It’s a reference to a cigar-shaped flying saucer reportedly seen at one time over the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The local government feared these aliens would damage the sacred crop, so a decree was issued banning the spaceships.  It must have worked, as I don’t think the Rhone Valley has been bothered by UFOs since then.  As a remembrance, Le Cigare Blanc comes bottled under a screw cap bearing the likeness of an alien.

The wine shows a nice color - a light golden hue - in the glass.  I smell apricots, tropical fruit, citrus and cantaloupe, with a soft vanilla note from the French oak wafting in and out.  On the palate, pears and apricots are joined by a melon rind minerality.  There’s the suggestion of an almond -butter-and-quince sandwich in there, too, with a savory note on the finish, which lingers long and well.

The acidity is fantastic, and makes me want a pork chop, or a nice soft cheese.  In my brief chat with Grahm, he explained the popularity of Le Cigare Blanc by saying, “white Rhone grapes, especially Roussanne, are fabulous food wines.”  We already knew that, and - presumably - so do the aliens.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2012

"From out of the west with the speed of light and a hearty ‘hi-yo Cinsault’..."

There was no clatter of hooves beating upon the dusty pavement of downtown Los Angeles, no fiery steed, no faithful Indian companion.  There were SUVs revving at the traffic light, parking lot attendants and a pretty good Indian restaurant around the corner.

The Rhone Rangers did, however, ride into Los Angeles to pour their wines on June 2, 2012 at Vibiana, a former cathedral in downtown Los Angeles which has been converted into an event venue.  It’s a sunny and open space with beautiful architectural lines.

In case you are uninitiated, there is an organization of winemakers who are wild about the grapes of the Rhone Valley.  These Rhone Rangers - mostly of the U.S. West Coast - meet every so often to pay tribute to those French grapes.  It’s a tasting event like no other, where the expression of the Rhone grape varieties in other terroir is explored.

Leading Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyards, referred to the event space, Vibiana, as a “decommissioned church” in a tweet before the event began.  It still shows up on Google Maps as “Cathedral of St. Vibiana.”  Like many of us, Mr. Grahm worships at the altar of the vine.

Grahm’s Bonny Doon VIneyards was present, with Grahm himself behind the table.  I had never run into him at a Southern California tasting event before, so it was a real treat to get a face-to-face meet with the witty, erudite, social-media-addicted, original Rhone Ranger of the California wine world.  Since he is noted for his minute-by-minute presence on Twitter, I wasn’t too surprised to catch him in what looks like mid-tweet.  I apologize that I didn't think to get another, more suitable, image in the crush of people around the Bonny Doon table.  I did get the chance to speak with him, briefly, while tasting.  His comments will be featured in an upcoming podcast on the Now And Zin Wine Report.

The Bonny Doon wines are represented by the iconic Le Cigare Volant, described by Grahm as “A blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre with just a soupçon of cinsault.”   I sampled a different kind of red, the Clos de Gilroy, a Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault blend taken from various Monterey County vineyards.  It’s a fresh and vibrant red that’s perfect for summer use.  Speaking of warm weather, the 2010 Le Cigare Blanc, Beeswax Vineyard, is an exciting white blend in which Grahm tips his beret to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Roussanne and Grenache Blanc mix it up with gorgeous expressions of fruit, minerals and acidity.  Bonny Doon‘s 2011 Vin Gris de Cigare rosé shows light cherry and strawberry flavors and aromas in a nice, dry framework.

Winemaker’s daughter Maggie Tillman poured the fruit of her father’s labor.  Bob Tillman is the grower and winemaker for the Paso Robles family outfit of Alta Colina.  Big, attention-getting wines are the rule here, like their 2010 Estate Marsanne.  It spends 18 months in oak and is not a bit shy about it.  This one would be a great choice for the holidays, with its bounty of flavor.  Their refreshing 2011 Grenache Blanc is the first varietal release they’ve done with that grape.  Big bold reds - Grenache, Mourvedre, GSM - round out the menu.

Acquiesce Vineyards, near Lodi, brought some of the more beautiful bottlings I found at the event.  Their wines are packaged in imported French bottles.  Owner and winemaker Susan Tipton says Acquiesce is Lodi’s only all-white wine winery.  There are some interesting facets to their wines.  The herbaceousness and salinity of the Grenache Blanc, the nuttiness of the Roussanne and the memory of snap peas in the Belle Blanc blend of those two grapes are delightful.  The rosé is made from Grenache, and produced like a white wine, not from a juice bleed-off.

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has a rosé that was a big hit on this warm afternoon.  Their 2011 Stepping Stone Corallina comes from their millennially-priced line. Green elements indicate the whole cluster press that was used and this pinkie is also not of the saignée method.  In fact the fruit comes from their dedicated Syrah vineyard intended only for use in the rosé

Ridge Vineyards has been doing great things with grapes since before Apple put the “i” in Cupertino.  They are probably best known for their extensive line of Zinfandels, but for this show they stayed true to the Rhone varieties.  Tart Carignan, brooding Petite Sirah and spicy Syrah all bear the mark of Rhone specialist John Olney, who took charge of the Lytton Springs winery in 1999.

Rhone specialists Curtis Winery of Santa Barbara County brought cool-climate Syrah and Grenache which display a tartness I like a lot. Their Heritage Blanc, a 60/40 mix of Viognier and Roussanne, has a lovely floral aspect and a nice acidity.

Every winery seemed to have a great, floral, aromatic Viognier on hand.  Clayhouse Wines, Adelaida Cellars and Ecluse Wines - all of Paso Robles - are standouts.  Ecluse does theirs in ⅓ steel, ⅔ oak for a full and creamy treat.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011


The Rhone Rangers

The posse of Rhone Rangers rode into Santa Monica, California on August 7.  They were on a mission.  With the 22 grape varieties of the Rhone Valley holstered and ready for action, the participating wineries poured and poured.  They poured Syrah, Viognier and Grenache.  They poured Carignane, Cinsault and - when we thought we’d had it all - they poured Mourvèdre.

The Rhone Rangers came to win converts, but from what I heard they were preaching to the choir.  Pier 59 Studios West was packed with Rhone-o-philes who reveled in the grapes of their favorite valley.  The crowds didn’t seem as heavy as they were at last year’s event, but enough of the faithful were lined up for entry during the VIP/trade/media portion that a line formed outside.

I used a bit of technology that was new to me, the iPhone app from Second Glass.  The Rhone Rangers event was available from a handful of events in the app, and the wineries attending were loaded within the app, along with the wines they were pouring.  It was easy to make notes on each wine using this app, but a few changes and additions would make it just about perfect.

The app requires the user to rate the wine before the "notes" tab can be opened.  I like to make notes before deciding on what rating to give a wine.  If notes could be made before assessing a rating, it would make more sense and speed the process at the tasting table.  I felt a little uncomfortable taking the extra time required.

Some wineries poured wines which were not on the list, which required me to leave the app and go to a separate note-taking app. The ability to add wines which are not on the list would be a great feature.

Also, a picture-taking feature within the app would further streamline things for those who like a photo or two of the goings-on.

The app allowed me to rate the wines as "two thumbs up," "one thumb up" and "meh."  These are the wines to which I gave a "two thumbs up" rating:

Anglim Winery Cameo White Rhone Blend 2008 - Viognier from Bien Nacido Vineyard is quite lean.  Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are from Paso Robles.

Bonny Doon Vineyards Clos de Gilroy 2010 - Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah form a tart bond of raspberry and cherry.

Calcareous Vineyard Viognier 2009 - Big fruit, lots of minerals and a great acidity.

Caliza Winery Syrah 2008 - Spicy red fruit.  Great acid and huge tannins.

Calcareous Tres Violet 2007 - Beautiful raspberry tartness.

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Red 2008 - Rhone grapes meet Lagrein from French Camp Vineyard.  Great acidity and tannins.  Seems to have an Italian feel despite being a primarily Rhone blend.

Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Syrah 2009 - Fabulous acid, with a huge nose and palate.

Curtis Mourvedre 2007 - Very dark nose and palate.  Earthy, chalky, big red fruit from Vogelzang Vineyard.  20% Syrah.

Edward Sellars Vineyards and Winery Mourvèdre 2008 - Huge earthiness, dark fruit and formidable tannins.  Steak mandatory.

Epiphany Cellars Grenache Blanc 2009 - Wonderful minerals and a bracing acidity.

Fess Parker Winery Viognier 2009 - Fruity and floral with a spicy edge.

Fess Parker Winery Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah 2007 - Gigantic nose foreshadows a very dark palate.  Eucalyptus note and a spicy element.

Frick Winery
 C² - North Coast Carignane and Cinsault, tart and delightful.

Frick Winery C³ - Add Counoise to C².  A bit more tannic, just as delightful.

Halter Ranch Vineyard Rosé 2010 - Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre make an earthy nose leading to fresh berry flavors.  Delightfully dry.

Halter Ranch Vineyard Côtes de Paso Red Blend 2010 - Savory notes highlight this Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault blend.

Michael-David Winery 6th Sense Syrah 2009 - Great acidity with spices, coffee, and chocolate flavors.

Michael-David Winery Earthquake Syrah 2006 - Great fruit, acid, with a cocoa edge.

Michael-David Winery Earthquake Petite Sirah 2009 - Chalky feel with chocolate and Christmas spice.  American oak.

I was told Lodi produces more wine than Napa and Sonoma combined. Did not know that.

Niner Wine Estates Syrah Bootjack Ranch 2007 - Smooth, yet the tannins are firm.  Dusty fruit.

Niner Wine Estates Grenache Blanc 2010 - First Heart Hill Vineyard vintage.  Fruitier than Grenache Blanc usually is.  From the cool side of Heart Hill.  Great acid.

Ortman Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2007. Only 4 barrels produced. Dark and deep on the nose and palate. Cassis, raspberry, touch of mint. Big tannins, long finish.

Ortman Grenache Rosé 2010 - Just bottled. Dry, laced with watermelon and red berries.

Tercero Grenache Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard 2010 - Acisity is right on.

Tercero Mourvèdre Camp 4 Vineyard 2008 - Dark and vibrant red fruit with earth piled on.

Tercero Cuvée Christie Red Blend 2008 - Very smooth, strawberry and cherry.

Tercero Cuvée Loco Red Blend 2008 - Larry Shaffer’s kids named this Larner Vineyard product, which is crazy with the dark earthiness.

Tercero's Larry Schaffer told me he is opening a tasting room in Los Olivos, right across from Stolpman.  It shares a walll with the Dragontette room.

Treana Winery Troublemaker Red Blend NV - Great dark nose, excellent acidity.

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.