Monday, April 2, 2012

My Rhone Rangers SF Experience

Last week I was able to experience my first, and hopefully not my last Rhone Rangers tasting event. I was originally set to just cover the Grand Tasting on Sunday but after hosting a ticket contest for the event, I was awarded a ticket to the “Rare Wines, Come Taste the Unusual” seminar on Saturday. One of the things I love about Rhone wines is their uniqueness and the fun winemakers are having with them right now, so being able to taste rare wines was a real treat.

The seminar featured six different wines and the panel, moderated by Jon Bonne’, was comprised of the winemakers. 

I had never experienced a Picpoul Blanc before so was really excited to start off the day with this wine. And to be from Tablas Creek just seemed right. I noticed a bright aroma of pineapple and other citrus notes on the nose. Those flavors were consistent when I tasted the wine. It had a very pleasant acidity and finished with some lemon citrus.

William Allen - Two Shepherds
Two Shepherds is the new label from fellow wine blogger William Allen. I have had this wine before but was no less excited to taste it again. I love 100% Grenache Blanc and William knows how to let the grape to shine. I love the citrus notes in this wine but knowing William and his love for wine makes this even better. I know the passion and work he puts in to create his wine and I believe that is wine should be about. I am clearly not the only one who loves Two Shepherds because they had a crowd at their table the entire time during the Grand Tasting. I spoke with many event-goers who put this wine as one of their favorites of the day.


To be honest, I had never heard of Mondeuse Noire before this event. Turns out, it isn’t technically a Rhone varietal but is described as a close relative of Syrah. I found it to have a bit more body than a Syrah but similar in the notes of pepper. 

After staying with my in-laws just south of San Francisco that night, I returned on Sunday to enjoy the Grand Tasting. It was similar in format to other events at Fort Mason with tables lined side by side, this time organized alphabetically. With over 100 wineries and 500 wines being poured, I knew I needed some sort of a plan, and recommend you go in with one as well. Some writers stuck to a specific varietal, while I chose to focus on regions that are less accessible to me here in Sonoma. Of the wineries I visited, here are a few of my notable notables:

Based in Los Olivos, CA I spent quite a bit of time talking with winemaker Larry Schaffer. He chose to focus on Rhones because they are “underdog grapes” and Larry has always rooted for the underdog. I really enjoyed his 2010 Viognier because it seemed much more approachable than some other Viogniers I have tasted. It maintained the expected floral aromas and fruit on the palate, but the acidity balanced it out, making it very food friendly.

Located in Placerville,  I tasted the Counoise from Holly’s Hill at the Saturday seminar. I have come to enjoy Counoise as a single varietal wine and Holly’s Hill was exceptional. I detected a nose of dark cherry with bright flavors of cranberry and a hint of spice. I hope that Counoise continues to be recognized as more than a blending grape because I find it to be a wine that could have some wide appeal if given the chance.

Based in Paso Robles, Jada was pouring three wines at the tasting. I only tasted the reds because the “XCV” white blend wasn’t chilled enough. While both were great, I was partial to the 2009 Hell’s Kitchen red blend. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Tannat, it was a full-bodied red wine with lots of red fruit and some slight hints of coffee. The Tannat added the tannins to the wine while still allowing the fruit of the GSM blend to be the star.

Okay, I must confess I am familiar with Greg Baiocchi and his wines after meeting him at Grenache Day last year, but I still needed to stop by and say hello. He was pouring his two Grenache/Syrah blends and a rose. Entre Nous is 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah and Sprezzatura is just the opposite. They are both higher in alcohol at mid 16% abv but one of the things I love about these wines is that you would never guess that when you taste them. Wines that high in abv often taste like nothing but alcohol but Greg still manages to get the fruit to stand up and be noticed. If you see Baiocchi at an event, be sure to stop by.

So I guess that is it. Rhone Rangers put on a fantastic event and it truly was a “celebration of American Rhones.” The event was well organized and with so many wineries it was easy to find places I knew I loved and then also find new places to experience. I am already putting together a summer trip down to Paso Robles to continue exploring this region that is known so well for their American Rhones. 

If you haven’t tried some of the more rare Rhone wines like Rousanne, Marsanne, Carignane, Counoise, I urge you to give them a chance. As I believe David Gates of Ridge Vineyards said during the Rare Rhone tasting, “there is nothing wrong with the other wines like Cabernet and Merlot, but there is so much more.” So go ahead and get your Rhone on!




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