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Rhone Rangers 2014

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

4

West Coast Grenache Noir

This recent weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted their Spring event featuring the largest U.S. Rhone-focused tasting in the country, the induction of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas into their Hall of Fame, and two educational seminars. The second seminar focused in specifically on West Coast North American iterations of Grenache Noir, looking at the work of eight winemakers from distinctive regions, and moderated by Luke Sykora of Wine and Spirits Magazine.

Grenache Noir Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

In selecting Grenache as a focal point, the seminar turned its attention to characteristics of the world’s most planted Rhone variety. Depending on site and winemaking style, the grape offers a medium bodied wine ranging from bright red juiciness with supple tannin to more weighted fleshiness and darker red-to-purple flavors.

Though the variety is prone to dropping acid, it can offer a wash of flavor with lots of juicy flow when picked before acids drop. The tannin of the variety too tends towards the lighter side, analogous to Pinot Noir in tannin presence. Many winemakers take advantage of the characteristic to offer more delicate expression, but in good Southern Rhone tradition blending with even a touch of other varieties such as Syrah can increase the heft of the final wine.

In selecting the wines for the panel, the Rhone Rangers Educational Committee chose to pick wines from distinctive regions. Though Grenache proves to be the world’s most planted Rhone variety, its development in California and Oregon vinification is still in its earlier stages. As a result, a number of the wines shown represented the first vintage of working with the grape, even from experienced winemakers.

Bob Lindquist of Qupé opened the panel expressing his affection for the variety. He brings a wealth of experience with Rhone grapes from Santa Barbara County to the table. As example, because Grenache varieties are prone to oxidation their aging before bottling needs to be carefully considered. However, as Lindquist discussed, Grenache does better texturally with some slow oxygen exposure. With that in mind, it is rare to see Grenache aged in Stainless. Most winemakers choose oak, though some are also starting to use concrete, to allow for slow air exchange.

The delicacy of Grenache favors neutral oak. However, making the point about the importance of site, Chris Cameron of Broken Earth on the Eastside of Paso Robles explained that, with the warmer temperatures of their region, small portions of new oak help showcase more flavor complexity in the wine.

The Rhone Rangers Grenache Panel Wines

The panel showcased well-made examples of Grenache from a range of growing conditions. Half of the wines presented as still quite tight in their presentation currently due to age, thus wanting more time in bottle or more air before drinking. Following are notes for each of the wines.

Quady North, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2012 Grenache “Bomba”presented by Herb Quady (95% Grenache 5% Syrah)

From Southern Oregon, the Quady North Bomba offers a rocky rusticity with lots of palate tension moving through a long juicy finish. The wine is quite young right now wanting more time in bottle to open but showing structure that speaks well for its future expression. The aromatics give dark cherry musk moving into a brighter palate with the full range of cherry elements–red cherry, cherry blossom musk, branch and leaf oil–all accented by hints of pink grapefruit oil. The palate is tight right now but carries a pleasing tension, and good juicy length.

Mounts Family Winery, Healdsburg, CA, 2011 Grenache Estate
presented by David Mounts

Using fruit from Dry Creek Valley, the Mounts Estate steps out of the glass with a mixed red fruit carbonic lift moving into a darker fruit palate. The wine is still tight on the palate wanting more time in bottle. It moves from smashed red cherry and raspberry blossom into floral musk accents on a line of cracked pepper and a perfumed, lightly drying finish. The nose right now is rather singular and lightly cloying, but there is a nice textural element to the moderate tannin and good tension through the palate.

Campovida, Hopland, CA, 2012 Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyards
presented by Sebastian Donoso

Their first vintage working with Grenache from Mendocino, the Campovida Dark Horse Vineyard brings an integrated fruit-earth-floral aromatic forward into the palate. The wine offers both red cherry and blossom, with floral powder notes showing through a savory cracked pepper mid-palate and accents of pink grapefruit zest. The wine is still tightly focused in its presentation but gives a nice juiciness to tannin balance and good length.

Miner Family Wines, 2012 Grenache, Hudson Vineyards
presented by Maura Christoffers

The Miner Family showed their Grenache sourced from Hudson Vineyard in the cooler Napa region of Carneros, the first crop yield year for the fruit. The wine gives soft red cherry with wild pink rose through a spiced and mint lift aromatic carrying forward on the palate with a light cherry powder mid-palate and clay finish. The wine offers an easy acid-tannin balance, and long finish.

Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play, CA, 2010 Grenache, Sharon’s Vineyard
presented by Greg Baiocchi

With fruit from a small, high elevation planting in El Dorado county region of the Sierra Foothills, the Baiocchi Sharon’s Vineyard gives the nervy tension characteristic of granite slopes. The aromatics here offer feminine perfumed lift with accents of green chili. The palate offers a smooth powdered cherry blossom and cracked pepper mid-palate with powerful flavor, strong structural tension, and a round floral finish. There is a ton of presence to this wine, with textural tannin and plenty of juiciness to keep it moving through a long finish.

* McCay Cellars, Lodi, CA, 2011 Grenache
presented by Michael McCay

My favorite of the wines on the panel, the McCay Grenache offers a sense of completeness that makes it ready to drink now with a distinctiveness that stands out within a line-up of Grenache. Showing alpine strawberry and wild cherry throughout, on the palate the wine gives the suave tannin of a sandier site with nice juiciness. There is a beautiful flavor-to-feel balance, and nice palate contact-to-movement dance, that both carry through with lots of delicate (without being weak) prettiness.

* Qupe, Los Olivos, CA, 2011 Grenache, Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard
presented by Bob Lindquist

Growing their fruit in Edna Valley, Qupé‘s Sawyer-Linquist Vineyard offers nice complexity with ease and a great focus on grounded juiciness. This is a nicely made wine giving lifted perfume of red cherry tree, touches of strawberry, and menthol accents carrying forward into a light pleasing palate with ruby grapefruit peel and integrated fruit spice through a long juicy palate. This wine is full of mouthwatering flavor.

Broken Earth, Paso Robles, CA, 2012 Grenache Estate
presented by Chris Cameron

From the warmer side of Paso Robles, the Broken Earth Estate carries the most overt accessibility with a spiced finish of the wines on the panel. This Grenache focuses in on the pinker side of red fruit aroma and flavor carrying red berry candy powder elements through the mid-palate and accents of ginger powder with light clove touched by black pepper through the finish, all on a body of melting tannin and juicy length. I have to admit that this wine is not my style as its focus stays more on sweet (not sugary) pink-red fruit flavor but it is a well done example of its type.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers, and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com