Published on April 12th, 2011 | by Greg0
Rhone Rangers: Wines Of A Different Sort
Wine is a funny thing. The more you learn, the more you realize just how much you don’t know. Take grapes, for instance- you probably know syrah is shiraz, that pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same, and you may have guessed that pinot noir and pinot gris are thought to be mutant clones. But, unless you’re an oenophile, you might not have heard of the major grapes that make up the style of wine we’re focused on today. Syrah will come up, and Grenache is perhaps the most well-known, followed by Viognier. But there are several others- Mourvedre, Carignane, Cinsaut, Counoise- that form the 22 basic varietals behind the Rhone region and were brought together for the recent Rhone Rangers San Francisco Grand Tasting.
Held last month at Fort Mason, there were over 500 wines from more than 100 producers on hand. We merrily drank our way through them, learning as we sipped. And though we had toured Napa and Sonoma many times and even attended several major tastings, most of the wineries were new to us. The names flew at us- Arrowood, Travieso, Kukkula, Hagafen, Wrath- and with them came interesting stories and some unusual wines. Stage Left Cellars, for instance, is based in Oakland! And we learned the Chateau Ste Michelle, makers of well-regarded Rieslings and other whites, also offer a wide array of Rhone grapes. Three Coins has an interesting origin behind the name. And we found out that Korbel, the major champagne brand, also offers brandy. Also, wine was not the only beverage at the event- Weaver’s Coffee sent us home with a bag of their beans, which we loved- they offer an array of blends and single origin coffees, roasted in our former home of San Rafael.
The stories and java didn’t distract us from focusing on the rich red wines though. We skipped the dessert wines almost completely this time, the better to appreciate the fairly layered and dark Rhone varietals. The only dessert we should mention is one we had tried before- the Cline Dessert Wine, a Late Harvest Mourvedre that was raisiny and chocolatey and more than a little like a Port.
A couple of Petite Syrahs caught our attention. The 07 Gustafson from Dry Creek offered an extremely full list of adjectives- berry, sharp, just a bit of tang. It wasn’t our favorite, but was a nice exemplar of the varietal. The Clavo Cellars 08 vintage (Dreamer) was even more solid, perfect touches of leather and a tad smoky, and a great value at $32. And with a bit more zip, but a bit less depth, was the easily drinkable blend from Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg- the Big River Ranch. The Bete Noire (70% Syrah) took our hearts as perhaps our favorite wine of the day though- we weren’t familiar with Villa Creek in Paso Robles before, but we’re watching them carefully now.
Grenache isn’t usually our cup of vino, but the 2006 Anglim from Paso Robles got two thumbs up from us. A $24 pricetag doesn’t hurt either. Despite the name, a Grenache-Mourvedre blend stuck with us throughout the day as standing above the crowd enough that we went back to try it again as it was one of the earlier tastings. Only 200 cases were produced of the 2007 Mister Moreved from Core, and it’s $45 a bottle- but we definitely aim to get a few for our cellar. Frick Winery offered some of the only wines that were 100% Carignane, Cinsaut, Counoise, and also blends of C2 and C3 that we really liked. On their own, the grapes can feel a little flat or unbalanced, which is why they are so often blended. But it’s great to be able to identify the different notes and types, which is only really possible if you can try them individually. Derby also offered an 07 100% Counoise that was the most drinkable and enjoyable of the single-varietal wines- unique and earthy and fairly rare with only 50 cases in total.