Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Training for Hospice du Rhone

Next weekend I'm off to the 17th annual Hospice du Rhône tasting, an event held in Paso Robles to celebrate Rhône varieties and the winemakers who use them to create world-class wines. I am something of a Syrah maniac (a tendency I try to keep under control here on the blog) and love Viognier, too, so I'm really looking forward to tasting and learning about these wines.

To get in training for the event, I participated in the Hospice du RhôneTwitter Taste Live last Friday. (I can't seem to locate any feed of the tasting notes, but you can read east coast co-host 1 Wine Dude's report here.) From Europe through several time zones to the west coast, this provided an opportunity to taste a number of wines that were made with Rhône varieties from all over the world. I focused on wines from Australia and the US, and made a particular effort to get a sense of the differences between the wines made in US regions.

Here are my favorites from the tasting, and some initial observations.

Rhône Reds Can Be Larger Than Life. We tasted some big reds. The one I liked best was the 2005 Kinton Syrah from Santa Barbara County. With a whopping 15% alc/vol, I thought it was still a balanced wine with aromas of pepper, plum, cherry, and roasted herb. It tasted of plums, roasted coffee, and mint, with some spice cabinet flavors in the aftertaste. This was a lot of wine, but if you are looking for a big red, look no further. (available for $15-$23; good QPR)

I Love Mourvedre--Young or Old. I sampled two Mourvedres, one young and one from the 2003 vintage. I loved them both. The youngster--the 2006 Tablas Creek Mourvedre from Paso Robles--was a delicious wine with meaty and spicy aromas and flavors full of lashings of plum and a nifty espresso aftertaste. This wine is delicious now--but I wonder what it will be in another six years. My experience with the 2003 Cline Cellars Mourvedre Ancient Vines from Contra Costa County makes me think it will be even more spectacular. I purchased this wine three years ago in and when I popped the cork I was greeted by delicious aromas of spice, earth, cherries, and plums. There was terrific spiciness in the flavors, with a backdrop of plums, black cherries, and chocolate. (find the Tablas Creek Mourvedre for around $35, very good QPR; find more recent vintages of the Cline Mourvedre for $13-$22, excellent QPR)

Don't Forget to Look North for Rhône Varieties: Two of my favorite wines Friday night came from regions I don't normally associate with Rhône varieties: northern California's Sonoma Valley and Washington State. The 2007 Anaba Coriol White from the Sonoma Valley was one of the most exciting white wines I've had this year. Made from a blend of 69% Viognier, 15 % Roussanne, 10% Marsanne, and 6% Grenache Blanc, this extraordinary blend had aromas of sea salt and fennel pollen that reminded me of a stretch of Coastal 1 I know very well, where the sea is on one side and wild fennel grows on the other. There were flavors of apples, honey, melon, and spice. I'd highly recommend this wine. So, too, would I highly recommend the 2007 Substance Counoise from Washington State's Walla Walla Valley. This wine had oodles of character, with aromas of rose petals, roasted herbs, and earth. The flavors were a mouth-watering blend of cherry, leather, grilled meat, and pepper with a spicy aftertaste. (the Anaba Coriol White is available for $32 from the winery, excellent QPR; the Substance Counoise is available for $18 from the winery, excellent QPR)

I'll have a lot more to say about the Rhône in a little over week, so stay tuned.

Full Disclosure: I received the Anaba and Substance wines as samples.

1 comment:

1WineDude said...

Looking forward to your report on the happenings at HdR!

Interesting comments about Mourvedre - it's always been a hit-or-miss variety for me.