Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Riding with the Rhone Rangers

I'm back from the LA Rhone Rangers tasting, an annual event held to celebrate US plantings of Rhone varietals and to promote the knowledge of these grapes among US consumers.

I tasted a lot of wine, nearly all of it very, very good. There were 40 producers at the event, which made it possible to really talk to the producers and learn about the wines. I was able to meet up with Four Vines and taste 2005s that were just put in the bottle, and taste some wine from Bonny Doon that didn't even have labels on it yet!

Here are a few general observations:

1. Paso Robles. If you don't know this appellation, and aren't yet seeking out wine from this area, do so ASAP. Tablas Creek, Anglim, Four Vines--they're all there, along with lots of other great wineries. And, they're producing simply superb, well-priced, high quality wines. I don't know what's going on over there, but whatever it is I heartily approve.

2. Sustainable, Organic, Biodynamic. I heard these words all over, from Zaca Mesa to Bonterra, to Bonny Doon. And if the wines I tasted are any indication of what can be produced from fruit that's not subjected to lots of chemicals, all I can say is bottoms up!

3. Rhone Grapes: Not Just for Blends. With the exception of syrah, most of us think of Rhone varietals in percentage terms--how much of X is in my favorite blend? But there are some stunning single-varietal bottlings out there, and I tasted some particularly good grenache, mourvedre, and roussanne. After having a thing for syrah for years, I am developing serious crushes on both mourvedre and grenache now!

4. The Three CCCs: Counoise, Cinsault, and Carignane. Expect to see more of them in stores near you. I'm still coming to terms with counoise, but all three grapes seem to add depth and structure (one maker described it as "backbone") to red blends.

5. Viva la Rose!: Rose is on everyone's minds these days--Catavino's, the Wine Spectator, the Rhone Rangers. Forget what you think you know about US roses and start tasting some of the great dry roses being produced from carignane, mourvedre, and grenache. And buy your bottles now, because after the May 31 Wine Spectator comes out, there won't be a bottle left on the shelf anywhere in the continental US.

I'll have some detailed notes up soon, and there are some Rhone Ranger profiles to look forward to in upcoming weeks. Until then, see if you can find a retail store that stocks a good selection of Rhone Ranger wines. They're perfect for summer sipping and bbqs, and they go well with food.


Orion Slayer said...

I received an email today announcing the 25th Annual Paso Robles Wine Festival scheduled for Saturday, May 19, 2007.

I wish I could go (I work on Saturdays) but for more information their website is www.pasowine.com

I have a bottle of Four Vines' Old Vine Cuvee that I have been waiting to try. I'll give you my tasting notes after I try it.

Dr. Debs said...

Orionslayer, thanks for the heads-up. Not sure I can make it, either, but it might be worth the four hour drive to taste these great wines. And I look forward to your review of the Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee. I have two bottle stashed in the closet ready for bbqs this summer.

Ken and Theresa Hoggins said...

Hi Dr.

I have reviewed many of the new wines from Paso. There were so many very good one's that I am behind in my postings. You and your readers should seek them out. Cheers! Ken

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome back, Ken. I agree, so many good wines. Something wonderful is happening in Paso Robles, and what I love is that there are so many wine styles and varietals being used by the vintners. I said at dinner I couldn't honestly remember drinking a bad Paso Robles wine--ever. Can you say that about any other region?

Nate said...

Argh - I am so jealous you got to attend a Rhone Rangers wine tasting! I recently moved from Ventura, and would visit Santa Ynez / Santa Maria / Paso all the time, totally falling in love with their Rhone-style blends. MMMmmmm... Beckman, Zaca Mesa, Qupe, Stolpman, Tablas Creek, Eberle, Cass, and most especially Rideau... yum!

I'd love to hear more about the organic / biodynamic / etc trend - sustainable viticulture and winemaking is a major interest of mine, so I hope you elaborate in future posts!

Dr. Debs said...

Nate: ouch. You'll have to do a DC Rhone Rangers tasting for your friends. And will do about the org/sus/biodynamic trend. The wines truly are memorable.

Anonymous said...

Hi Deb,

Thanks for coming by the tasting, as well as for taking some time to chat at the Tablas Creek table. The Rhone Rangers really is a fun group, and I'm convinced that the wines do provide some of the best values in California!

The Los Angeles tasting was our first in 5 years, and we'll be making it an annual one. Next year, we'll be looking to add a portion open to consumers, as well as one reserved for the trade.

Finally, one plug: anyone who is interested in Rhone varietals should look up the Hospice du Rhone, happening in Paso Robles next weekend. They get great producers from all around the world, and put on an event that is high-caliber, educational, and focused, but relaxed and fun at the same time.

If the Friday-Saturday event seems too daunting (and tickets are scarce) people can come out to Tablas Creek on Sunday May 6th for a Rhone wine seminar featuring the Far Out Wineries. More information is at www.faroutwineries.com.


Dr. Debs said...

Jason, thanks for stopping by. That's great news for LA consumers, who will luck out with this public tasting. Thanks, too, for the heads up on the events this weekend. I'm in rainy NY so some time in sunny Paso Robles sounds wonderful--hopefully some readers will be able to attend.