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California Rhônes: Thoughts on 2012 Rhône Rangers Tasting

2012 April 3

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

The annual San Francisco Rhône Rangers grand tasting, which was held March 25, got me reflecting on the state of Rhône varieties in California. I’ve been to this and other Rhône-themed tastings for many years, and there are clear trends in what Rhône grapes do well here, and which have, to date, produced less impressive results.

The Rhône is one of the great wine regions of France, and of the world. Based on centuries of experience with grape growing and working with specific sites, a major division has developed there between grapes grown in the hilly, more rain-soaked north versus the warmer south.

In the Northern Rhône, the sole red grape is Syrah, which is sometimes blended with a small amount of the white grape, Viognier. The white grapes are floral Viognier, and the oily textured, often very ageworthy Marsanne and Roussanne (the latter two typically blended).

In the Southern Rhône, the dominant appellation is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France’s first official AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée). There a multitude of grapes are permitted, but the primary red grape is Grenache, which came originally from Spain. Syrah is a fast-rising second, due to heavy plantings of this grape in recent years. Smoky, earthy Mourvèdre, also originally from Spain, is the third most important red grape.

DSCN4739
vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Few wines from the Southern Rhône are made from a single variety. Most are a blend of red grapes, sometimes with white grapes added to the mix. The dominant blend in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding appellations, like Côtes du Rhône, Vacqueyras and Gigondas, is Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This blend is often referred to in the southern Rhône and elsewhere as GSM. There are also several blending grapes grown in small quantities, like Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir.

Ninety percent of the wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape is red, but there are some delicious whites too, from that and other Southern Rhône appellations. The main white grapes are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne and Marsanne, with small amounts of other blending grapes, like Bourboulenc and Picpoul.

Here in California, a few pioneers—like John Alban, Randall Graham of Bonny Doon, Josh Jensen of Calera, and Napa’s Joseph Phelps –started planting Rhône varieties in the late 1980s. (Modern Syrah plantings go back to the 1970s, but didn’t really take off here until the mid-1990s.)

Rhône Ranger pioneer Randall Graham

Rhône Ranger pioneer Randall Graham

Their wines gave a much needed shot of diversity to the California wine scene, which until then had been all about Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel. These pioneers helped start California’s Rhône Rangers movement, which produced last month’s weekend event.

So which of these Rhône grapes, or blends, do well in California?

The biggest Rhône grape success story in California in terms of quality of offerings and relative value is Syrah. I’ve written previously here about the different styles of Syrah. California produces a lot of great Syrah, including cooler climate Syrahs that have savory and peppery characteristics reminiscent of Northern Rhône Syrah.

California also excels with Viognier, the white grape that produces the very expensive, floral and peach flavored wines of Northern Rhône’s tiny Condrieu appellation. Our versions typically lack the minerally qualities of great Condrieu, but the best producers are capturing Viognier’s peach and floral flavors, with good underlying acidity.

California is also starting to do well with Rhône-grape Rosés, typically based on Grenache and/or Mourvèdre. I tasted several dry Rosés at this year’s Rhône Rangers event that were reminiscent of French Rosés from Provence and Bandol—world benchmarks for great Rosé.

California is also having some success with white and red blends. I wouldn’t say I’ve been very excited by any California GSM blends, but blends of Syrah and Mourvèdre, and or Syrah and Petite Sirah with other grapes, including non-Rhône grapes like Zinfandel, are often successful.

Where California does less well is with single variety offerings of grapes that are typically only used as blending grapes in the Rhône—grapes like Grenache Blanc, Cinsault and Counoise. California has a long tradition of focusing more on varietal wines than blends, but some of these grapes just do not work well in single varietal versions. They need blending partners to help provide some of the characteristics to the wine that an individual grape like Cinsault, for example, low in both tannin and acidity, lacks.

A particular variety that continually disappoints me when I taste California versions is Grenache. This grape is grown widely around the world, but is sharply down in acreage over the last two decades from its height as the world’s second most widely planted grape. I think that’s due in part to the fact that it rarely makes very distinguished or complex wines.

The grape reaches its true apogee in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where old vine vineyards, on rocky soils, produce profound wines with a rich cherry core, minerality, and complex additional flavors, like anise and lavender. Here in California, on the other hand, most Grenaches are fairly insipid red wines with berry and cherry flavors, but little real character.

I previously listed here some of California’s best Syrah producers. The best Viogniers I’ve had to date have come from Alban, Calera, Cold Heaven, Jemrose and Nicholson.

I tasted 151 wines from over 40 producers at the March 25 Rhone Rangers event (out of a total of over 110 wineries). I focused on new producers and producers I hadn’t tasted for awhile, so had to pass on some old favorites like Core, Lagier Meredith, Ridge and Tablas Creek.

The producers responsible for one or more wines that I rated 92 points or higher were Big Basin, Donelan (formerly Pax), Jemrose, L’Aventure, Qualia/Pavo, Quivira, Qupé/No Limit, Sanglier, Skinner, Stopman and Two Shepherds. The three new finds for me that I was most excited about were Sanglier, Skinner and Two Shepherds. For more information on these producers, see below.

There were several very good rosés at the tasting, including:
2011 Quivira Rosé – 91+ points
2011 Verdad Grenache Rosé Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – 91 points
2011 Sanglier Cellars Rosé du Tusque – 91+ points
2011 Unti Rosé – 91 points

The best Viogniers of the tasting, wines that I rated 91 points or higher, were:
2010 Anglim Viognier Bien Nacido – 91+ points
2010 Campovida Viognier – 91 points
2010 Chateau Ste. Michelle Viognier – 91 points
2009 Jemrose Viognier Egret Pond – 91 points
2010 Pomar Juction Viognier 91+ points
2010 Two Shepherds Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard – 91+ points

The best white blends were:
2008 Anglim Cameo (white blend) – 91 points
2009 Edward Sellers Le Passage (white blend) – 91 points
2010 Sheldon Vinolocity (white blend) – 91 points
2011 Unti Cuvée Blanc – 91+ points

The very best wines that I tasted, all red, and rated 92 points or higher were:
Syrahs
2008 Big Basin Syrah Rattlesnake Rock – 92 points
2008 Big Basin Syrah Coastview Vineyard – 93 points
2005 Big Basin Syrah Rattlesnake Rock – 92 points
2009 Donelan Syrah Cuvée Christine – 92+ points
2009 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill – 93 points
2008 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill – 92+ points
2009 Pavo Syrah – 92+ points
2009 Quivira Petite Sirah Wine Creek Ranch – 92 points
2009 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido – 92 points
2009 Qupé Syrah Sawyer Lindquist – 93 points
2009 Qupé Syrah Sonnie’s Sawyer Lindquist – 93+ points
2008 No Limit Wines Syrah The Nuts Sawyer Lindquist – 93 points
2009 Sanglier Syrah Kemp Vineyards – 92+ points
2008 Skinner Syrah – 92 points
2010 Unti Syrah Benchland – 92 points

Other Reds and Red Blends:
2009 Big Basin Homestead – 92 points
2008 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem – 93 points
2009 L’Aventure Côte-à-Côte – 92 points
2009 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée – 93 points
2009 Sanglier Rouge du Tusque – 92+ points
2010 Skinner Mourvedre – 92 points
2009 Stolpman Angeli – 92+ points
2010 Two Shepherds Syrah/Mourvedre – 92 points
2010 Unti Grenache – 92+ points

A final note about the event: One major issue I have with the Rhône Rangers producers is their inclusion of Petite Sirah in this tasting, even though the grape is not grown in the Rhône, and even under the name Durif, is hardly to be found anywhere in France. Petite Sirah, a distinctly Californian grape phenomenon, already has its own association of producers–P.S. I Love You–and its own annual event–Dark & Delicious–which I’ve reported on here. So why tack it on to a “Rhône Wine” event when it’s not a Rhone grape? Simply because one of its parents, Syrah, is a Rhone grape? I don’t get it.

For more details about particular producers and my complete tasting notes, see below.

Adelaida

  • 2010 Adelaida Version White – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; poached pear nose; ripe, baked pear palate; medium finish (63% Roussanne, 37% Grenache Blanc) (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Adelaida Viognier Glenrose Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; light pepper, gardenia nose; light pepper, gardenia palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Adelaida Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light medium red color; tart cherry, floral nose; tart cherry, floral palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Adelaida Version Red – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color; tart berry nose; tasty, tart berry, herbs palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Adelaida Syrah Anna’s Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque purple red violet color; baked plum, herbs nose; tart black fruit, herbs palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Adelaida Syrah Reserve Viking Estate Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque red violet color; reduction, tart ripe currant, tart black fruit nose; tart ripe currant, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)

AmByth Estate

  • 2010 AmByth Estate Priscus Mark’s Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; oxidized apple, honey nose; tart pear, honeyed, waxy palate; medium finish (57% Grenache Blanc, 20% Viognier, 14% Marsanne, 9% Roussanne) (89 pts.)
  • 2010 AmByth Estate Decorus – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light medium yellow color; poached pear, apple nose; oxidized apple, poached pear, light cinnamon palate; medium finish 87+ points (60% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, 18% Marsanne, 4% Grenache Blanc) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 AmByth Estate Adamo – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium cherry red color; ripe red berry, honey nose; ripe red berry, floral, honey palate; medium-plus finish (59% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah, 11% Counoise) (88 pts.)
  • 2009 AmByth Estate ReVera – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium cherry red color; tart red berry, tart cherry nose; tart red berry, tart cherry palate; medium finish (57% Mourvedre, 22% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 10% Counoise) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 AmByth Estate Maiestas – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark cherry red color; tart red berry, red currant nose; tart red berry, red currant, herbs palate; medium-plus finish (45% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 20% Counoise, 15% Grenache) (89 pts.)

Andrew Murray

Anglim

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting
Anglim was responsible for some of the better whites of the tasting, and a good rosé. The reds were less impressive.

  • 2010 Anglim Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Very light green-tinged yellow color; tart pear, floral nose; tasty, tart pear, floral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (very good Viognier) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Anglim Cameo – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light green-tinged yellow color; intense, poached pear nose; poached pear, honey, slightly herbal, beeswax palate; medium-plus finish (78% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc, 7% Roussanne) (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Anglim Rosé – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light medium orange pink color; tart red berry, currant nose; tart currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Anglim Syrah La Montanita Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
    Medium dark ruby color; maturing, smoky tart red berry nose; maturing, smoky, tart red berry, red currant palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Anglim Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light red color with pale meniscus; brett nose; brett, tart currant palate; medium finish (86 pts.)
  • 2008 Anglim Mourvedre Hastings Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light medium red color; tart currant nose; tart currant, tart red plum, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)

B Cellars

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2008 B Cellars Blend 25 – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby color; cedar, tart cassis nose; tasty, tight, tart cassis, cedar palate; medium-plus finish (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 B Cellars Syrah Caldwell’s Kreuzer Canyon – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Opaque ruby color; tart roasted plum, wild berry nose; tasty, baked plum, baked berry, baking spice palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Baiocchi

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2011 Baiocchi Rosé – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Fair Play
    Light medium pink color; nice, tart currant, red berry nose; tasty, tart currant, red berry palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (70% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Baiocchi Grenache Entre Nous – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Fair Play
    Medium cherry red color; herbal, tart red berry, pepper nose; tasty, ripe red berry, ripe currant palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Baiocchi Syrah Sprezzatura – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Fair Play
    Medium dark ruby color; tart berry, tart plum nose; tight, tart berry, tart plum, smoke palate; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Big Basin

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting
Big Basin was founded in 1988 in Santa Cruz Mountains next to Big Basin Redwoods State Park on a site that had originally planted to grapes in the early 1900s but that had been abandoned as a vineyard since 1965. Bradley Brown is the owner and winemaker. I’ve been very impressed by his Pinot Noirs, intensely flavored Syrahs and red blends over the years. The estate vineyards include Rattlesnake Rock (planted to Syrah) and Homestead (planted in 2007 to Grenache, Roussanne and Syrah). They also source from other vineyards, like Monterey County’s Coastview. With their estate vineyards, they keep the yields low and pick in blocks as the grapes from those blocks become fully ripe. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in small, open-top fermenters. The wine then goes into French oak for two to three years of aging. These are very reliable Syrahs, with the ’08 Coastview showing particularly well at the tasting.

  • 2008 Big Basin Vineyards Syrah Rattlesnake Rock – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark ruby color; roasted red berry, roasted plum nose; roasted red berry, roasted plum palate; medium-plus finish (27 mos. in barrel) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Big Basin Vineyards Syrah Coastview Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey County
    Slightly cloudy medium dark red violet color; tart berry, black fruit nose; tasty, spicy, tart plum, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish (27 mos. in barrel) (93 pts.)
  • 2009 Big Basin Vineyards Homestead – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark ruby color; nice floral, black raspberry, black fruit nose; tasty, black fruit, tart black cherry, tar palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (46% Grenache, 43% Syrah, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon) (92 pts.)
  • 2005 Big Basin Vineyards Syrah Rattlesnake Rock – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    From magnum – lightly cloudy medium dark ruby color; smoky, roasted meat, herbed sausage nose; smoky roasted meat, rosemary palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Campovida

  • 2010 Campovida Viognier Estate Grown – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Light yellow color; tart peach, floral nose; tart peach, floral, roses, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Talmage Marsanne Alder Springs Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Light yellow color; intriguing, herbal, baked lemon nose; tasty, tart baked lemon, leesy, nutty, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache Dark Horse Ranch – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Light red color with pale meniscus; floral, tart red berry nose; intense, floral, tart red berry palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (85 pts.)
  • 2006 Mendocino Farms Syrah Fairbairn Ranch – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Very dark red violet color; maturing, tart red berry, red currant nose; maturing, tart red berry, red currant palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)

Chateau Ste. Michelle

  • 2010 Chateau Ste. Michelle Viognier – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Light yellow color; floral, tart peach nose; tasty, tart peach, floral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (good value at $15) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Austral Limited Release – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope
    Dark ruby color; ripe berry, roses nose; ripe berry, carbonic maceration, ripe black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Boréal – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Opaque red violet color; roasted plum, tart black fruit nose; roasted plum, sweet smoke, spice palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Mourvedre – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart black fruit, tart currant nose; tight, tart currant, tart red berry, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah Ethos Reserve – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; nice roasted plum, roasted berry nose; roasted plum, roasted berry, baked berry palate; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Clavo Cellars

  • 2010 Clavo Cellars Amore Rose – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light pink color; tart cherry, hibiscus nose; unusual, tart red currant, rosehips palate; medium finish (86 pts.)
  • 2010 Clavo Cellars Grenache Blanc Oracle – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Lemon cream, apple nose; lemon cream, apple palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Clavo Cellars Viognier Apparition – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Very light yellow color; ripe apple, tart pear nose; tart pear, tart apple, light cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish (1/2 cement, 1/2 neutral puncheons) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Clavo Cellars Petite Sirah Dreamer – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Very dark red violet color; reticent, tart black fruit, fig nose; tart black fruit prune palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Clavo Cellars Syrah Reckless Moment – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red violet color; red berry, cinnamon nose; red berry, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)

Clayhouse

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2010 Clayhouse Vineyard Grenache Blanc Red Cedar Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, grapefruit nose; tasty, tart citrus, light grapefruit palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Clayhouse Vineyard Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark ruby color; tart plum, roasted red fruit nose; tart red plum, ripe currant palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Clayhouse Vineyard Petite Sirah Old Vines Red Cedar Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Very dark ruby color; reduction, tart black fruit nose; tight, tart black fruit, herbs palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (15 mos. in oak; 40 yr old vines) (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Clayhouse Vineyard Petite Sirah Estate Show Pony Red Cedar Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Very dark ruby color; intense, ripe plum, ripe currant, raisin nose; tasty, raisin, ripe black fruit, wild berry palate; medium-plus finish (20 mos. in oak; showed much better than at last month’s PS I Love You event) (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Clayhouse Vineyard Petite Sirah Late Harvest – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    From 375 ml – opaque red violet color; port, anise, berry nose; tasty, port-like, anise, ripe berry, pepper palate; long finish (showed much better, with less obvious oak, than the bottle I sampled at PS I Love You the previous month) (91 pts.)

Donelan

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting
Donelan was founded by owner Joe Donelan, and originally named Pax after its first winemaker, Pax Mahle, who parted ways with Donelan in 2008 and set up his Wind Gap label. The new name, Donelan, was adopted at the end of 2009. The current winemaker is Tyler Thomas, pictured above. The concentrated, very flavorful style Mahle originated has been continued by Thomas, using most of the same fruit sources they started with under Mahle. The Syrah Walker Vine Hill was particularly impressive.

  • 2010 Donelan Venus – USA, California, North Coast, Bennett Valley
    Floral, peach, honeysuckle nose; tart peach, floral palate; medium-plus finish (pricey at $45) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Donelan Cuvée Moriah – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry, red currant, pepper nose; tart red berry, red currant, pepper palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Donelan Syrah Cuvée Christine – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Very dark purple red violet color; tart black fruit, roasted black fruit, smoke nose; tight, tart black fruit, smoke, tar palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; violets, tart black fruit, roasted plum nose; violets, tart black fruit, roasted plum palate; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Edward Sellers

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2009 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Le Passage Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; vivid, ripe peach, pear nose; tasty, ripe pear, peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (43% Grenache Blanc, 36% Roussanne, 21% Marsanne) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Le Thief – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark ruby color; tart cherry, carbonic maceration, tart orange nose; tart orange, tart berry, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (56% Syrah, 26% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 6% Cinsault) (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Vertigo – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark cherry red color; brett, tart red berry nose; brett, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish (71% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah) (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Syrah Sélectionné – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque red violet color; roast plum, currant, ripe currant nose; roast plum, currant, tart black fruit, violets palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Folin Cellars

  • 2011 Folin Cellars Viognier – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Light yellow color; tart apple, floral nose; floral, tart peach, tart apple palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Folin Cellars Syrah – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Opaque red violet color; deep, tart black fruit, chocolate nose; tart black fruit, chocolate palate, a little hot; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Folin Cellars Misceo – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Medium dark red color; tobacco, smoke nose; smoke, tobacco, tart red plum palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (50% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache) (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Folin Cellars Petite Sirah – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Opaque red violet color; smoke, tart black fruit, reduction nose; tight, tangy, tart black fruit palate with medium acidity; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Halter Ranch

  • 2011 Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso Blanc – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light green-tinged yellow color; tart lime, tart green apple nose; tart green apple, citrus palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2011 Halter Ranch Rosé – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Tart currant, light cinnamon nose; tart currant palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry, smoke nose; tart red berry, smoke palate with a sense of grape skins; medium-plus finish 87+ points (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat and Counoise) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Halter Ranch Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color; tart black fruit, tar, charcoal nose; tart black fruit, tar, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Jemrose

Jim Mack and Keith Jaffee are the proprietors of Jemrose. Michael Browne, of Kosta Browne, is the winemaker, and Greg Bjornstad is the viticulturalist. Their four vineyards are located in Sonoma County’s Bennett Valley AVA, largely on hillsides, with elevations from 500 to 1000 feet. I’ve been impressed with these wines from the beginning of this project, and they continue to show well. The unusual Syrah/Merlot blend, Gloria’s Gem, is particularly good, plush and delicious.

  • 2009 Jemrose Viognier Egret Pond – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Light yellow color; floral, lifted, honeysuckle, tart peach nose; tasty, tart peach, baked peach, honeysuckle palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Grenache Foggy Knoll – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Medium cherry red color; baked cherry, berry nose; oak, baked cherry, red berry palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (w/5% Viognier; 10% new French oak) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart roasted plum, pie crust nose; tasty, rich, baked plum, roasted fruit, tar, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (5 clones of Syrah; 20 mos. in French oak, 80% new; 30% whole cluster) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Dark ruby color; nice baked berry, ripe plum, pie crust nose; tasty, rich, plush, ripe red plum, cherry, berry palate; medium-plus finish (55% Syrah, 45% Merlot; 20 mos. in French oak, 50% new) (93 pts.)

L’Aventure

Stephan Asseo’s L’Aventure is well known, and among the best producers in the Paso Robles AVA. Stephan started making wine in his native France in 1982, following his education at L’Ecole Oenologique de Macon in Burgundy. He first established Domaine Courteillac in Bordeaux, and he and his family later purchased Chateau Fleur Cardinal in Saint-Emilio and Chateau Robin in the Cotes de Castillion. After 15 years in Bordeaux, he felt constrained by the limitations of the AOC rules, and went searching around the world for a new location to make the wines he envisioned. That search led him to Paso Robles, whose terroir most impressed him. In planting his vineyards, he used a high density scheme of 2,100 plants per acre. The Côte à Côte is a Rhone blend, whereas the Estate Cuvée and another primary bottling, the Optimus, are blends of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, something Stephan couldn’t legally do in Bordeaux. These ’09s were a strong return to form after the somewhat disappointing ’08s.

  • 2009 L’Aventure Côte-à-Côte Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque red violet color; tart black fruit nose with a sense of pepper; ripe berry, ripe black plum, light pepper palate; long finish (42% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre) (92 pts.)
  • 2009 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque black red violet color; lifted, tart black fruit, herbs, tar nose; tight, tar, tart black fruit, roasted black fruit palate; needs 4-5 years; medium-plus finish (42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Syrah, 16% Petit Verdot) (93 pts.)

Martella

  • 2010 Martella Grenache – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium dark cherry red color; tart red berry, floral nose; juicy, tart red berry, floral palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Martella Syrah Hammer – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz County
    Medium dark ruby color; pepper, tart plum, smoke nose; pepper, tart plum, smoke palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Martinelli

  • 2006 Martinelli Syrah Hop Camp Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Dark ruby color; appealing, roasted plum, roasted berry nose; roasted plum, roasted berry, tobacco palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Martinelli Syrah Lolita Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Dark ruby color; nice roasted berry, roast plum nose; tasty, roasted berry, roast plum palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Martinelli Syrah Vellutini Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Opaque ruby color; roasted berry, roast plum, smoke nose; roasted berry, roast plum, smoke, dark chocolate palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

Montemaggiore

  • 2010 Montemaggiore 3 Divas Saralee’s Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, tart pear nose; tart citrus, tart pear palate; medium finish (Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Montemaggiore Syrah Syrafina – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, herbs nose; tart plum, herbs palate; needs 3 years; long finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Mounts Family

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2010 Mounts Family Winery Viognier – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Light yellow color; tart pear, mineral nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral, light pepper palate; medium finish (70% malolactic) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Mounts Family Winery Grenache The Terraces – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Dark ruby color; floral, tart berry nose; tart berry, floral palate; medium-plus finish (23 mos. in 50% new French oak) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Mounts Family Winery Syrah Estate Grown – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Dark ruby color; roasted plum, tart berry nose; roasted plum, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (w/4% Viognier) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Mounts Family Winery Petite Sirah Petasera – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Very dark ruby color; tart black fruit, mineral nose; tart berry, pepper, mineral palate; needs 5 years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Pear Valley

Petrichor

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2009 Petrichor Les Trois – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Opaque red violet color; intriguing, tart red currant, reduction, red spice nose; tart red currant, roasted plum palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (1st vintage; 86% Syrah, 14% Grenache; 15% new oak, 50% whole cluster, 13.6% alcohol; very food friendly) (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Petrichor Les Trois – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Pre-release (Fall ’12 release) – opaque purple red violet color; pepper, tart black fruit, charcoal nose; tart black fruit, savory, pepper, roasted plum palate; medium-plus finish (84% Syrah, 16% Grenache) (91 pts.)

Pomar Junction

  • 2010 Pomar Junction Vineyard Viognier – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; tart peach, apple nose; rounded, flavorful, floral, tart peach, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (very good Viognier) (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Pomar Junction Vineyard Brooster Red Blend – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color; intense, tart currant, roast plum nose; tart currant, roast plum palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Zinfandel, 29% Syrah) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Pomar Junction Vineyard Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red violet color; tart black fruit, blue fruit nose; tart black fruit, sweet smoke, sweet spice palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Pomar Junction Vineyard Train Wreck – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark red violet color; tart black fruit, smoke nose; tart black fruit, smoke, blueberry, ripe black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (25% each Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah) (89 pts.)

Qualia/Pavo

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2009 Qualia Wines Syrah Grenache – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
    Dark ruby color; hickory smoke, tart black fruit, charcoal nose; tasty, hickory smoke, tart black fruit, charcoal, tar palate; medium-plus finish (60% Syrah, 39% Grenache, 1% Zinfandel) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Pavo Syrah Estate – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
    Very dark ruby color; lifted, tart currant, tart black fruit, roasted plum nose; tart currant, tart black fruit, roasted plum, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (30% whole cluster; 25% new oak) (92 pts.)

Quivira

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2011 Quivira Rosé North Coast – USA, California, North Coast
    Light orange pink color; tart pink grapefruit, mineral nose; tasty, tart pink grapefruit, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (51% Mourvedre, 18% Carignane, 18% Counoise, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Quivira Grenache Wine Creek Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Light medium cherry red color; tart red fruit nose with a sense of pepper; light-bodied, tart red fruit, pepper, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre; aged in 500 liter oak puncheons and large foudres) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Quivira Elusive – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Medium cherry red color; smoke, tart red fruit nose; smoke, tart red fruit, mineral, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish 90+ (55% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Quivira Mourvedre Wine Creek Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Medium cherry red color; tart red fruit, hibiscus, herbs nose; tart red fruit, hibiscus, herbs palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 88+ points (w/12% Grenache) (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Quivira Petite Sirah Wine Creek Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; nice, complex, roasted plum, tart black fruit, berry nose; tasty, tart black fruit, roasted plum, licorice palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Qupé/Verdad/No Limit

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

Qupé is the Chumash Indian word for the California poppy. Their label design sports an Arts and Crafts period design with a poppy in the center that also looks a lot like a glass of wine. The proprietor/winemaker is Bob Lindquist, one of California’s Rhone Ranger pioneers. Bob’s first job in the wine business was working the 1975 harvest at Fortino Winery near Gilroy. He moved to Ventura County to take a job managing a tasting room, and then to Santa Ynez to manage a retail wine shop. That led to working at Zaca Mesa, first as a wine tour director, and then in the cellar, under Zaca Mesa’s then assistant winemaker Jim Clendenen. Bob started Qupé in 1982 by buying grapes and barrels and making his wine at Zaca Mesa. In 1989 Bob joined with Clendenen (who had started Au Bon Climat in 1982) to build a winery facility of their own under a lease agreement with the Bien Nacido Vineyard. Bob’s two sons, Ethan and Luke, are now also winemakers, and Ethan’s ’08 No Limit Syrah was very good at this tasting in a rich, concentrated style. (Ethan’s pictured above next to Bob.) Bob is also a partner in Verdad, a winery dedicated to Spanish varieties produced by his wife, Louisa. Louisa was responsible for the lovely rosé I sampled at this tasting. In 2005, Bob and Louisa planted 40 acres at their 80-acre ranch in the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo, which is now the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. Bob has long made terrific Syrahs as well as some of California’s best Chardonnays from the Central Coast.

  • 2011 Qupé Marsanne – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light yellow color; tart grapefruit, tart peach nose; tart peach, citrus palate; medium-plus finish (w/21% Roussanne) (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Qupé Roussanne Hillside Estate Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Light-medium green-tinged yellow color; tart green fruit, smoke nose; tart green fruit, baked white peach, lanolin palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Qupé Grenache Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Medium ruby color; tart red fruit, cinnamon, light pepper nose; tart red fruit, currant, white pepper, hibiscus palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Dark ruby color; roasted black fruit, smoke, savory nose; tasty, tart black fruit, roasted plum, mineral, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Qupé Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Medium ruby color; pepper, very savory, charcoal nose; tasty, savory, tart black fruit, tobacco, roasted meat palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2009 Qupé Syrah Sonnie’s Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Medium cherry red color; hibiscus, tart red fruit, pepper nose; very peppery, cigar box, tobacco palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 pts.)
  • 2011 Verdad Grenache Rosé Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Light medium pink color; tart pink grapefruit, tart orange nose; tasty, tart orange, tart citrus, mineral, chalk palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 No Limit Wines Syrah The Nuts Sawyer Lindquist – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Dark ruby color; intense, roasted plum, savory, roast meat nose; tasty, tart plum, roasted meat, bacon, savory palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Medium dark ruby color; tart black fruit, clove nose; soft, tasty, maturing, tart black fruit, clove palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Robert Hall

  • 2010 Robert Hall Grenache Blanc – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light yellow color; tart pear, tart citrus nose; tart citrus, tart pear palate medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Robert Hall Viognier – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Light green-tinged yellow color; tart citrus, mineral nose; white pepper, tart citrus, lemon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Robert Hall Rhone De Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red violet color; floral, tart cherry nose; tart cherry, red berry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (Grenache, Syrah & Cinsault; 12 mos. in oak) (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Robert Hall Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red violet color; roasted plum, red berry nose; tart red berry, tart plum palate; medium-plus finish (18 mos. oak) (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Robert Hall Pape de Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color; roasted berry, black fruit, pepper nose; tart black fruit, pepper, clove, herbs palate; medium-plus finish (51% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 12% Petite Sirah) (89 pts.)

Rosenblum

Sanglier Cellars

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

“Sanglier” is the word for wild boar in French. Proprietors Glenn and Melissa Alexander purchased their old farmhouse and eight acres of 40 year old Zin vines in the east end of the Russian River Valley in 2001. Glenn then worked at Napa’s Chateau Montelena while completing the viticulture program at Santa Rosa College. He then interned with Preston Vineyards and spent a year working with a vineyard manager before starting his own vineyard management firm. His company, Bacchus Vineyard Management, now farms and manages over 400 acres of vineyards for wineries such as Copain, Kosta Browne and Paul Hobbs. In 2006 the Alexanders decided to make wine from one of the vineyards Glenn managed, Kemp Vineyards. They have since brought their two children in as owners and to help expand winemaking operations. The winemaker is Russell Bevan, who always does an extraordinary job with all of his projects. The results are very strong for a newish producer. I enjoyed all of the wines, from the rosé to the red blends and Syrah.

  • 2011 Sanglier Cellars Rosé du Tusque – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Medium dark onion skin color; nice tart orange, tart blood orange nose; tasty, tart orange, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (very good rosé; blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Sanglier Cellars Syrah Kemp Vineyards – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Very dark ruby color; lifted, tart berry, black fruit, black cherry nose; tasty, poised, tart black fruit, tart berry, ripe black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Sanglier Cellars Boar’s Camp – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, savory nose; tart black fruit, tar palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Sanglier Cellars Rouge du Tusque – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Opaque red violet color; nice tart black fruit, savory nose; tasty, tart black fruit, pepper palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (good value at $25; 49% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, 18% Grenache) (92 pts.)

Sayler-Tait Family

Sheldon

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

  • 2010 Sheldon Vinolocity – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light yellow color; reduction, tart grapefruit nose; tart citrus, mineral, white pepper palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (24 hours whole cluster fermentation; 50% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Sheldon Grenache Vinolocity – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light medium red color; intriguing, cherry syrup, red berry nose; tart cherry, red berry, light oak palate; medium finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Sheldon Weatherly Cuvee – USA, California, Napa Valley, Calistoga
    Medium dark ruby color; appealing, lifted, red berry, cherry nose; tight, ripe cherry, cassis, red berry palate; medium-plus finish (60% Petite Sirah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; for drinking now) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Sheldon Petite Sirah Deviant Velocity – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Medium cherry red color; tart red fruit, floral, red berry nose; tart cherry, red berry palate with medium acidity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

Skinner

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

Mike and Carey Skinner purchased ridge top land in El Dorado County in 2006, and set about turning it into a vineyard that might carry on a Skinner family tradition dating back to their ancestor Jim Skinner, who had established what briefly became one of California’s biggest winery and distillery operations back in the 1880s. The couple’s three children are all now involved in this endeavor. Their largest vineyard, Stoney Creek, in the Fair Play Appellation, has 20 acres planted to Rhone varieties, including Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc. The vineyard sits at an altitude ranging from 2,300 to 2,740 feet. They also have a 14-acre vineyard in the El Dorado Appellation similarly planted to Rhone varieties, as well as Zinfandel and Mission. The wines are aged in French oak for one to two years before release. The Mourvedre was one of the best California Mourvedres I’ve tasted, and the Syrah was also very good.

  • 2010 Skinner Grenache Blanc – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Light yellow color; tart peach, citrus nose; tart citrus, grapefruit palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Skinner Seven Generations White – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Light lemon yellow color; tart citrus, tart orange nose; creamy textured, orange cream, citrus, mineral, apple palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Skinner Grenache – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; roses, tart cherry nose; roses, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Skinner Mourvedre – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Medium dark ruby color; ripe berry, clove nose; tart berry, pepper, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Skinner Eighteen Sixty-one – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Medium dark cherry red color; tart berry, red berry, blue fruit nose; tart black fruit, charcoal, tar palate; medium-plus finish (Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Skinner Syrah – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Dark ruby color; intense, savory, ripe plum, berry nose; tasty, tart berry, charcoal, tart black fruit palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Stolpman

  • 2009 Stolpman Roussanne L’Avion – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, baked lemon nose; baked lemon, mineral, kumquat palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2010 Stolpman La Cuadrilla – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, grape skins nose; tart currant, tart red berry palate; medium finish (42% Syrah, 34% Grenache, 22% Petite Sirah, 2% Viognier) (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Stolpman Syrah Estate Grown – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Dark ruby color; roasted plum, tart currant nose; roasted plum, tart currant palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Stolpman Syrah Hilltops – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, tart currant nose; tart plum, tart currant palate; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Stolpman Angeli – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Opaque black red violet color; baking spice, tart plum, lavender nose; tight, tart plum, tart black fruit, baking spice palate; needs 5 years; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

Two Shepherds

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

Two Shepherds is a very small production operation started in 2009 by William Allen, publisher of the Simple Hedonisms wine blog, when he moved to northern Sonoma in June of that year. He first planted a vineyard, and the following year sourced fruit that enabled him to make 175 cases of Rhone varietal wine with his girlfriend Michelle. The results are very strong, with the Syrah/Mourvedre blend being the best of all. I look forward to following the industrious Allen as his winemaking project continues.

  • 2010 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light medium yellow color; lifted, tart citrus, lemon peel, skin contact nose; tart citrus, leesy, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2010 Two Shepherds Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Light medium yellow color; lifted, tart pear, tart lemon, floral nose; tart pear, tart lemon, floral, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Two Shepherds MRV Saralee’s Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Light medium yellow color; lifted, tart orange, tart pear nose; tart orange, tart pear, mineral, lemon peel palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (47% Marsanne, 47% Roussanne, 6% Viognier) (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Two Shepherds Syrah | Mourvedre – USA, California
    Light, cloudy, medium dark ruby color; savory, tart red berry, light pepper nose; light, fresh, savory, tart red berry, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish (50/50 Syrah/Mourvedre) (92 pts.)
  • 2010 Two Shepherds GSM Saralee’s Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Lightly cloudy medium ruby color; intense, tart currant, tart red berry nose; tart currant, tart red berry, hibiscus palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre) (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Two Shepherds Grenache Saralee’s Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Barrel sample – cloudy, medium ruby color; savory, baked berry nose; tart cherry, light pepper, herbs palate; medium-plus finish 91-92+ points (91 pts.)

Unti

3/25/12 Rhone Rangers SF Tasting

Mick Unti, pictured above right, co-founded Unti Vineyards Winery with his brother George and George’s wife Linda in 1997. Mick manages the day to day operations of the winery including winemaking, sales and marketing. George and Linda farm 60 acres of vineyards. Mick had previously served as National Sales Manager for McDowell Valley Vineyards and then in a similar position for Jess Jackson’s Artisans and Estates until leaving there to work full time at Unti in 1998. The Untis are assisted by Sebastien Pochan, who received his enology degree from France’s Montepellier University. Sebastien came to the U.S. in 1995 and started out at Stonestreet Winery before becoming winemaker at Christopher Creek. The Untis’ 60 acres are planted to an unusual mix of Rhone and Italian varieties. They grow four clones of Syrah–383, 470, 174 and 877–as well as Grenache Noir, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc and Vermentino. Their remarkably thorough website explains an unusual aspect to their winemaking–the extensive use of the whole cluster fermentation method practiced widely in the Rhone. According to their website, this means “grapes are harvested very cold early in the morning, sorted and placed in shallow wood or stainless steel tanks where they are then stomped by foot. The fermentation starts naturally after 5 days of soaking thanks to indigenous yeasts. We started experimenting with whole cluster fermentation on Syrah in 2005 and have now extended the technique to Mourvedre and Grenache. The presence of stems and a higher proportion of whole berries in the fermenter seems to widen the aromatic profile of the wines (more peppery and floral notes) as well as providing them with a focused structure.” They also minimize the use of new oak, often using large foudres. I’ve long found Unti to be a very reliable producer, and their Grenache (actually a GSM blend) and Syrah Benchland bottling were particularly good.

  • 2011 Unti Vineyards Rosé – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Light pink color; tart currant, mineral nose; tasty, tart currant palate; medium finish (blend of Grenache and Mourvedre) (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Unti Vineyards Cuvée Blanc – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Very light yellow color; fresh, tart citrus nose; tasty, tart citrus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Unti Vineyards Syrah – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque ruby color; roasted plum, red berry nose; tart berry, roasted plum, herbs palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (1/3 whole cluster) (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Unti Vineyards Grenache – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Light, cloudy, dark ruby color; pepper, tart red plum nose; fresh, pepper, tart red plum palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (blend of over 75% Grenache with Syrah and Mourvedre)(92 pts.)
  • 2008 Unti Vineyards Syrah Benchland – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart roasted plum, tart berry nose; tart roasted plum, tart berry, mineral, herbs palate; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)

Venteux

  • 2008 Venteux Vineyards Syrah Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, oak nose; tart plum, oak, berry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (28 mos. in new French oak) (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Venteux Vineyards PMS – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Very dark ruby color; reduction, brett, tart red fruit nose; reudction, brett, tart red fruit, baked berry palate; medium-plus finish (45% Petite Sirah, 33% Mourvedre, 22% Syrah; i.e., not named for pre-menstrual syndrome) (87 pts.)
22 Responses leave one →
  1. Bob Ascher permalink
    April 4, 2012

    Have you tried Stage Left Cellars? Their Rhone varieties are worth your time.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 4, 2012

      Bob,
      Thank you for your comment. I have tasted Stage Left wines on a number of occasions, such as Family Winemakers for the last two years. I particularly liked their ’07 Syrah The Scenic Route, which I rated 91 points. I also liked the ’05 version of the Grenache, which was in a ripe and chocolatey style. I rated that 91 points as well.

      Melinda,
      Thank you for your offer to come taste through the wines. I’ll try to fit that in on an upcoming trip. I have sampled your wines at Family Winemakers and P.S. I Love You’s Dark & Delicious, and I think you’re doing good things.

      warm regards,
      Richard

  2. April 4, 2012

    And on that note (thanks, Bob!)… Richard, I’m sorry you missed us at Rhone Rangers this year! Please feel free to come to the winery to taste through our wines – we’d love the opportunity to share them with you. Our focus is Rhone varieties and blends… And yes, we have a cool climate Grenache (co-fermented with a bit of Mourvedre) that might just change your mind about California Grenache! Cheers, Stage Left Cellars

  3. April 5, 2012

    Regarding “Petit Sirah”: We were one of only 18 or so wineries at the first Rhone Rangers SF tasting. A few years later the membership voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal to include PS. The Rhone Rangers board (which included a couple of members who made PS) then ignored the member wineries’ vote and did include PS as a “Rhone” varietal. We resigned from RR in protest and have never rejoined.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 5, 2012

      Thank you so much for sharing that fascinating item of information. Sure doesn’t sound very democratic; I can understand why you were not happy about it.

      Although I’m very fond of Petite Sirah (my latest post on PS is here: http://www.rjonwine.com/california-wine/petite-sirah-excels/), I think it dilutes the focus of Rhone Rangers to include it, especially since there is another major event already devoted exclusively to the grape.

      BTW, my sister Janis did the mural of vineyards in different seasons in your tasting room.

    • April 6, 2012

      Richard, thank you for the great writeup on the recent Rhone Rangers tasting!

      To the folks at Wellington Vineyards, I’ve been on the board of Rhone Rangers for 8 years now, and wanted to give my thoughts as to the inclusion of Petite Sirah into the group.

      I’m not sure exactly when the decision was made; it had already happened before I joined the board. But while I agree that Petite Sirah isn’t a true Rhone variety, and I would have voted against it had I been on the board at the time, I think that the facts on the ground are that many or even most wineries who are Rhone specialists also plant Petite Sirah, and Petite Sirah is widely blended with the Rhone reds in California. Removing it from the list of varieties would seem to cause more problems for the organization than does leaving it in.

      I guess I’m arguing for a pragmatic “big tent” philosophy on Rhone varieties, in the interest of us all banding together to promote the broader category as it exists here in California, rather than how it exists in France. It’s also for that reason that we allow for blends that include up to 25% non-Rhones… a recognition that in many California heritage vineyards, the true Rhone varieties were planted as a significant but not exclusive portion.

      I hope that you’ll take a look again at Rhone Rangers again, and when you do will see the impact it’s had on bringing attention to the varieties we all focus on and love.

      Thanks for the comment,
      -Jason

      Jason Haas
      General Manager, Tablas Creek Vineyard
      Past President, Board of Directors, Rhone Rangers

  4. April 5, 2012

    Hi Richard,
    I track wine related news on a daily basis for the CA Wine Institute and wanted to reach out to see if you care to be on the list to receive industry news from us and our member wineries. Sometimes the news is more trade oriented and other times it is more for the consumer base. If you would like to be added to the list (you can choose your areas of interest to hone the topics you receive news on), please contact me at your convenience at my email provided.
    Cheers!
    Aimee

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 5, 2012

      Thank you Aimee. I very much appreciate the offer, and your reaching out.
      warm regards,
      Richard

  5. April 5, 2012

    Richard-

    Thanks for the comprehensive review of the RR tasting. I wasn’t able to get around much, so I appreciate seeing your thoughts on all of the producers.

    One correction from our end: Our red blend is actually labelled Grenache, since it is more than 75% of that variety. We have been making a Grenache blended with Syrah and Mourvedre since 2001. Even though we have always blended Syrah and Mourvedre into our Grenache, we use the varietal name to point out where the wine derives its personality.

    Thanks again for your diligent work.
    Mick Unti

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 5, 2012

      Mick,

      Thank you for the kind words, and for your comment here. I much appreciate the correction regarding the wine. The only “red blend,” which is how the wine was designated in the RR program book, listed for you in CellarTracker was the Mourvedre-Syrah, so that’s where I put the note. (I had consulted your website too, but there’s no listing of a 2010 red blend or 2010 Grenache there as of yet.) I have now corrected the listing on CellarTracker and revised my report here per your comment.

      Your Grenache (or GSM) is now one of the best California Grenaches I’ve ever tasted, right up there with multiple vintages of Grenaches from Ridge and Outpost. Good for you guys!

      BTW, your website is one of the most useful and comprehensive for a wine writer/researcher that I’ve seen. All you need to do is update it with your current wine offerings. ;-)

      Thanks again,
      Richard

  6. April 5, 2012

    Thanks for taking the time to come taste with Two Shepherds. It was our first #RRSF and we hadn’t anticipated the buzz, and people 3-4 deep waiting to taste. Some were deterred and left, we are glad you didn’t. We have received a lot of positive press post event, but having you name us a top three new finds, made our week. It’s a labor of love (certainly not for $! :) ) so when a writer of your caliber palate, appreciates our first vintage so much, its heart warming.

    Second, as a new Rhone Ranger board member, thank you for such phenomenal coverage of the event. As a fellow blogger, I am blown away by the detail. Additionally you support these by adding Cellartracker notes. Unbelievable. This had to have taken you a dozen hours to transcribe, edit, format.
    It’s a huge value – as a Consumer, blogger, and now Vintner, thank you.

    Third – We share your thoughts on Grenache and hope to put more in the world. Glad you liked the 2011 RRV Barrel sample so much. We plan to release a small amount as 100% varietal for wine club, most will go into the blend. In 2012 we hope to expand a bit. Grenache Noir & Grenache Blanc will be our signature 100% wines, Blends our flagship, and of course small lots of various & unusual things for our wine club.
    Teasers ->http://twoshepherdsvineyards.com/wineclub/

    Our 2010 vintage has sold exceptionally well, the whites are about gone, and thanks to exposure the reds are flying off the shelf.
    We have been purposefully limiting placements and sales to not run out. Fortunately we gambled in 2011 harvest (we had yet to have had our 1st tasting then, have only done 3!) and increased to 500 cases. For 2012 we plan 600-700 cases, cash be willing.
    To date we have resisted the idea of outside capital or a partner, but am slowly re-thinking. Its constraining our early success and many things we’d like to do.

    We already sold a half case today, untasted, because of your review. For those who don’t believe, what I already do, blogs can be an important part of branding and visibility. To sell some wine on top of that is great.

    A heartfelt thanks and cheers for your efforts.

    William

  7. April 6, 2012

    Fantastically thurough recap of what looks to be an amazing event.

    My favorite winery (Donelan) looks to have made an impression. Their current release of Obsidian is other worldly!

    Cheers,

    Erol

  8. Dan Sengstock permalink
    April 6, 2012

    Richard,

    I completely agree with your take on California Grenache. Are there any that you could recommend? I might, however, disagree with your point about Grenache reaching it’s peak in the Rhone. They are doing some pretty great things with it in Priorat. Admittedly I have had very few Rhone wines that are 80-90% Grenache, but do you have any suggestions that could compete with something like Clos Erasmus?

    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 6, 2012

      Dan,
      The best California Grenaches I’ve tried have come from Ridge, Outpost and now Unti. There’s also Sine Qua Non, many of which have been quite good, but those are ridiculously expensive on the secondary market and hard to come by.

      For me there’s no question that the preeminent source for Grenache, and Grenache dominated blends, is the Southern Rhone. There are a number of “luxury cuvees” from Chateauneuf-du-Pape that are 100% old vine Grenache, and other producers whose regular bottlings are predominantly Grenache.

      I’m not a huge fan of some of the big, extracted, often oaky, Parker-style wines that have come out of Priorat in recent years. The best Grenache dominated Priorat wines I’ve tasted have been the Rotllan Torra Tirant (’98 was particularly good–94+ points–and ’01 was very good); the Rotllan Torra Amadis (from 100 yr old Garnacha and Carignan vines); Mas Doix’s Salanques and Costers de Vinyes Velles bottlings; Celler Vall Llach Embruix; and Vinícola del Priorat Ònix Clássic. Clos Erasmus is also a terrific Grenache blend (often with Cabernet and other non-Rhone type grapes, but lately 40% Syrah). I remain open to good Grenache coming from Priorat, and elsewhere in Spain (I’m looking forward to a week of tasting in Rioja in late June), but nothing from anywhere in the world as yet comes close to the complexity, track record, ageworthiness and general reliability of great CdPs with a high proportion of Grenache from producers like Rayas (often 100% Grenache, or nearly so), Vieux Telegraphe and Clos des Papes.

      Thanks for the question,
      Richard

      • April 10, 2012

        Thanks for including us in your list Richard! Illustrious company indeed …. and if you’ve note tasted it yet, I’ve got to get you up to try the new 2006 Grenache; it’s wonderful!

  9. April 8, 2012

    What a great recap RJ! Thorough, comprehensive, and well written. You are simply the best!

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      April 9, 2012

      Martin,
      You’re very kind. Thanks a lot! I look forward to seeing you at another event soon.
      –Richard

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