Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wining with the Rhone Rangers...

Do you know about the Rhone Rangers? That merry band of winemakers whose vision is to expand our knowledge and appreciation of grapes and blends that historically came from the Rhone Valley in France.

From the Rhone Rangers' website: The Rhone Rangers is America's leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. American Rhone-style wines are made from the same grapes that have flourished for centuries in France’s Rhone River Valley, and their growing popularity in the United States speaks to their versatility with food, wide range of rich flavors, and to the skills of American winemakers.

The Goddess of Wine has been a fan of the Rangers for many years, and now that JD and I are living in the Central Coast, it's easier to get to many of the events that are put on by the large and very active Paso Robles chapter. This year, the organization has put together a schedule of "Varietal Nights" designed to enhance, and in some cases, introduce folks to specific varieties and styles of wine.

In January, we attended a night of Petite Sirah, hosted by Derby Wine Estates. It was an exceptional opportunity to discover the wide variety of flavors and characteristics of a grape that is known for making "big" wines; high tannins and jammy, spicy, plummy flavors are its major characteristics. But, when you taste 20+ Petite Sirahs from all the different AVAs in San Luis Obispo county, you get 20+ distinctive and different wines ranging from surprisingly light and fruity to heavy-duty tooth-purplers.

The wineries
Likewise, our March visit to host winery Thacher Winery to taste red Rhone-style blends was enlightening. Most of the wines presented were some variation of traditional Rhone blends: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. In some cases, other Rhone grapes were in the blend; at least one winemaker (Neil Collins of Lone Madrone) had a Counoise/Cinseault/Grenache blend called "La Mezcla Roja" that was very different from the other offerings. Bright red fruit, low tannins, and a moderate pepperiness, made it one of the more interesting wines of the night.

We were also excited to taste a new winery, Seven Oxen Estate Wines, whose first release promises a bright future. Their winemaker, Bastien Leduc, originally from southern France, brings his own style, adding a bit of Tannat to the Grenache/Mourvedre blend.

Part of the fun of these events is that, while many wineries may be represented at each tasting, there are outliers who will be at some, but not others. Of course, it's always delightful to taste the new releases from old friends like Vines on the Marycrest, Mitchella, Caliza, Cass, Niner, Clayhouse, Ranchero Cellars, Vina Robles, Pomar Junction, and to make new friends like Clautiere Vineyard, Burbank Ranch, Epoch, and more.

We stopped in Thacher's charming tasting room for a quick visit before we left, and bought their "Resident Alien" blend of 50% Tannat, 29% Petite Sirah, 14% Syrah, 7% Grenache. The full-bodied mouth-feel is offset by a perfumed/floral nose, and softened by the small amounts of Syrah and Grenache.

We're looking forward to the next Varietal Night, April 19th at Alta Colina, for a seminar about Mourvedre. Yum!

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