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California's Best Syrah?: A Report From Rhone Rangers 2005

Well, there wasn't a complete set of wineries represented at Saturday's Rhone Rangers 2005 Tasting for me to name with authority the best Syrah in California, but if you're interested in this varietal and others from the Rhone region, the tasting was proof that there are some excellent Rhone wines being made in California these days.rhoneranger.poster.jpg

My coverage of this tasting is also proof that I'm not a rock solid, mercenary professional journalist. I took some pictures at the tasting, but I'm traveling for business now and didn't remember to upload them to my camera before I left. I also got halfway through my tasting of hundreds of wine before I realized I wasn't asking producers the retail prices for their wines, so I'm unable to bring you that data to help you sort through the values from the overrated.

Sigh. Sorry.

OK. Now that I'm over all that, on to the coverage of what was overall a much better showing of wines than last year. I still remain pretty disappointed with the state of Viognier and other Rhone white production in California. With the exception of a select few talented winemakers, nearly no one seems to be creating compelling Rhone whites, let alone anything that could match most Chateauneuf-du-Pape blancs or other similar French blends.

Syrah is, of course, a different story, with lots of fantastic wines being made with this varietal, which I think is really coming into its own as a solid competitor for the perpetually oversubscribed Zinfandel. Most of the Syrahs on offer are distinctly New World, bearing very little resemblance to their earthy forbearers in Cote-Rotie or Cornas, but many seem to be avoiding the Australian trap of over extracted syrupy pots of jam.

The event as a whole was pleasant and reasonably well managed, with a surprising lack of a crush once the public was let in, making it so much more enjoyable than ZAP. Perhaps the morning's inclement weather scared people away, or perhaps many consumers don't know what to make of Rhone wines. In either case, I found myself staying until the end, something which I haven't done at a tasting in a long while.

Here's what I tasted, and again, apologies for the lack of prices.

2003 Peay Vineyards Rousanne/Marsanne Blend. 9.5.
2003 Michael Martella Viognier. 9.5.

2003 Fenestra Viognier. 9/9.5.
2003 Fess Parker Viognier. High glycerin. 9/9.5.

2002 Spencer Roloson Viognier. 9.
2003 Renard Viognier. 9.
2003 Peay Vineyards Viognier. 9.
2003 Summerwood White Blend (Viognier / Roussane). 9.
2003 Cline Viognier. 9.
2003 Tablas Creek 'Cotes de Tables' Blanc. 9.

2002 Gregory Graham 'Knights Valley' Viognier. 8.5/9.
2003 Rosenblum 'Kathy's Cuvee' Viognier. 8.5/9.
2003 Tablas Creek 'Esprit de Beaucastel' Blanc. 8.5/9.
2003 Benjamin Silver Viognier. 8.5/9.
2003 Cedarville Vineyards Viognier. 8.5/9.
2003 La Crema Viognier. 8.5/9.
2004 Hawley Viognier, Sonoma. 8.5/9.
2002 Borra Winery Viognier. 8.5/9.

2004 Bridlewood Viognier. 8.5.
2003 Andrew Murray Vineyards 'Enchante'. Marsanne/Roussane blend. 8.5.
2004 Bernstein Remark Marsanne. 8.5.
2003 Copain Viognier. 8.5.
2002 Saddleback Viognier. 8.5.
2002 Wild Horse Rousanne. 8.5.
2002 Jepson Viognier. 8.5.

2002 Gregory Graham Napa Viognier. 8/8.5.
2003 EXP Viognier. 8/8.5.

2002 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Viognier. 8.
2003 Alexander Valley Vineyards Viognier. 8.
2003 Beckman Rousanne. 8.
2003 Andrew Murray Vineyards Roussane. 8.
2002 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Enigma White Blend. 8.
2004 Edmunds St. John 'Shell and Bone.' 8.
2004 Edmunds St. John 'Rousanne.' 8.
2004 Bernstein Remark Rousanne. 8.
2003 Hawley Viognier, Sonoma. 8.
2003 Voss Viognier, Carneros. 8.

2002 Wild Horse Viognier. 7.5/8.
2001 Arrowood Viognier. 7.5/8.
2003 Renaissance Viognier. 7.5/8.

2003 Beckman Marsanne. 7.5
2004 Bell Vineyards Viognier. 7.5.
2003 Capay Valley Viognier. 7.5.
2003 Columbia Winery Viognier. 7.5.

2004 A Donkey and A Goat Rose. 9/9.5.
2003 Curtis 'Heritage' Rose. 9/9.5.

2004 Holly's Hill Rose. 9.
2003 Renwood Rose. 9.
2004 Nerdad (Qupe) Rose. 9.
2004 Robert Hall Rose. 9.
2003 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Rose. 9.

2004 Silver Pines Rose. 8.5/9.
2003 McDowell Rose. 8.5/9.
2004 Lavender Ridge Rose. 8.5/9.

2004 Eaglepoint Ranch Rose. 8.5.
2004 Marilyn Remark Rose. 8/8.5.
2004 McCrae Rose. 8.

2001 Gregory Graham Syrah. 9.5/10.
2003 J.C. Cellars 'Rockpile Vineyard' Syrah. 9.5/10.
2003 Novy Grenache. 9.5/10.

2003 Unti Vineyards Grenache. 9.5.
2000 Domaine de la Terre Rouge 'Sentinel Oak' Syrah. 9.5.
2002 Chateau Bellevue (Thomas Coyne) Syrah. 9.5.
2001 Roadblock 'Del Rio' Syrah, Oregon. 9.5.
2002 Rosenblum 'Hillside' Syrah. 9.5.
2002 Mueller Vineyards Syrah. 9.5.
2002 Kathryn Kennedy Reserve Syrah. 9.5.
2003 Peay Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma Coast. 9.5.
2003 Novy Syrah, Sonoma. 9.5.
2003 Novy Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. 9.5.
2003 Novy 'Judge Family Vineyard' Syrah. 9.5.
2003 Outpost Family Vineyard Grenache. 9.5.

2003 Olsen Ogden Syrah, Sonoma. 9/9.5.
2002 Kathryn Kennedy Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains. 9/9.5.
2001 Zaca Mesa 'Z Cuvee' Red Blend. 9/9.5.
2002 Tablas Creek 'Esprit de Beaucastel' Red Blend. 9/9.5.
2004 Ballentine Syrah, Napa. 9/9.5.
2003 Copain 'Gary;s Vineyard' Syrah. 9/9.5.
2003 Cline 'Small Berries' Mourvedre. Amazing eucalypus character. 9/9.5.
2002 Delille 'Doyenne' Syrah. A little Viognier added. 9/9.5.
2001 Zaca Mesa 'Black Bear' Syrah. 9/9.5.
2000 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah, Mendocino. 9/9.5.
2001 Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah. 9/9.5.
2001 Edmunds St. John 'Robles Viejos' Red Blend. 9/9.5.
2000 Michael Schlumberger Syrah. 9/9.5.
2001 Roadblock 'Seven Hills' Syrah, Oregon. 9/9.5.
2003 Robert Hall Grenache. 9/9.5.
2002 Ridge 'Lytton Estate' Syrah. 9/9.5.
2001 Ridge Syrah Grenache Blend. 9/9.5.
2002 Provisor Syrah, Dry Creek. 9/9.5.
2003 Provisor Syrah, Dry Creek. 9/9.5.
2003 Outpost Family Vineyard 'The Other' Petite Sirah. 9/9.5.
2004 Eno Wines 'Fiddletown' Syrah. (barrel sample). 9/9.5.
2004 Eno Wines 'Eaglepoint Ranch' Grenache (barrel sample). 9/9.5.
2003 Olsen Ogden'Unti Vineyard' Syrah. 9/9.5.
2002 Longboard Russian River Valley Syrah. 9/9.5.
2002 Longboard 'Da Kine Vineyard' Field Blend (mostly Syrah) 9/9.5.

2003 Novy 'Christianson vineyard' Syrah, Russian River Valley. 9.
2004 Eno Wines 'Los Madres' Syrah. (barrel sample). 9.
2002 Olsen Ogden 'Unti Vineyard' Syrah. 9.
2003 Silver Pines Syrah. 9.
2001 Rocca Syrah. 9.
2003 Robert Hall 'Rhone de Roble' Red Blend. 9.
2001 Edmunds St. John 'Wylie-Fenaughty' 9.
2001 Domaine de la Terre Rouge 'Sierra Foothills' Syrah. 9.
2001 Fess Parker 'Rodney's' Syrah. 9.
2002 Venge 'Family Reserve' Syrah. 9.
2003 Saxon Brown Syrah. 9.
2003 Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache. 9.
2000 Ballentine Vineyards Old Vine Syrah. 9.
2002 Ballentine Vineyards Petite Sirah. 9.
2001 Chatom Syrah. 9.
2002 Chatom 'Esmerelda' Syrah. 9.
2003 Copain Grenache. 10% Syrah. 9.
2003 Madrona 'Sumu Kaw Vineyard' Syrah. 9.
2001 Zaca Mesa Syrah. 9.
2002 Morgan Syrah. 9.
2002 Michael Martella 'Hammer' Syrah. 9.
2002 Lavender Ridge Syrah. 9.
2002 Macrostie Syrah. 9.
2003 J.C. Cellars 'California Cuvee' Syrah. 9.
2001 Ridge 'Lytton Estate' Syrah. 9.
2002 Robert Hall Syrah, Paso Robles. 9.
2002 Peay Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma Coast. 9.
2003 Qupe 'Stolpmann' Syrah. 9.
2003 Qupe 'Bien Nacido' Syrah. 9.
2001 Qupe 'Bien Nacido Hillside Select' Syrah. 9.
2000 Clos Saron (Renaissance) 'Black Pearl' Syrah. 9.

2001 Renard 'Peay Vineyards' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2003 Qupe 'Purisima' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2002 Robert Hall Reserve Syrah. 8.5/9.
2002 Morgan 'Terra Mar' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2003 Copain 'Broken Leg' Syrah 8.5/9.
2001 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah. 8.5/9.
2003 Cline 'Ancient Vines' Mourvedre. 8.5/9.
2002 Chatom Syrah. 8.5/9.
2002 Ballentine Vineyards 'Betty's Vineyard' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2003 Andrew Murray Hillside Reserve Syrah. 8.5/9.
2001 Cline Syrah, Sonoma. 8.5/9.
2002 Crane Brothers Syrah. 8.5/9.
2002 Unti Vineyards Syrah. 8.5/9.
2003 Ridge 'Buchignan Ranch' Carignane. 8.5/9.
2002 Ridge 'Lytton Estate' Petite Sirah. 8.5/9.
2002 Clos Saron (Renaissance) 'Heart of Stone' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2001 Macrostie Syrah. 8.5/9.
2001 Voss Syrah. 8.5/9.
2003 Lost Canyon 'Stagecoach Vineyard' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2002 J.C. Cellars 'Ventana Vineyard' Syrah. 8.5/9.
2002 Longfellow Syrah, Dry Creek. 8.5/9.
2003 Lavender Ridge Grenache. 8.5/9.

2002 Justin Estate Syrah. 8.5.
2002 Justing Estate Reserve Syrah. 8.5.
2003 Cedarville Vineyards Grenache. 8.5.
2000 Thomas Coyne Syrah. 8.5.
2001 Fess Parker 'Big Easy' Syrah. 8.5.
2003 Madrona 'El Dorado' Syrah. 8.5.
2002 Madrona Shiraz/Cabernet. 8.5.
2002 Thomas Michael Syrah. 8.5.
2003 Lost Canyon 'Alegria Vineyard' Syrah, Russian River Valley. 8.5.
2003 Lost Canyon 'Trenton Station' Syrah, Russian River Valley. 8.5.
2002 Unti Vineyards 'Benchlands' Syrah. 8.5.
2002 Jepson Syrah. 8.5.
2002 Tin Barn Syrah. 8.5.
2001 Renaissance Vineyards Estate Syrah. 8.5.
1999 Renaissance 'Le Provencal' Red Bland. 8.5.
2002 Ravenswood 'Icon' Red Blend. 8.5.
2002 Ethan Vineyards Grenache. 8.5.
2003 Qupe 'Central Coast' Syrah. 8.5.
2003 Qupe 'Los Olivos' Syrah. 8.5.
2002 Michael Martella 'Santa Cruz Mountains' Syrah. 8.5.

2003 Andrew Murray Estate Syrah. 8/8.5.
2001 Thomas Coyne Mourvedre. 8/8.5.
2002 Coates Petite Sirah. 8/8.5.
2003 Michael Martella Grenache. 8/8.5.
2001 Longfellow Syrah. 8.5.
2001 Edmunds St. John Syrah. 8/8.5.
2003 Turner Road Shiraz. 8/8.5.
2001 Jepson Syrah. 8/8.5.

2002 Coates Syrah. 8.
2003 Qupe 'Colson Canyon' Syrah. 8.
2004 Eno Wines 'Fairview Vineyard' Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. (barrel sample). 8.
2001 Fess Parker Syrah. 8.
2003 Andrew Murray Vineyards 'Esperance' Red Blend. 8.
2003 Andrew Murray Vineyards 'Tous le Jours' Syrah. 8.
2000 Arrowwood Syrah. 7.5.

Comments (4)

03.21.05 at 10:44 PM

As always, I'm impressed you hit as many stops as you did. I think I tasted 20 wines. I really liked the Eaglepoint Rose; it was the only wine I gave a * (my "rating system" is nothing, +, *). Of course I didn't try the others you mentioned. I've long been a fan of the Tablas Rose, though. Funny, I like their whites more than their reds.

03.22.05 at 11:08 AM

White wine in California is pretty much a disappointment if you ask me. I do like Sierra Vista's Viogner. John MacCready is pretty serious about his Rhone wines.

I still think the best white wines in the US are being made in the Finger Lakes region of NY, although they've had a couple difficult years out there recently.

David Hosilyk wrote:
03.23.05 at 2:54 PM

Re Rhone Rangers:

I agree with much of your opening commentary and your scores in general (particulary JC Cellars and Tablas Creek EdB blend). However, I am very surprised at the scores you assigned to all of the Novy wines, which were a monumental disappointment, particularly the Grenache - a wine I would like to forget (but probably won't for a while). Given that we seem to agree on most of the wines poured at this latest event, I will make it a point to retaste the Novy wines. Anyway, very nice blog.

04.25.05 at 6:22 PM

Always happy to see my wines reviewed, especially when they're appreciated. However, please note that CLOS SARON wines are made by Clos Saron Winery, which is a small privately owned winery, completely separate from Renaissance. The only connection is that at the R.R. tasting they were poured at the Renaissance stand.

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