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04.01.2006

California's Best Syrah: Tasting The Rhone Rangers 2006

rhonerangers_06.jpg Two weeks ago, the annual Rhone Rangers tasting returned to San Francisco, bringing producers of Rhone varietals from all over the Western states together for a weekend of wine tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

The first Rhone style wines were made in California in the late 1970s, and by 1988 there were a group of about 18 winemakers meeting regularly to discuss what then might still be called an experiment -- growing Syrah in California. The following ten years saw an explosion in the California wine industry in general, and significant growth in the production of wines made from the traditional Rhone varietals. In 1997 the Rhone Rangers trade association was created to promote the efforts of these winemakers, whose ranks have swelled since into the multiple hundreds.

In addition to Syrah, which is certainly the varietal which receives the most public and critical attention, Grenache and Viognier have also started to become more publicly recognized wines, trailed by Roussanne, Marsanne, Carignane and Mourvedre. One need only compare the public attendance to the Rhone Rangers event to the crush of crowds at ZAP to know that there's some ways to go before any Rhone varietal can claim the popularity of what may soon be California's official state grape.

I enjoy attending this tasting every year, not only because I love Syrah, but also because I enjoy seeing the progress of California vintners as they struggle to master the white Rhone varietals. This year showed some marked improvement in that department. In past years I have found most of the single varietal white wines (Marsanne and Roussanne) to be unbalanced and rough around the edges. They are improving, in my opinion, as winemakers begin to blend a bit more and master the balance between fruit flavors and acids. Additionally, many winemakers seem to be improving their treatment of Viognier, which apparently is far too easy to turn into a flabby, oily wine with cloying fruit flavors. Many more had good acid balance this year.

I've included my top tasting notes below. Normally I would include scores for all the wines I tasted, but since I've been extremely busy I did not have time to write up ALL my notes, and have only written up those wines which scored higher than 8.5 on my scale.

Enjoy.

WHITE WINES
2004 Copain "James Berry Vineyard" Roussanne, Paso Robles. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2004 Tablas Creek "Bergeron" Roussanne. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Spencer Roloson "Noble Vineyard" Viognier, Knights Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2004 Peay Vineyards Estate Viognier, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Peay Vineyards Roussanne. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Renard "Westerly Vineyard" Viognier, Santa Ynez Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $21.

2004 Bonterra Viognier. Score: 9. Cost: $18.
2004 Bonterra Roussanne. Score: 9. Cost: $22.
2005 Bonterra Roussanne. Score: 9. Cost: $22.
2004 Marilyn Remark "Lockwood Valley" Roussanne. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2004 Marilyn Remark "Loma Pacific Vineyard" Marsanne. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2004 McDowell Family Vineyards Viognier, Mendocino. Score: 9. Cost: $16.
2005 Clos Saron "Carte Blanche" White Blend, Sierra Foothills. Score: 9. Cost: $20.
2005 Robert Hall Vineyard "Blanc de Robles" White Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 9. Cost: $24.
2004 Tablas Creek "Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc" White Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 9. Cost: $35.

2004 Cedarville Vineyard Estate Viognier. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $20.
2005 Crushpad "Broken Leg" Viognier, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2004 Edmunds St. John "Tablas Creek" Roussanne, Paso Robles. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2003 Jepson Vineyards Viognier, Mendocino. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $16.
NV Orfila Vineyard "Lotus 123" Viognier. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $28.
2004 Rosenblum "Fess Parker Vineyard" Roussanne, Santa Barbara. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18.
2004 Tablas Creek "Coted de Tablas Blanc" White Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $22.


PINK WINES
2005 Copain "James Berry Vineyard" Grenache Rose, Paso Robles. Score: 9.5. Cost: $NA.
2005 Qupe "Verdad" Rose, Santa Ynez Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2005 Beckmen Vineyards Grenache Rose, Santa Ynez Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $18.


RED WINES

2004 JC Cellars "Haley's Reserve" Rockpile Vineyard, Rockpile. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $50.

2003 JC Cellars "Caldwell Vineyards" Syrah, Napa. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2004 Beckmen Vineyards Grenache, Purisima Mountain. Score: 9.5. Cost: $38.
2004 Copain "Thompson" Syrah, Santa Barbara County. Score: 9.5. Cost: $50.
2004 Copain "James Berry" Syrah, Paso Robles. Score: 9.5. Cost: $60.
2004 Peay Vineyards "Les Titans" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2004 Peay Vineyards "La Bruma" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2004 ENO Wines "Los Madres" Syrah, Carneros. Score: 9.5. Cost: $35.

2002 Provisor Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Tablas Creek "Esprit de Beaucastel" Red Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40.
2002 Zaca Mesa "Black Bear" Estate Bottled Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2003 Audelssa Estate "Tempest" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Audelssa Estate "Tempest" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2004 Copain "Hawkes Butte" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Crushpad "Las Madres" Syrah, Carneros. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2004 Copain "Broken Leg" Syrah, Anderson Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2003 Baxter Winery "Eaglepoint Ranch" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $49.
2004 Beckmen Vineyards Estate Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $25.
2003 Spencer Roloson "Palaterra" Red Blend. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $19.
2002 Saxon Browne Cabernet/Syrah Blend, Sonoma. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40.
2004 Saddleback Cellars "Venge Family Reserve" Syrah, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Renard "Peay Vineyard" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2002 Renard "Tres Ninos" Red Blend. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Ridge Vineyards "Lytton West" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $36.
2002 Ridge Vineyards "Lytton Estate" Red Blend. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Rosenblum "Rominger Vineyard" Syrah, Yolo County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $24.
2003 Cline Cellars "Ancient Vines" Mourvedre. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $18.
2004 Michael Martella "Oleta Vineyard" Grenache, Fiddletown. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $26.
2004 Olsen Ogden "Unti Vineyard" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $32.
2003 Palmeri "Van Ness Vineyard" Syrah, Alexander Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $47.
2002 Palmeri "Stagecoach Vineyard" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $47.
2004 Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache, Mendocino. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $18.
2002 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah, Mendocino. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $20.
2005 ENO Wines "Eaglepoint Ranch" Grenache, Mendocino. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $ .
2003 Edmunds St. John "Basetti Vineyard" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40.
2003 Edmunds St. John "Wylie Fenaughty Vineyard" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40.

2003 Beckmen Vineyards Estate Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2005 Beckmen Vineyards Syrah, Purisima Mountain. Score: 9. Cost: $38.
2003 Cedarville Vineyard Estate Syrah. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2003 Cline Cellars "Ancient Vines" Carignane. Score: 9. Cost: $16.
2003 Ballentine Vineyards "Betty's Vineyard" Syrah. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2004 Vie Winery Syrah. Score: 9. Cost: $29.
2003 JC Cellars "Ventana Vineyards" Syrah, Monterey. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2002 Kathryn Kennedy Winery "Maridon Vineyards" Reserve Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9. Cost: $85.
2004 Landmark Vineyards "Steel Plow" Syrah, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2003 Marilyn Remark "Wild Horse Road" Grenache, Central Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2002 Michel-Schlumberger Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Morgan Winery Syrah, Monterey. Score: 9. Cost: $22.
2002 Morgan Winery "Tierra Mar" Syrah, Monterey County. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2004 Novy "Rosella's Vineyard" Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $32.
2004 Novy "Judge Family Vineyard" Grenache. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2003 Peay Vineyards Estate Syrah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2004 Olsen Ogden Syrah, Sonoma County. Score: 9. Cost: $22.
2003 Provisor Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2003 Ridge Vineyards "Buchgnani Vineyard" Carignane. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2004 Rosenblum "Abba Vineyard" Syrah, Lodi. Score: 9. Cost: $18.
2003 Saxon Browne "Pamalee Vineyard" Syrah, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2004 Saxon Browne "Pamalee Vineyard" Syrah, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2003 Spencer Roloson "La Herradura Vineyard" Syrah, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $38.
2003 Spencer Roloson Tempranillo. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Tablas Creek Mourvedre, Paso Robles. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2002 Thomas Coyne Grenache, Lodi. Score: 9. Cost: $12.50.
2003 Thomas Coyne Mourvedre, Contra Costa County. Score: 9. Cost: $16.
2003 Tablas Creek "Cotes de Tablas" Red Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 9. Cost: $22.
2003 Travieso "Companero Ciego" Syrah, Lodi. Score: 9. Cost: $ 27.
2004 Unti Vineyards Estate Grenache, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $ 26.
2003 Unti Vineyards Estate Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $24.

2003 Kathryn Kennedy Winery Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $36.
2003 Longboard Vineyards "Dekine Vineyard" Syrah, Sonoma. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $48.
2003 Marilyn Remard Petite Sirah, Central Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $26.
2003 McCrae Cellars "Cuvee Orleans" Syrah, Yakima Valley, WA. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $50.
2002 Michael Martella "Hammer" Syrah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $24.
2004 ENO Wines Grenache. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Cline Cellars Syrah, Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Clos Saron "Cuvee Mysterieuse" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35.
2003 Baxter Winery Carignane, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2004 Vie Winery "Last Leg Cuvee" Red Blend. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $29.
2003 Ravenswood "Icon" Syrah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $20.
1999 Renaissance Vineyard "Le Provencal" Red Blend. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35.
2004 Cedarville Vineyard Estate Grenache. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $25.
2003 Cedarville Vineyard "Naylor Vineyard" Petite Sirah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $25.
2003 Cline Cellars Cool Climate Syrah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $16.
2004 Rosenblum "Pickett Road" Syrah, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $28.
2004 Beckmen Vineyards "Cuvee le Bec" Red Blend, Santa Ynez Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $ .
2004 A Donkey and a Goat Syrah Vielles Vignes, Mcdowell Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2004 A Donkey and a Goat "Vidmar Vineyard" Syrah, Yorkville Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $34.
2001 Arrowood Vineyards "Saralee's Vineyard" Syrah., Sonoma. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: 39.
2003 Vinum Cellars "Red Dirt Red" Red Blend. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2001 Thomas Coyne Syrah, Livermore. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $14.
2002 Tin Barn Vineyards "Coryelle Fields Vineyard" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2003 Tin Barn Vineyards "Coryelle Fields Vineyard" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2003 Topel Winery "Cuvee Donnis" Syrah, Monterey County. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $24.50.
2003 Traveieso "Amaranta" Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $33.
2003 Tablas Creek Syrah, Paso Robles. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35.
2004 Tallulah "Bald Mountain Ranch" Syrah, Mt. Veeder, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2004 San Sakana "Las Madres Vineyard" Syrah, Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $39.

Comments (6)

j rosenthal wrote:
04.02.06 at 10:44 AM

I am surprised & disappointed that you did not include any Curtis Winery wines. Chuck Carlson is the winemaker there, & he is also the president of the Rhone Rangers. His 2004 Heritage Rose was named 1 of the top 100 wines in the SF Chronicles's list in Dec. 2005, to name 1 of his wines. He also produces award-winning 3 vineyard-specific syrahs & red Rhone blends called Heritage Cuvee ($16/bottle) which have also won awards. He makes only Rhone Varietals in Santa Barbara County - Santa Ynez Valley to be more exact. His wines are also very affordable, ranging from $14-35 retail.

Stefan wrote:
04.02.06 at 2:49 PM

I am French businessman who happened upon the Rhône Ranger tasting and your website when visiting San Francisco over several visit in the last few month. I like you web address and the talk about wine. The best wine for me were the wine of Terre Rouge of the Sierra, not that oaky and over the top California. They taste like French Rhône wine! Fantastique!

The Corkdork wrote:
04.02.06 at 8:03 PM

OK Alder, this must be a personal best for most wines tasted in one go. Last year, my palate was so fried after 10 young syrahs that I'm blown away that you can rate so many wines!!! Keep it up, you're my spitting hero!

CD

Alder wrote:
04.05.06 at 9:55 AM

J,

Can’t taste everything. No matter how many wines I taste, someone always manages to say "OH MY! I can't believe you didn't taste " :-)

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll keep an eye out for them.

Bettina wrote:
07.06.06 at 11:14 AM

Hi Alder, thanks for the review of our Las Madres Syrah, Rhone Rangers was our debut and it was a great event for us. your blogs are great, don't know how you can taste & keep it all straight, maybe I should learn from you during a next event... see you again soon.

Sharon wrote:
07.23.06 at 1:06 PM

I just found this blog and wanted to share my Rhone Rangers experience. Like a lot of people, I tend to visit the wineries that are well known. The great people at Rosenblum told me about a winery called Rocinante pouring a 2004 Syrah. The Rocinante 2004 Palindrome Vineyard Syrah turned out to be my favorite of the tasting. They also have great parties at the vineyard for their customers twice a year. The vineyard is on a secluded hilltop in Dry Creek Valley and is an awesome spot. They don't make much wine, but it's worth the time trying to find it.

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