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California's Best Syrah: Tasting The Rhone Rangers 2007

http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/rhoneranger07-thumb.jpgSyrah is, and has always been the star of the Rhone, so it is not surprising that it reigned supreme at this past weekend's Rhone Rangers wine tasting, but there are dozens of other interesting Rhone varietals that are slowly being figured out by California winegrowers, many of which are excellent wines and often phenomenal values.

This past Sunday, along with 800 or so of my closest friends I tasted my way through the wines on offer at the annual tasting offered by the organization devoted to promoting Rhone style wines in the Western United States. For any of you unfamiliar with Rhone-style wines, these are wines made from one (or often several) varietals common to that region of France:

WHITE: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, and several other lesser known varietals.

RED: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignane, Cinsault, Cunoise, Petite Sirah, and several others.

One of the most diverse and exciting groups of varietals, Rhone style wines are among some of the most food friendly in the world, and have a special place in my heart.

So it is with pleasure and anticipation every year that I sample another vintage of California's continuing exploration and evolution of these wines.

My impressions this year are not unlike many from previous years. On the red front, It's clear we've figured out how to grow Syrah and grow it well. There are a huge number of both regional and individual styles developing for Syrah, from peppery to the lean and mineral, to the lush and fruit driven wines that can sport some serious alcohol levels. Apart from Syrah, it's clear to me that there is enormous potential for Grenache in the state, but not enough people are taking it seriously as a varietal. An increasing number of people are making excellent Mourvedre, and those who are making red blends from the main varieties, as well as some of the lesser known, are delivering some of the best value wines in California, in my opinion.

When it comes to white wines, however, it's clear that only a select few winemakers have really figured out how to grow and make good single varietal whites or the classic white blends in the Rhone style. Those who do it well can do it spectacularly, but there is a lot of mediocre and even downright bad single-varietal Marsanne and Roussane wines out there. It seems to me that most winemakers would be better served making white blends with these varietals. Perhaps one way of expressing my sense of things might be to say that most of the time I'm just as happy to drink a really good California Syrah as I am one from the Northern Rhone, but given the choice between a California Viognier and any white wine from the Rhone, I'm gonna go with the French wine every time.

In any case, there are many excellent wines to be had out there for those of us who love this style. Here are my notes from the tasting.

2005 Peay Vineyards Viognier, Sonoma Coast. $35
2005 Renard Viognier, Sonoma. $22 Where to Buy?

2004 J.C. Cellars Syrah, Rockpile Vineyard. $50 Where to Buy?
2002 Kathryn Kennedy Winery Reserve Syrah, Maridon Vyd., Santa Cruz Mountains. $85
2003 L'Aventure Winery Estate Syrah, Paso Robles. $50 Where to Buy?
2005 Outpost Wines Grenache, Howell Mountain (barrel sample). $40
2004 Outpost Wines Petite Sirah, "The Other" Howell Mountain. $50 Where to Buy?
2004 Peay Vineyards "La Bruma" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $45 Where to Buy?
2004 Peay Vineyards "Les Titans" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $45 Where to Buy?
2005 Rosenblum Cellars Petite Sirah, Pickett Road, Napa Valley. $35. Where to Buy?
2002 Saddleback Cellars Syrah, Rutherford. $n/a
2004 Tablas Creek Vineyard Mourvedre. $35. Where to Buy?
2005 Venge Vineyards Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma (barrel Sample). $48

2005 McCrea Cellars Roussanne, Ciel du Cheval Vyd, Red Mountain. $20
2005 Peay Vineyards Marsanne/Rousanne Blend, Sonoma Coast. $35
2005 Renard Roussanne, Santa Ynez Valley. $22
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard "Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc" White Blend. $28
2005 Twisted Oak Winery "*%#&@!" White Blend (Roussanne/Marsanne), El Dorado County. $24
2005 Vinum Cellars Viognier, Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County. $25

2004 Arger Martucci Petite Sirah. $60
2002 Ballentine Vineyards Old Vines Estate Grown Syrah, Napa. $25
2003 Ballentine Vineyards Betty's Vineyard Estate Grown Syrah, Napa. $22
2004 Cline Cellars Small Berry Mourvedre, Contra Costa County. $36
2003 Clos Saron Syrah, "Sacré Bleu" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills. $35
2005 Copain Wine Cellars Syrah, Thompson Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. $??
2005 Copain Wine Cellars Syrah, McDowell Vineyard, McDowell Valley. $??
2005 Copain Wine Cellars Syrah, Hawkes Butte Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands. $??
2003 L'Aventure Winery "Cote a Cote" Red Blend, Paso Robles. $50
2003 Michel-Schlumberger Estate Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. $??
2005 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $35
2005 Peay Vineyards "La Bruma" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $45 2005 Peay Vineyards "Les Titans" Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $45
2005 Renard Unti Vineyard Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $35
2004 Rosenblum Cellars "Kick Reserve" Syrah, Sonoma County. $25
2004 Rosenblum Cellars "hillside Vineyards" Syrah, Sonoma County. $25
2005 Rosenblum Cellars "Rominger Vineyard" Syrah, Yolo County. $25
2004 Rosenblum Cellars Syrah, Santa Barbara County. $18
2004 Spicerack Vineyards "Rack & Roll" Single Vineyard Syrah, Paso Robles "East Side". $25
2004 Tablas Creek Vineyard "Esprit de Beaucastel" Red Blend. $45
2004 Tablas Creek Vineyard Syrah. $28 2005 Tallulah Wines "Shake Ridge Vineyard" Syrah, Amador County. $30
2005 Tallulah Wines "Les Trois Voix" Shake Ridge Vineyard Red Blend, Amador County. $30
2005 Terry Hoage Vineyards "The Hedge-Estate" Syrah. $45
2005 Terry Hoage Vineyards "The 46" Red Blend (50% Grenache-50% Syrah). $40
2005 Venge Vineyards Syrah, Napa Valley (barrel sample). $40

2005 McCrea Cellars "Ciel du Cheval Vyd" Viognier, Red Mountain. $21
2005 Michaud Marsanne, Chalone. $38
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard Roussanne. $22
2005 Saddleback Cellars "Clarksburg" Viognier. $23
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard Grenache Blanc. $27 2006 Terry Hoage Vineyards Dry Grenache Rose. $20
2006 Unti Vineyards Winery Estate Rose, Dry Creek Valley Sonoma. $18

2005 A Donkey and Goat "Three Thirteen" Red Blend. $37
2004 Ballentine Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah Field Blend, Napa. $35
2004 Beckmen Vineyards Syrah, Purisima Mountain. $40
2004 Cedarville Vineyard Estate Syrah. $25
2004 Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Carignan, Contra Costa County. $18
2003 Clos Saron "Holy Moly!" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills. $35
2005 Copain Wine Cellars Garys' Vineyard Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. $??
2004 CORE "Hardcore" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County. $29
2005 CORE Alta Mesa Vineyard Grenache, Santa Barbara County. $38
2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache, Mendocino County. $28
2004 Edmunds St. John "Rocks And Gravel" Red Blend. $18
2001 Edmunds St. John "Wylie-Fenaughty" Syrah. $30
2004 G. Graham Wines Crimson Hill Vineyard Syrah, Red Hills. $20
2003 Kathryn Kennedy Winery Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains. $32
2004 Landmark Vineyards "Steel Plow" Syrah, Sonoma Valley. $27
2004 Martinelli Winery "Terra Felice" Syrah, Sonoma. $45
2001 Michaud Syrah, Chalone. $38
2004 Michaud Syrah, Chalone. $38
2003 Morgan Winery "Tierra Mar" Syrah, Monterey County. $42
2005 Novy Family Winery Gary's Vineyard Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. $33
2004 Provisor Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. $36
2003 Renard Syrah, Cappelli Ranch - El Dorado. $25
2003 Renard Syrah, Santa Rita Hills. $25
2003 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Red Blend. $30
2002 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Petite Sirah. $36
2003 Rockblock Cellars / Domaine Serene Syrah, Del Rio Vineyard, Rouge Valley. $40
2004 San Sakana Alta Mesa Vineyard Mourvedre, Santa Maria Valley. $??
2005 San Sakana White Hawk Syrah, Santa Barbara. $??
2004 Tallulah Wines Del Rio Vineyard Syrah, Oregon. $30
2004 Terlato Family Vineyards Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. $35
2003 Tin Barn Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $32
2004 Tin Barn Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $32
2005 Vinum Cellars "PETS" Petite Sirah, Wilson Vineyard, Clarksburg. $14
2002 Zefina "Serience Red" Red Blend, Alder Ridge Vyd. $30

2005 Twisted Oak Winery Viognier, Calaveras County. $22
2005 San Sakana "Catie's Corner Vineyard" Viognier, Russian River Valley. $??
2005 Cline Cellars Marsanne, Sonoma County. $20
2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Albarino, Mendocino County (barrel sample). $20
2005 Edmunds St. John "Shell And Bone" White Blend, Paso Robles. $20
2005 Marilyn Remark Rose de Saignee. $22
2006 Rosenblum Cellars "Kathy's Cuvee" Viognier. $18
2005 Rosenblum Cellars Roussanne, Santa Barbara County. $18
2006 A Donkey and Goat "Isabel's Cuvee" Rose. $18
2006 Clos Saron "Carte Blanche" White Blend, Sierra Foothills. $20

2005 San Sakana Las Madres Vineyard Syrah, Carneros. $??
2004 Arger Martucci Syrah. $30
2005 Ballentine Vineyards Fig Tree Vineyard Petite Sirah, Napa. $35
2005 Beckmen Vineyards Grenache, Purisima Mountain. $40
2004 Beckmen Vineyards Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley. $22
2005 Cedarville Vineyard Estate Grenache. $25
2004 Cedarville Vineyard "Naylor Vineyard" Petite Sirah. $25
2004 Cline Cellars Syrah, Los Carneros. $32
2004 Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvedre, Contra Costa County. $18
2005 L'Hiver (Copain) Syrah. $18
2004 CORE "Mister Morived" Mourvedre, Santa Barbara County. $42
2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache, Mendocino County (barrel sample). $28
2004 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah, Mendocino County. $20
2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah, Mendocino County (barrel sample). $20
2004 Four Vines Winery "The Peasant" Red Rhone Blend. $30
2005 G. Graham Wines Crimson Hill Vineyard Syrah, Red Hills. $28
2004 Justin Vineyard & Winery "Savant," Red Blend (Syrah/Cabernet). $40
2005 Kokomo Wines Petite Sirah, North Coast. $25
2005 Landmark Vineyards "Steel Plow" Syrah, Sonoma Valley. $27
2004 McCrea Cellars "Sirocco" Red Blend (Grenache,Mourvedre,Syrah,Counoise). $28
2004 McCrea Cellars "Ciel du Cheval" Syrah, Red Mountain. $48
2003 McCrea Cellars "Cuvee Orleans" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington. $48
2005 McCrea Cellars "Amerique" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington. $45
2002 Michaud Syrah, Chalone. $38
2003 Michaud Syrah, Chalone. $38
2003 Michel-Schlumberger Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $18
2004 Morgan Winery "Cotes du Crow's" Red Blend (Grenache/Syrah). $18
2005 Novy Family Winery "Judge Family Vineyard" Grenache, . $32
2005 Novy Family Winery Rosella's Vineyard Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands. $33
2005 Olson Ogden Wines Syrah, Sonoma County. $25
2003 Renard "Truchard Vineyard" Syrah, Carneros. $25
2005 Ridge Vineyards "Buchignani Ranch" Carignan. $26
2003 Rocca Family Vineyards Estate Syrah, Yountville, Napa Valley. $42
2004 Rocinante Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $35
2003 Rockblock Cellars / Domaine Serene Syrah, 7 Hills, Walla Walla, Washington. $40
2005 Rosenblum Cellars "Heritage Clones" Petite Sirah, San Francisco Bay. $18
2004 Tablas Creek Vineyard "Cotes de Tablas" Red Blend. $22
2006 Tablas Creek Vineyard Rose. $18
2004 Tallulah Wines Syrah, Sonoma Coast. $28
2005 Terry Hoage Vineyards "The Pick" Red Blend (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise). $38
2003 Twisted Oak Winery Syrah, Calaveras County. $24
2004 Twisted Oak Winery "Tanner Vineyard" Syrah, Calaveras County. $32
2005 Vie Winery "L'Imaginaire" (The Imaginary One) Grenache, Santa Barbara County. $39
2004 Vinum Cellars "Red Dirt Red" Red Blend (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache). $30

Cedarville Vineyard Estate Viognier. $20
2005 G. Graham Wines Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier. $20
2005 Cline Cellars Viognier, California. $14
2006 Beckmen Vineyards Rose of Grenache. $16
2005 San Sakana "Broken Leg Vineyard" Viognier, Anderson Valley. $??
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard "Cotes de Tablas Blanc" White Blend. $22
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard Picpoul Blanc. $22
2005 Vie Winery "Round River Ranch" Roussanne, Lake County. $29
2005 CORE Rose, Santa Barbara County. $14

2005 A Donkey and Goat "Broken Leg Vineyard" Syrah, $42
2005 Beckmen Vineyards "Cuvee Le Bec" Red Blend. $16
2005 Cline Cellars "Cashmere" GSM Blend. $18
2005 CORE "Turchi" Syrah, Santa Barbara County. $14
2005 CORE Red Blend (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah), Santa Barbara County. $??
2004 Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah, Mendocino County. $26
2004 Four Vines Winery "Anarchy" Rhone Blend. $30
2004 Four Vines Winery "Bailey Vineyard" Syrah. $30
2004 Four Vines Winery "Heretic" Petite Sirah. $30
2005 G. Graham Wines Syrah, Napa. $20
2005 Kokomo Wines "Green Pastures Vineyard" Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $22
2005 Marilyn Remark "Loma Pacific Vineyard" Marsanne, Monterey County. $30
2004 Marilyn Remark "Arroyo Loma Vineyard" Syrah, Monterey County. $36
2004 Marilyn Remark "Wild Horse Road Vineyard" Grenache, Monterey County. $45
2004 Marilyn Remark "Roads End Vineyard" Petite Sirah, Monterey County. $28
2005 McCrea Cellars "Ciel du Cheval" Mourvedre, Red Mountain. $28
2003 Morgan Winery Syrah, Monterey. $22
2005 Novy Family Winery Syrah, Sonoma County. $19
2003 Renard "Unti Vineyard Syrah", Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $25
2005 Twisted Oak Winery Grenache, Calaveras County. $24
2005 Twisted Oak Winery "*%#&@!" Red Blend (Mourvedre/Syrah/Grenache), Calaveras County. $24
2004 Unti Vineyards Winery Estate Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. $26
2005 Vie Winery Las Madres Vineyard Syrah, Carneros. $39
2005 Vie Winery "Les Amours" (Lovers) Syrah, Santa Barbara County. $39
2005 Vie Winery "L'Intruse" (The Intruder) Mourvedre, Santa Barbara County. $39
2005 Vie Winery "L'Etranger" (The Stranger) Red Blend, Sonoma County. $39

2005 Beckmen Vineyards "Le Bec Blanc" White Blend. $20
2006 Clos Saron "Tickled Pink" Rose, Sierra Foothills. $18
2005 CORE White Blend (Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc), Santa Barbara County. $21
2005 Rockblock Cellars / Domaine Serene Viognier, Rouge Valley. $35
2005 Arrowood Vineyards & Winery "Cote de Lune Blanc" Saralee's Vineyard White Blend, Russian River Valley. $??

2002 Edmunds St. John "The Shadow" Syrah. $12
2004 Four Vines Winery "The Phoenix" Syrah. $40
2004 Justin Vineyard & Winery Syrah, Paso Robles. $32
2005 McCrea Cellars Syrah, Washington State. $32
2003 Unti Vineyards Winery Estate Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $24
2004 Unti Vineyards Winery "Benchland Reserve" Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. $42

Comments (12)

Jason Haas wrote:
03.21.07 at 6:52 PM

Thanks for the great writeup, Alder, and for the nice comments on the Tablas Creek wines. I think that the overall quality of the wines at the Rhone Rangers tasting gets better each year. It's been led by the red wines, but there were more good whites this year, I thought, than ever before.

Sorry I didn't get more of a chance to chat when you were at our table... as you noticed, it was pretty busy.


Bettina wrote:
03.21.07 at 7:30 PM

Hi Alder, great to see you on Sunday. Thanks for tasting our wines and glad you liked the lineup. Here's our pricing for your notes:

2005 Catie's Corner Vineyard Viognier, Russian River, $34

2005 Broken Leg Vineyard Viognier, Anderson Valley, $38

2005 Alta Mesa Vineyard Mourvedre, Santa Maria Valley, $40

2005 White Hawk Syrah,Santa Barbara,$52

2005 Las Madres Syrah, Carneros, $45

See you soon. Thanks - Bettina

Alder wrote:
03.21.07 at 7:56 PM

Thanks Jason.

Bettina, I appreciate you filling in the prices. I forgot to ask and it got really busy towards the end!

Dan G Erken wrote:
03.21.07 at 9:33 PM


Thanks for running the gauntlet for your readers. I, for one, am grateful. I'm not surprised by your rankings of Unti and Four Vines. I am surprised that Stolpman was not listed-- or did Stolpman not present any of their reds? Of the 9.5 reds, are you willing to say which one, if any, was more compelling than the others? Thanks,


el jefe wrote:
03.21.07 at 11:29 PM

hi Alder - Was nice to see you and to meet your lovely wife - and to see "The Tasting Machine" in action! Thanks for the ratings, it's exciting to be in such good company!

Alder wrote:
03.21.07 at 11:32 PM


Either Stolpman was not there or I skipped them unintentionally.

I think my two favorite wines of the tasting were the Outpost Grenache and the Venge barrel sample.

Tyler wrote:
03.22.07 at 7:38 AM

I don't see Zaca Mesa anywhere. Too bad.

larry-s wrote:
03.22.07 at 11:36 AM

The surprise wine for me was '04 Spicerack Syrah, Paso Robles (yeah I know, who?). Bill Easton from Terre Rouge pointed them out to me. The winemaker is the same person who makes the wines at Pey-Marin. This is a lower-alcohol (14.2%) and oak, higher acidity style of Syrah (that's right up my alley). What's even more surprising is the vineyard is way out on the east side of Paso Robles where the climate is much warmer than on the west side of Hwy. 101.

Alder, I do notice that the majority of the wines that you give higher scores are one that I feel push the oak too far. I also realize that in these types of large tastings, in-your-face wines make more of an impression. It is difficult to pick up nuances as more and more wines get tasted throughout the day. Believe me, I know that all too well!

Alder wrote:
03.22.07 at 10:58 PM


Thanks for the comments. I had never heard of the Spicerack either, but I recognized Jonathan standing behind the table, and knew I had to try it. Good stuff.

As for the wines I like being oak influenced, I'm not totally sure I agree -- I would definitely sat that they are bigger wines (that's the way I like my Syrah and Grenache), but many have modest or at least unobtrusive oak treatments: Kathryn Kennedy, Peay, Saddleback, Tablas Creek, Ballentine, Clos Saron, etc.

carlos Serafim wrote:
03.25.07 at 6:40 PM

Hi Alder, maybe they weren't there but have you tried Switchback Ridge Petite Syrah? Scary good.

Phoebe wrote:
03.30.07 at 6:11 PM

Very interesting comments with a lot of reflections on things like alcohol levels that mirror a lot of the debate happening in Australia. I recently had the opportunity to try some reds from a Central Victorian producer Balgownie Estate who have been around since the 1960's and was fortunate enough to have some old wines. These things actually age! 1983 Cabernet still showing fruit, beautifully balanced, 1993 Cabernet lots of life left, plump yet refined and the current release Shiraz/Syrah 2004 a stunning elegant, medium bodied wine that is built to last. No excessive anything. Class!

10.21.14 at 12:07 PM

Hello, just wanted to mention, I liked this post. It was funny.
Keep on posting!

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