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03.23.2008

The Best Grenache in California: Tasting Rhone Rangers 2008

rhonerangers08.jpgMaybe I'm getting old, but I just didn't have the energy to taste 300 wines last weekend when the Rhone Rangers came to town. This is always one of my favorite tastings each year, as I deeply enjoy Rhone style wines in all their incarnations, from the crisp whites of Marsanne and Roussanne to the rich dark Syrahs, and everything in between.

My usual approach consists of starting at one end of the hall and tasting through the wines like a bulldozer goes through a crowded square. This usually yields a great cross section of wines and lets me highlight my perennially favorite producers and their predictably excellent wines.

This year, however, I decided to take a slightly different tack. Instead of a cross section, I decided to do a deep dive. Specifically, I decided to taste every single Grenache on offer, along with every Grenache blend available for tasting.

In total, this little experiment yielded about 120 wines, which was an easily manageable number for three hours worth of tasting, while simultaneously providing an interesting window into the way California winemakers approach this grape variety.

A lot of variation exists in the treatment of this notoriously hardy grape variety, a vine which seems to have been adapted nicely to the dry heat of California. Some vintners seem to be producing light bodied wines that are barely more than roses, while others are creating dense, rich concoctions that would be impossible to make even in the mecca of Grenache production: Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The best wines that I tasted were generally more towards the opulent end of the spectrum, though not toppling over into the super-extracted realm (though there were certainly a number of those on display). The best Grenache in California is dense, but also balanced, with bright fruit, a hint of spiciness, and gorgeous aromatics.

California's red Rhone blends are some of the best tasting wines as well as some of the best values on the market these days, and they showed well through my tasting. Most are traditional GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends, though many winemakers are experimenting with Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Zinfandel, and even Merlot in combination with those prior three.

My little tasting adventure was fun, making me wonder if I ought to stick to a single varietal every year. I'm not sure I could handle a full day of only Viognier, however.

Oh, and before anyone busts me, I'm sure that a few of the red blends that I list below actually have more Syrah in them than Grenache, but I couldn't be bothered to screen wines based on their percentages.

TASTING NOTES:

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2005 Beckmen Vineyards Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache, Santa Barbara $40
2005 L'Aventure Winery Cote a Cote Red Blend, Paso Robles $85
2006 Outpost Wines Howell Mountain Grenache, Howell Mountain, Napa $40
2001 Renaissance Vineyard and Winery "Granite Crown" Red Blend, North Yuba $40
2000 Terre Rouge "Noir" Red Blend, Shenandoah Valley $25
2005 Villa Creek Cellars High Road, James Berry Vineyard Red Blend, Paso Robles $55
2005 Villa Creek Cellars "Avenger" Red Blend, Paso Robles $35

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2005 10 Knots Cellars "Atlantis" Red Blend, San Luis Obispo $32
2005 Alexander Valley Vineyards "Alexander School" Red Blend, Alexander Valley, Sonoma $35
2005 Arroyo Robles Winery "Little Star" Red Blend, Paso Robles $27
2004 Bonny Doon Vineyard "Le Cigare Volant" Red Blend, Central Coast $30
2005 Cass Winery "Rockin' One" Red Blend, Paso Robles $42
2006 Cedarville Vineyard Estate Grenache, El Dorado County $25
2004 Clos Saron "Cuvee Mysterieuse" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills $35
2005 Core "Ground Around" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County$47
2004 Eaglepoint Ranch "Coro Mendocino" Red Blend, Mendocino $35
2005 Ecluse Wines "Rendition" Red Blend, Paso Robles $38
2005 Kaleidos "Osiris" Red Blend, Paso Robles $28
2005 Michael-David Winery "Incognito Red" Red Blend, Lodi $20
2005 Outpost Wines "The Other" Petite Sirah, Howell Mountain, Napa $50
2005 Prospect 772 "The Brat" Red Blend, $36
2004 Renaissance Vineyard and Winery "Mediterranean" Red Blend, North Yuba $30
2000 Renaissance Vineyard and Winery "Proprietary Red Wine" Red Blend, North Yuba $??
2004 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Grenache, Sonoma $24
2006 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Red Blend, Sonoma
2005 Roshambo Winery Red Blend, $40
2005 Summerland Winery "Trio" Red Blend, $42
2005 Summerwood Winery "Diosa" Red Blend, Paso Robles $58
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard "Esprit de Beaucastel" Red Blend, Paso Robles $45
2006 Villa Creek Cellars "Willow Creek Cuvee" Red Blend, Paso Robles $35
2006 Villa Creek Cellars "Palenque" Red Blend, Paso Robles $40

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2005 10 Knots Cellars "Moonraker" Red Blend, San Luis Obispo $26
2005 Adelaida Cellars Grenache, Paso Robles $30
2005 Adelaida Cellars "Version"Red Blend, Paso Robles$26
2005 Anglim Red Blend, Paso Robles $32
2006 Beckmen Vineyards Estate Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley, $28
2005 Cass Winery Estate Grenache, Paso Robles $28
2006 Cline Cellars "Cashmere" Red Blend, Sonoma $16
2003 Clos Saron "Holy Moly" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills $35
2005 Concannon Vineyard Reserve Grenache, Livermore $24
2005 Core "Elevation Sensation" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $42
2005 Curtis Winery "The Crossroad" Grenache, Santa Barbara County $22
2006 David Girard "Coeur du Terroir Rouge," El Dorado County $30
2006 Eberle Winery "Cotes Du Rhone" Red Blend, Paso Robles $20
2005 Edmunds St. John "Rocks and Gravel" Red Blend, $18
2005 Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines "Le Thief" Red Blend, Paso Robles $30
2005 Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines "Cuvée des Cinq" Red Blend, Paso Robles $42
2005 Epiphany "Revelation" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $35
2003 Fife Vineyards "3 & 4 Max Cuvee" Red Blend, Napa $40
2005 Justin Winery "Savant" Red Blend, Paso Robles $45
2005 Kaleidos "Morpheus" Red Blend, Paso Robles $34
2006 Mount Aukum Winery "En Fuego" Red Blend, Amador $26
2006 Qupé "Los Olivos Cuvee" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $25
2005 Summerwood Winery Red Blend, Paso Robles $40
2005 Tablas Creek Vineyard "Cotes de Tablas" Red Blend, Paso Robles $22
2005 Travieso Winery "El Chupacabras" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $36
2006 Villa Creek Cellars "Garnacha" Denner Vineyard Grenache, Paso Robles $35
2005 Vinum Cellars "Red Dirt Red" Red Blend, El Dorado County $30
2004 Zefina "Serience" Red Blend, Washington $30

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2006 A Donkey and Goat "Three Thirteen" Red Blend, $37
2005 Alere Vineyards & Winery Red Blend, $20
2006 Alere Vineyards & Winery Grenache Blend, $18
2005 Ampelos Cellars "Syrache" Red Blend,Santa Barbara County $28
2003 Bonny Doon Vineyard "Le Cigare Volant" Red Blend, Central Coast $28
2005 Bridlewood Winery "Arabesque" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills $24
2005 Core Grenache, Santa Barbara County $38
2005 Core "Hard Core," Santa Barbara County$29
2006 David Girard Grenache,El Dorado County $18
2005 Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wine "Vertigo" Red Blend, Paso Robles $30
2005 Epiphany "Gypsy" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $25
2005 Fife Vineyards "L'Attitude 39" Red Blend, Napa $19
2001 Fife Vineyards Max Cuvee Red Blend, Napa $40
2006 Four Vines Winery "Peasant" Red Blend, Paso Robles $40
2006 Four Vines Winery "Anarchy" Unconventional Red Blend, Paso Robles $40
2005 McCrea Cellars "Scirocco" Red Blend, Colombia Valley$35
2005 Novy Family Winery Judge Family Vineyard Grenache, Bennett Valley, $26
2005 Opolo Vineyards Grenache, Paso Robles $24
2005 Opolo Vineyards "Maestro" Paso Robles Red Blend, Paso Robles $30
2003 Palmeri Stagecoach Red Blend, Napa $53
2005 Parducci Grenache, Mendocino $??
2007 Robert Hall Winery Rhone de Robles Red Blend, Paso Robles $18
2006 Robert Hall Winery Grenache, Paso Robles $24
2006 Tallulah Wines "Les Trois Voix" Red Blend, Sonoma $??
2005 Terry Hoage Vineyards "The 46" Red Blend, Paso Robles $40
2005 Twisted Oak Winery Grenache, Calaveras County $24
2005 Twisted Oak Winery Red Blend, Calaveras County $24
2005 Unti Vineyards Estate Grenache, Dry Creek Valley $30
2006 Vie Winery "L'Imaginaire" Grenache, $39
2004 Zaca Mesa Winery "Z Three" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $40

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2005 Adelaida Cellars "Schoolhouse Crush," Red Blend, Paso Robles $15
2005 Clos LaChance Winery Estate Grenache, Central Coast $30
2005 Clos LaChance Winery "Lila's Cuvee" Red Blend, Central Coast $40
2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Mendocino County Grenache, Mendocino $20
2006 Holly's Hill Vineyards Grenache, El Dorado County $15
2005 Holly's Hill Vineyards "Tranquille" Red Blend, El Dorado County $18
2006 Hug Cellars "el Pape" Red Blend, Paso Robles $25
2006 Morgan Winery "Cotes du Crow's" Red Blend, Monterey County $20
2005 Opolo Vineyards "Grand Rouge" Paso Robles Red Blend, Paso Robles $19
2006 Peterson Winery "Zero Manipulation" Red Blend, Russian River Valley $15
2006 Roshambo Winery Grenache, $25
2006 Sierra Vista Winery Grenache, El Dorado County $20
2005 Summerland Winery "Duet" Red Blend, $32
2005 Unti Vineyards "Cuvee Foudre" Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley $50
2004 Ventana Vineyards & Winery Grenache, Monterey $28
2006 Vie Winery "L'Etranger" Red Blend, $39
2006 Vina Robles "Red 4" Red Blend, Paso Robles $??
2005 Zaca Mesa Winery "Z Cuvee" Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $18

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2005 Arrowood Vineyards & Winery "Cote de Lune Rouge" Red Blend, Sonoma $30
2006 Mount Aukum Winery Grenache, Amador $24
2005 Treana Winery Austin Hope, Hope Family Vineyard Grenache, Paso Robles $42

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2007 Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache (Barrel Sample), Mendocino
2005 Madrona Vineyards Estate Red Blend, $16

Comments (9)

Kat wrote:
03.24.08 at 12:52 PM

I'm not surprised by Fife Vineyards inclusion in this list. I've enjoyed their wines for a long time, and their Max Cuvee line is not nearly as big as I expect a Spring Mountain wine to be. There is always a beautiful complexity and a gorgeous finish to all of Fife's wines.

Arthur wrote:
03.24.08 at 2:46 PM

The $40 of the Beckmen Grenache must be based on the amount of residual sugar in the wine.

Geoff Smith wrote:
03.26.08 at 3:29 PM

Wouldn't it be great, however, if we had a wine from California that tasted like Chateau Rayas?

Geoff

Alder wrote:
03.26.08 at 3:42 PM

Geoff

Sigh. I'll certainly admit that 95% of the Grenache I have in my cellar is French....

Phil wrote:
03.30.08 at 11:05 PM

Alder,
Terry Hoage's grenache blend was one of my favorite.
Also, I think they only had Syrahs, but did you try Donkey and a Goat? Killer rhone style syrahs.


Alder wrote:
03.31.08 at 10:27 AM

Thanks for the comments. I don't think I tasted the Donkey and Goat syrahs this time around.

I've had them in the past, however, and thought they were decent.

John Nezlek wrote:
03.31.08 at 1:50 PM

Dear All,

Not surprised to see Terre Rouge Noir in the top group. I have been drinking a bunch of '97 and '98 I got a a few years back with great pleasure. The '97 is starting fade (but is still drinking very well). I will probably open a '98 soon just to see what's up. Uniformly good wines from this shop.

Cheers,

John

Cmonkey wrote:
04.01.08 at 10:47 AM

I'm with John here...I couldn't make Rhone Rangers this year but Terre Rouge was one the stars for me last year. Their Mourvedre is fantastic too!

larry schaffer wrote:
04.10.08 at 11:29 PM

Alder,

A pleasure as always seeing you at Rhone Rangers. I agree 100% that grenache is coming on strong in CA. I think that the Central Coast is leading the charge and am quite exicted about many of the current and upcoming offerings from down our way. From Beckmen to Kaena to McPrice Meyers to Herman Story, the story is unfolding nicely . . .

One of the most exciting things is the varied terrain in which grenache is grown in SB cty . . . . And equally as exciting are the grenache-based blends coming from our area as well - including the Epiphany wines you tasted in SF . . .

Hope to see you again at HdR - I will actually be pouring my own wines - stop by the tercero wines table and make sure to say hi!

Cheers!

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