Most wine tasting events focused on a specific style or type of wine that take place in California suffer from a single, but important deficit: they feature almost exclusively California wines. Go to a Pinot Noir event, and you get 95% California Pinots, etc.
There are a few notable exceptions to this, however, and one of my favorites is the annual fete for Rhone style wines called Hospice du Rhone.
For those who have not had the pleasure of attending Hospice du Rhone, it is a unique treat for anyone who enjoys this kind of wine. Attendees spend a laid-back two and a half days of seminars, dinners, and parties which offer a unique blend of California and international wines and wine talent. The event takes its title every year from some sort of bad pun -- this year's Rhonely Hearts Club theme being a particular groaner -- but that's really the only thing bad about this event. The rest is pure, unadulterated wine fest.
The event begins with a night of bowling and debauchery, which is followed by a full day of seminars on everything Rhone that ends with various dinner parties at wineries in the area. Day two for some people begins with a big dose of antacid and more than a liberal dose of coffee to compensate for the previous evenings festivities. The second day includes more seminars and the grand tasting, which offers the remarkable and instructive opportunity to taste California, French, and Australian Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and the other 19 Rhone varieties side-by-side.
The overall event is a very down-to-earth, and often humorous, celebration of the twenty-two Rhone varietals and the people who love them. The wine seminars are top notch, and the grand tasting is a fantastic opportunity to taste a lot of excellent wines, many of which are sold only through mailing lists, or not sold in the United States at all.
If you're a wine lover looking for something great to do the first weekend of May, you'd be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a couple of days.
Hospice du Rhone 2010: Rhonely Hearts Club
April 29 - May 1, 2010
Paso Robles Event Center
2198 Riverside Ave
Paso Robles, CA 93446 (map)
Tickets are $795 for the entire weekend (with a la carte pricing for various elements), and $100 for the Grand Tasting available for purchase online, and should be purchased in advance as the event will likely sell out. Also, book your accommodations quickly as they tend to be scarce in this little town the closer you get to the event.
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