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05.28.2013

The Rhone Renaissance: Tasting Notes from Rhone Rangers 2013

Rhone_Rangers.jpg"I'm not dead yet!" protests the old man as he is about to be dumped on the wheelbarrow of corpses. "I think I'll go for a walk," he volunteers. "Shut up, you're not fooling anyone," insists the man trying to get rid of him.

I can't help but think of this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail whenever I contemplate the fate of California Syrah. For reasons completely unbeknownst to me, it's apparently easier to get rid of a case of the clap than a case of Syrah according to what is now a well worn joke among winemakers in California.

Squaring this reality with the obvious increasing diversity and quality of the Syrahs made in California gets more difficult with each passing month. My notes from this year's Rhone Rangers tasting make that abundantly clear as I reviewed them for this posting. Add to those the growing number of blends made with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan and you get an incredible panoply of high-quality wines available to the Rhone-inclined.

My tasting this year focused primarily on reds, and since I didn't have the luxury of staying for the length of the entire tasting, I visited a lot of producers that I knew, such as Unti, Ridge, and Clos Saron, as well as a smattering of those that I did not. I was delighted, for instance, to encounter the wines of Skylark and Ambyth Estate for the first time.

Below I offer my tasting notes and scores from this year's tasting along with a hearty endorsement of the state of Rhone Wines in California. They keep getting better every year, as far as I'm concerned (difficult vintages notwithstanding), and are worth far more attention than they get paid.

Enjoy.


WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2010 Ambyth Estate Priscus White Blend, Paso Robles $45
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wonderfully floral orange peel and bee pollen aromas. In the mouth, flavors of bee pollen, ripe apples, ripe pears, and wet stones have a brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderfully long on the palate. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. click to buy.

2011 E. Guigal Condrieu, Rhone Valley, France $65
Pale, near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white peaches and apricot flesh. In the mouth brightly mineral flavors of wet stones and apricots have a silky texture as the sit on the tongue with beautiful white peach aromatics through the finish. Softer acidity, but quite pretty. click to buy.

2011 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley $24
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of bright stony, juicy, lemony apple aromas. In the mouth the wine has a wonderfully saline kick to it with apple, asian pear, and wet stone minerality that all crackle brightly with excellent acidity. Juicy and delicious. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Ambyth Estate Grenache Blanc, Santa Barbara County $45
Light orange in the glass, this wine smells of crushed dried flowers and herbal notes mixed with orange peel and bee pollen. In the mouth light tannins grip the tongue as a mix of wet leaves orange peel and dried flowers swirl in an exotic mix on the palate. Made with extended skin contact.

2010 Anaba Wines Coriol Blanc White Blend, Sonoma County $28
2010 Easton - Terre Rouge Viognier, Sierra Foothills $25
2010 Qupe Roussanne, Santa Barbara County $40
2011 Skylark Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County $18
2011 Tablas Creek Vineyards Roussanne, Paso Robles $30
2011 Tablas Creek Vineyards Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc White Blend, Paso Robles $40
2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc White Blend, Russian River Valley $26
2011 Two Shepherds Centine White Blend, Russian River Valley $30

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Campovida Campo di Blanca White Blend, Mendocino County $35
2011 Donelan White Blend, Sonoma County $45
2011 E. Guigal St. Joseph Blanc, Rhone Valley, France $28
2011 Easton - Terre Rouge Grenache Blanc, Sierra Foothills $20
2010 Easton - Terre Rouge Enigma White Blend, Sierra Foothills $25
2011 Frick Cote du Dry Creek White Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $27
2012 Qupe Marsanne, Santa Barbara County $20
2011 Tablas Creek Vineyards Cotes de Tablas Blanc White Blend, Paso Robles $30
2011 Tercero Cellars White Hawk Viognier, Santa Barbara County $20
2012 Unti Vineyards Cuvee Blanc White Blend, Dry Creek Valley $25

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2012 Campovida Marsanne, Mendocino County $34
2012 Campovida Roussanne, Mendocino County $34
2011 Campovida Viognier, Mendocino County $36
2010 Easton - Terre Rouge Roussanne, Sierra Foothills $25
2011 Frick Viognier, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $27
2012 Ridge Vineyards Late Harvest Viognier $22
2011 Tablas Creek Vineyards Patelin de Tablas White Blend, Paso Robles $20
2011 Tercero Cellars Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley $20



PINK WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2012 Unti Vineyards Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley $22
Pale orangey pink in color, this wine smells of bright fresh berries. In the mouth flavors of wet stone, wet leaves, strawberries and watermelon rind all have a wonderfully silky texture. Electric acidity keeps the wine bright and crisp through the finish. Outstanding. A blend of Grenache and Mourvedre. click to buy.

2011 E. Guigal Tavel, Rhone Valley, France $24

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2012 Anaba Wines Red Blend, Sonoma County $22
2012 Clos Saron Tickled Pink Red Blend, North Yuba $25
2012 Quivira Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $19

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 L'Aventure Estate Red Blend, Paso Robes $25
2011 Qupe Verdad Grenache, Santa Barbara County $18
2912 Tablas Creek Vineyards Dianthus Mourvedre, Paso Robles $27

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2012 Campovida Grenache, Mendocino County $34
2012 Cornerstone Stepping Stone Syrah, Napa Valley $20
2012 Lagier Meredith Syrah, Napa $20
2012 Tercero Cellars Mourvedre, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara $18
2011 Venteux Mourvedre, Santa Barbara County $28




RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2010 Petrichor Vineyards Les Trois Syrah, Russian River Valley $48
Dark cloudy garnet in the glass, this wine smells of fresh blackberry and raw, wet earth. In the mouth the wine proves deep and stony, with powdery tannins and a hint of something animal amidst the rich, savory cassis and blackberry fruit.

2009 Petrichor Vineyards Les Trois Syrah, Russian River Valley $48
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright and savory blackberry briar. In the mouth, powdery tannins wrap around a code of juicy, tangy-sour cherry and black cherry flavors that keep the mouth watering through a very long finish. Bright, quite savory, and distinctive. Contains 15% Grenache. An outstanding and very promising first vintage from this small family winery. click to buy.

2010 Donelan Walker Vine Hill Syrah, Russian River Valley, Sonoma $45
Dark garnet in the glass this wine smells of cherries, earth, and a smooth stoniness that is quite appealing. In the mouth, fine grained tannins surround a cool, cherry and cassis core of fruit. Great acidity makes the wine quite bright, even as earthy and stony qualities pull it into darker savory zones. Beautifully textured, the wine conveys nothing so much as sleekness on the palate throughout its considerable length. Delicious. click to buy.

2007 Clos Saron Heart of Stone Syrah, North Yuba $39
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of meaty, savory, tangy acidophilus aromas. In the mouth flavors of red apple skin, leather, and sour cherries have a wonderful juiciness to them thanks to fantastic acidity. With an enthralling twist, the wine turns darker as it lengthens on the palate, with blackberry flavors and wet earth lingering long after each swallow. click to buy.

2011 Unti Vineyards Grenache, Dry Creek Valley $28
Light garnet in color with wonderfully floral, mulberry aromas. In the mouth, flavors of mulberries and strawberries mix with a hint of leather in a juicy bouquet thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of cedar linger on the finish. Delicious. 13.5% alcohol. click to buy.

2011 Qupe Grenache, Edna Valley $35
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth the wine sizzles with electric acidity that enlivens savory flavors of mulberry, cherry, and dried flowers. Earthier notes linger under the fruit with the barest whisper of tannins. Outstanding. click to buy.

2010 Qupe Syrah, Edna Valley $35
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of floral notes mixed with cassis and blackberry. In the mouth blackberry and a deep stony quality pervade the flavor profile while smoky, mixed herbs emerge on the very long finish. Fantastic acidity makes this wine positively mouthwatering. click to buy.

2009 Ambyth Estate Revera Red Blend, Paso Robles $45
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of tangy cherry and huckleberries. In the mouth juicy and tangy sour cherry flavors morph into bright raspberries as they skip across the palate with the lightness of step that only fantastic acidity can offer. Mouthwatering and delicious. click to buy.

2008 Qupe Bien Nacido X Block Syrah, Santa Barbara County $100
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of beautifully perfumed cassis and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, crushed stones, blackberry and wet earth are wrapped in leathery tannins. Fantastic acidity keeps the fruit super juicy even as the deep mineral tones add rich complexity to the wine. Wonderfully long finish. A baby yet at 5 years old, and likely to peak in a decade or more. click to buy.

2010 Clos Saron A Deeper Shade of Blue Red Blend, North Yuba $32
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully floral nose of blueberry aromas. In the mouth flavors of blueberry, black cherry, and wet stones dance with fantastically bright acidity that gets the taste buds working overtime. Excellent balance and nice length. An unusual blend of Cinsault, Syrah, and the white grape Roussanne. click to buy.

2010 Villa Creek Vineyards Avenger Red Blend, Paso Robles $50
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and blackberry aromas with high notes of flowers. In the mouth cedar and crushed black and red berries mix with savory herbal notes through a long juicy finish. Excellent acidity, faint tannins. click to buy.

2010 Clos Saron Stone Soup Syrah, North Yuba $56
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral aromas and sweet cassis fruit. In the mouth flavors of cherry, juicy cassis, and wet earth have a wonderfully dynamic punch to them thanks to extraordinarily bright acidity. Notes of bergamot filter through the wines great length, as powdery tannins coat the mouth. Excellent.

2010 Qupe Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah, Santa Barbara County $30
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky blackberry aromas. In the mouth, the wine has a meaty, smoky flavor that is layered on top of cassis and blackberry fruit that in turn rests on a bed of leather and earth. Layered, complex, and wonderfully balanced with excellent acidity. Yum! click to buy.

2009 Anaba Wines Annadel Mourvedre, Sonoma County $38
2009 Anaba Wines Coriol Red Red Blend, Sonoma County $28
2009 Big Basin Vineyards Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains $55
2009 Big Basin Vineyards Coastview Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains $48
2010 Donelan Christine Syrah, Sonoma County $45
2008 Easton - Terre Rouge DTR Ranch Syrah, Sierra Foothills $35
2010 Lagier Meredith Syrah, Napa $48
2011 Lagier Meredith Tribidrag Zinfandel, Napa $45
2011 Qupe Syrah, Central Coast $20
2010 Qupe Sonnie's Syrah, Edna Valley $40
2010 Tablas Creek Vineyards Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge Red Blend, Paso Robles $55
2011 Villa Creek Vineyards Willow Red Blend, Paso Robles $45
2011 Villa Creek Vineyards Trovador Carignan, California $50
2010 Wrath KW Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands $39

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Petrichor Vineyards Les Trois Syrah, Russian River Valley $48
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright blackberry fruit. In the mouth the wine has a light aromatic sweetness to it that suffuses rich flavors of blackberry and cherry that are draped in a blanket of soft powdery tannins. Somehow missing the depth of the previous two vintages, but perhaps that complexity is just hidden by the wine's sunny youth. Wonderfully balanced.

2010 Anaba Wines Turbine Red Blend, Sonoma County $24
2010 Anaba Wines Bismark Vineyard Syrah, Sonoma Valley $38
2011 Big Basin Vineyards Paderewski Syrah, Paso Robles $65
2009 Big Basin Vineyards Grizzly Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains $48
2010 Donelan Moriah Red Blend, Sonoma County $40
2008 Easton - Terre Rouge Sentinel Oak Syrah, Sierra Foothills $40
2007 Frick Carignan, Mendocino County $24
2009 Frick C2 Red Blend, North Coast $24
2009 Frick Lucia Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $24
2007 Frick Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $24
2010 J.C. Cellars Fallen Angel Red Blend, Russian River Valley $45
2002 Lagier Meredith Syrah, Napa $60
2010 Quivira Elusive Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $32
2009 Ridge Vineyards Buchignani Ranch Carignan, Sonoma $28
2009 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley $30
2009 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32
2009 Skylark Grenache, Mendocino County $28
2011 Two Shepherds Grenache, Russian River Valley $35
2010 Unti Vineyards Syrah, Dry Creek Valley $28
2011 Villa Creek Vineyards Garnacha Grenache, Paso Robles $50
2010 Villa Creek Vineyards La Boda Red Blend, Paso Robles $45
2011 Wrath Ex Anima Syrah, Monterey County $25
2010 Wrath Doctor's Vineyard Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands $39
2010 Wrath San Saba Syrah, Monterey County $39

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2010 Ambyth Estate Syrah, Paso Robles $45
2010 Big Basin Vineyards Homestead GSM Red Blend, California $36
2011 Clos Saron Out of the Blue Red Blend, North Yuba $30
2009 E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France $24
2007 E. Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France $50
2009 Easton - Terre Rouge Cote de L'oest Red Blend, Sierra Foothills $20
2009 Frick Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $27
2010 Frick Cinsault, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $26
2009 Frick C3 Red Blend, North Coast $24
2009 Frick Cote du Dry Creek Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $24
2010 Hug Cellars El Maestro Grenache, Central Coast $30
2008 Kaleidos Wine Star Ranch Syrah, Paso Robles $45
2008 Kaleidos Wine Lock Vineyard Syrah, Paso Robles $45
2010 L'Aventure Estate Cuvee Red Blend, Paso Robes $85
2009 Mitolo G.A.M. Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia $48
2011 Quivira Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $30
2010 Quivira Mourvedre, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $32
2009 Qupe No Limit Syrah, Edna Valley $??
2010 Skylark Red Belly Red Blend, Mendocino County $20
2010 Skylark Las Aves Red Blend, Mendocino County $26
2008 Skylark Lawer Vineyard Syrah, Knights Valley, Sonoma $28
2010 Tablas Creek Vineyards Mourvedre, Paso Robles $40
2008 Tercero Cellars Cuvee Christie Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $30
2009 Tercero Cellars Larner Vineyard Grenache, Santa Barbara County $30
2009 Tercero Cellars Larner Vineyard Syrah, Santa Barbara County $30
2010 Tercero Cellars Mourvedre, Santa Barbara County $30
2011 Two Shepherds Saralee's Vineyard Syrah, Russian River Valley $35
2009 Venteux Grenache, Santa Barbara County $32
2010 Venteux Farmhouse Cuvee Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $34
2009 Venteux Tache le Verre Syrah, Santa Barbara County $36

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2007 Campovida Syrah, Mendocino County $42
2010 Cornerstone Stepping Stone Syrah, Carneros, Napa $25
2009 E. Guigal Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France $28
2009 Easton - Terre Rouge Tete a Tete Red Blend, Sierra Foothills $18
2008 Easton - Terre Rouge L'Autre Red Blend, Sierra Foothills $30
2010 Heartland Director's Cut Shiraz, Langhorne Creek, Australia $35
2010 Hug Cellars El Pape Red Blend, Central Coast $28
2010 Hug Cellars El Chico Syrah, Central Coast $29
2007 Hug Cellars Cedar Lane Vineyard Syrah, Monterey County $29
2010 J.C. Cellars Misc Stuff Red Blend, California $45
2010 J.C. Cellars Syrah, Rockpile, Sonoma $60
2003 J.C. Cellars Fess Parker Vineyard Syrah, Santa Barbara County $??
2008 Kaleidos Wine Morpheus Red Blend, Paso Robles $36
2008 Kaleidos Wine Osiris Red Blend, Paso Robles $32
2008 Kaleidos Wine Praying Mantis Syrah, Paso Robles $55
2010 L'Aventure Cote a Cote Red Blend, Paso Robes $85
2008 Mas Belles Eaux Les Coteaux Red Blend, Languedoc, France $22
2011 Qupe Maxtap Cuvee Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $20
2009 Ridge Vineyards Syrah, California $34
2008 Skylark Rogers Creek Syrah, Sonoma Coast $36
2009 Skylark Stagecoach Syrah, Napa $45
2011 Tablas Creek Vineyards Patelin de Tablas Red Blend, Paso Robles $20
2011 Tablas Creek Vineyards Cote de Tablas Red Blend, Paso Robles $30
2009 Tercero Cellars Watch Hill Grenache, Santa Barbara County $30
2008 Tercero Cellars The Climb Red Blend, Santa Barbara County $30
2009 Tercero Cellars Petite Sirah, Santa Barbara County $30
2009 Tercero Cellars Thompson Syrah, Santa Barbara County $30
2010 Unti Vineyards Benchland Syrah, Dry Creek Valley $35

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2011 Ambyth Estate Red Table Wine Red Blend, Paso Robles $38
2009 E. Guigal Cote Rotie, Rhone Valley, France $75
2009 Hug Cellars El Jefe Red Blend, Central Coast $30

Comments (4)

Greg wrote:
05.29.13 at 1:03 AM

In England recently I was shocked (as an Australian) to see Californian syrah labelled as Shiraz (also S. African and S. American wines). From your comments the logic seems to be that if it is hard to sell Syrah it is much easier to sell shiraz.

Alder wrote:
05.29.13 at 8:50 AM

Greg,

Some smaller production winemakers are deliberately using the term Shiraz to suggest the kind of style they are trying to make, while some larger producers (which is who you probably encountered on the shelves of UK stores) have used the term to capitalize on the (now faded) popularity of Australian wines. Interestingly, I recall some smaller South African vintners deliberately labeling their wines Syrah to indicate a stylistic preference as well.

Greg wrote:
05.29.13 at 1:15 PM

Alder,

Australia was I think the first country to successfully market Syrah as a varietal. Most wine consumers around the world would have at best only a vague idea what syrah represents, but a good idea what a shiraz tastes like. Even as the Australian industry fades I can't see that changing soon. The word syrah is so difficult to say.
Some small Australian producers are labeling their wines Syrah, I guess just an attempt at product differentiation.

Bill Easton wrote:
05.31.13 at 11:42 PM

re: clape - (August) Clape (was the joke and pun by Randall Grahm.

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