Rhone Style Wines of California: A Report from the Rhone Rangers Event

On Saturday March 20th, I attended the Rhone Rangers tasting event at Fort Mason in San Francisco. I tasted around 115 wines, both red and white.

Overall, I have to say that I was a little disappointed by the event — both in terms of the quality of the wines across the board, as well as with the energy. It was certainly better organized than the recent ZAP Tasting, and there were some more interesting artisanal food producers at this event, but other than that, it was a bit of a let down.

It’s clear to me that most of the folks here in California haven’t cracked the Viognier nut quite yet — many of the wines I tasted were over-oaked or had imbalanced, lopsided flavor profiles that weren’t up to snuff. That said, there were a few gems in this category which I note below. One thing I was surprisingly, and definitely turned off by were the single varietal whites on display — with the exception of a Truchard Roussanne, all the other white, single varietal wines I tried were crap.

While it might not be surprising that Viognier and the other whites need some work, I was very suprised to not find any blockbuster Syrahs. You’ll see a few below that I liked, but honestly most of my favorite wines from the tasting were the blends. I’m disheartened that with the exception of people like Michael Martella and a few select winemakers, the California market is still not producing really top notch Syrahs.

On a better note, many of the good wines from this event are excellent values.

OK. Enough of the editorializing — without further ado, I present my thoughts on the best Reds, Whites, and Overall Values from this year’s event.


  • 2000 Miner Family Syrah, Napa Valley – all around fantastic, great balance of fruit, oak, and spice. Look out for the 2001 soon, they say its even better. Score: 9 Cost: $35
  • 2001 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvee Blend – classic Rhone blend that bursts with cherry and berry flavor. Score: 9 Cost:$20
  • 2002 Unti Vineyards Estate Grenache, Dry Creek Valley – only 75% Grenache, this red blend was one of my favorites of the show, juicy, with slight acidity and a gorgeous finish. Score: 9 Cost: $26
  • 2001 Laetitia Syrah, Santa Barbara County – cool, balanced fruit with well integrated tannins. Score: 9 Cost: $19
  • 2002 Outpost Petite Sirah, Howell Mountain – Thomas Brown does it again with big fruit bomb. Score: 8.5 Cost: $40
  • 2002 Novy Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah – wow, big nose, excellent dark fruit character. Score: 8.5 Cost: $26
  • 2001 Saddleback Cellars Venge Syrah – dark fruit with floral components in the nose. Score: 8.5 Cost:$30
  • 2001 Truchard Estate Syrah – big and extracted in the trendy style but great nonetheless. Score: 8.5 Cost: $28
  • 2001 Palmeri Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah – bang! kerpow! crash! explosion of flavor, great debut wine. Score: 8.5 Cost:$55
  • 2002 Peay Estate Syrah – small production syrah, only 100 cases made. Score: 8.5 Cost: $42
  • 2003 Eagle Point Ranch Grenache (barrel sample) – tart and juicy. Score: 8.5 Cost: $16
  • 2002 JC Cellars Rockpile Vineyard Syrah – gorgeous extracted fruit, roundness typical of this vineyard, very well made. Score: 8.5 Cost: $40
  • 2002 Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s Blend – great effort at a classic Rhone blend. Score: 8 Cost: $15
  • 2000 Gregory Graham Syrah, Napa Valley – velvety, with smooth tannins. Score: 8 Cost: $28
  • 2002 Novy Sonoma County Syrah – solid wine. Score: 8 Cost: $20
  • 2002 Rosenblum “Enlgand-Shaw” Syrah, Solano County – another great Rosenblum (one of many at this tasting, but my favorite). Score: 8 Cost:$30


  • 2003 Capay Viognier – incredible nose and body of peaches. Score: 9 Cost: $15
  • 2002 Andrew Murray Enchante White Blend – lovely clean and smooth with scents of Jasmine. Score: 8.5/9 Cost: $22
  • 2002 Joseph Phelps Viognier – 100% malolactic with light fruit balance. Clean. Score: 8.5/9 Cost: ??
  • 2003 Miner Simpson Vineyard Viognier – gorgeous pears and (cant read the rest of my note). Score: 8.5/9 Cost: $20
  • 2002 Bonterra Organic Viognier – slight acidity, cool fruit. Score: 8.5 Cost: $19
  • 2002 Peay Vineyards Estate Viognier – less nose than it should have but tart and delicious. Score: 8.5 Cost: $30
  • 2002 Spencer Roloson Sueno Vineyard Viognier – crisp fuji apples and (can’t read rest of note). Score: 8.5 Cost: $26
  • 2001 Truchard Estate Roussanne – floral and pear notes, very nice. Score: 8.5 Cost: $25


  • 2001 Cline Cellars Viognier – lychee suffused nose, nice fruit. Score: 8/8.5 Cost: $10
  • 2002 Rosenblum Cellars “Kathy’s Cuvee” Viognier, Lodi and Santa Barbara – stunning peach notes. Score: 8.5 Cost: $9
  • 2002 Laetitia Avila “Cote d’ Avila” Red Blend – mellow, excellent food wine. Score: 8 Cost: $13