Michael Perry

Ryan Sherman

Fifteen northern California wineries recently showcased their Rhône style wines for aficionados in—where else—Oakland! Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignane, Roussane, Counoise in red varietals and Viognier, the prime Rhône white, strutted their bold flavors in some amazing wines. Since it would be impossible to describe, let alone taste, all that was on offer, here are some tasting picks.

Cornerstone Syrah

From Napa’s Cornerstone Cellars the luscious, exuberant 2012 Syrah, fairly priced at $40 a bottle presents with intense minerality, balanced tannins, and captivating aromatics of sweet cherry and ripe blueberry; as with all superior syrahs, this one has that touch of smoked meat under black licorice. It’s simply a perfect example of the grape. Can be enjoyed now and will only increase in depth and complexity.

Certified biodynamic wines can display with too much grassiness but Campovida’s 2013 Grenache is worth its $42 cost. This grenache was beautifully manipulated: cold soaked for five days to extract color and phenolic compounds, then fermented to dryness; only the free-run fraction was transferred to French oak to undergo native malolactic fementation, before aging for sixteen months in neutral French oak. The result is a smoky, peppery, palate-pleasing example of this grape.

Among the whites, the Fields Family 2014 Viognier deserves mention for its light, lovely florals and equally light, lovely price of $18. Neither oak nor malolactic fermentation touched this bright charmer.

At $24 a bottle, the Fields Family 2012 Syrah also deserves mention. This deep, dark wine presents with the gamy, tar flavors typical of the varietal; the meaty nose and balanced fruit-to-tannin ratios are to be expected when an estate syrah is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

GrenacheGrisTwo Shepherds brought their 2013 Grenache Gris, made from a rare, grey-skinned member of the grenache family, in this case, from a 105 year old vineyard in Mendocino. After four months of fermentation with native yeasts, the wine spent nine months in neutral barrels There’s a hint of salinity underneath the peaches and pears, as well as complex citrus flavors that strike the nose and palate. Alas, winemaker William Allen could only produce 90 cases.

But my pick of the tasting has to be Skylark’s 2013 Red Belly blend, comprised of 48% Carignane, 28% Syrah, 24% Grenache. With its juicy boysenberry and blackberry fruit seducing the nose, the palate can appreciate the earth and spice components, which are softened by the silky effects of the grenache. Smooth as velvet and only $20 a bottle!! Grapes were fermented in a small, open tank with 10% whole clusters; after sixteen days on skins with alternating punchdowns and pumpovers, wine was racked to seasoned French cooperage for fifteen months.

Red Belly Grenache

Stay tuned for the opening of new tasting rooms for several of these wineries in Point Richmond, just north of San Francisco, this fall.

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