Text and photos ©2012

The Rhone valley came to the San Francisco mint on July 14th  to celebrate Bastille Day and give aficionados a chance to savor some of these blended beauties. We found a lot to like!

The SF Mint is a truly marvelous venue for a wine tasting: vintners were set up in cellar vaults (literally…they once stored gold bullion) where the temperatures were perfect and the low lights further enhanced the mystery of what American-bred and grown Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre in various combinations can bring forth.


Barrel sampling was a wonderful way to taste these wines in their formative months and a selection of food pairings from the staff of Chez Papa were designed to complement the wines for which they were chosen. Alas, my notes on the pairings were scooped away by a diligent cleaning crew….


Here, then, are some of the Rhones that stole my heart!


Two Shepherds Vineyards 2011 Pastoral Blanc:

I did not know that this savory, sensual white had received a whopping 92 points from the Rhone Report, but it immediately became apparent why. With a composition of 45% Roussane, 25% Marsanne, 20% Viognier, and 15% Grenache Blanc this quintessential Rhone blend displayed the bright acidity inside subtle fruit which is the hallmark of a terrific, old world style white blend. Wine was aged in neutral barrels with native yeasts and racked once.


Zaca Mesa

Ryan and Brook Williams of Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa 2008 Z Cuvee:

This Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend does a good job of emulating the flavor profile of the southern Rhone: its blend of 68% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, and 14% Syrah gives the wine a pleasing, plump front-of- palate presence with red and blue berries, a hint of oregano and pepper and a light veil of oak. Detailed cooperage undoubtedly contributes to the flavor follow-through: 16 months in mostly 3-year-old French oak; a bargain at $20 per bottle.

The “Z” stands for Zaca, the native American word for the Los Olivos region, and means “restful or peaceful place,” making this literally a peaceful blend … I’ll drink to that!


Zaca Mesa 2008 Syrah:

Estate grown and bottled in the Santa Ynez valley, this hearty Syrah exhibits a fine balance of fruit to tannins with hints of cassis and sage over a rich blackberry base, with a silky yet smoky finish. It’s the silk plus smoke that gives this Syrah its unique profile.

Half the grapes are from new (less than 9 years old) high density vineyards planted to new French clones, the other half are from the original vineyard (c. 30-years-old) with deeper roots. The wine spent 16 months in French oak (18% new) and promises to mature well for at least a decade; very good buy at $25 per bottle.


Field Stone 2010 Staten Family Reserve Viognier:

Patrick Murray_FieldStone

Patrick Murray of Field Stone winery

Crisp yet unctuous, this Alexander Valley Viognier is an excellent ambassador for the varietal, with  sprightly citrus and smooth sweet fruits alternating on the palate: grapefruit yielding to peach, opening onto apple with just a hint of orange peel at the finish. Worth its gold medal win at the Rhone shootout and truly amazing at $25 a bottle; with only 347 cases produced, you might want to get on it. The wine was fermented in steel (75%) and seasoned French oak (25%) and no ML. Bright and beautiful!


Cass 2010 Rockin One White:

Despite the off-putting name, this bomb of a blend deserves mention: an exceptional Viognier (52%) lends spine to the Marsanne (28%) and Rousanne (20%) notes of crème brulee, vanilla, and candied citrus. Aged 10 months in French oak  A va va voom of a blend…I guess I have to accept its label!


Perrucci 2011 Syrah barrel sample:

Even as a barrel sample this supple Syrah has it all: savory hints of cured meat, dense red, blue, and black fruits, light notes of allspice, a tannic spin under a plush mid-palate. Winemaker Greg Perrucci shared with me details of the grape provenance, some of which came from a dry farmed bloc. After destemming, the whole fruit was cold soaked for 48 hours, then inoculated with a yeast isolated from the Rhone. Two weeks later, more fruit was added, this lot fermented on a yeast isolated from the Rockpile AVA of Sonoma called RP-15.   Tentative release: fall 2013


Dierberg 2008 Syrah:

An elegant, unctuous Syrah from the Santa Ynez valley’s Star Lane Vineyard. Highly concentrated dark fruit flavors mingle with aromatics of cured bacon and sweet paprika. Barrel fermented and kept sur lie  through ML. After 20 months in 3-year-old demi-muids(the Rhone valley’s classic 600 liter oak barrels), the wine was bottled unfiltered.

Excellent now and an investment for the cellar; $34 per bottle.


Field Stone 2010 Viognier:

I really liked this aromatic Viognier with its vigorous heart of peach, pear, and orange zest. Not even a hint of the flabbiness or aggressive fruitiness between which extremes California Viogniers can vacillate. This Staten Family Reserve from the Alexander Valley won gold at the Rhone shootout and it’s palate-pleasingly clear why: perfect balance of the honeyed tropical fruit with the bright spices that give Viognier its crisp, almond-scented finish.


You can read more about the event and learn who the official winners were ataffairsofthevine.com

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