The Rhone Rangers ride at Raleigh

By Jesse on June 7, 2008

There’s something so very Hollywood about going to a wine tasting at an old movie studio. One can easily imagine all of the legendary drinking that’s taken place there in years past: actors and directors stealing out to their trailers to wet their whistles between takes… auteurs and ingenues escaping behind the set for a slug of prohibition-era moonshine. It’s fair to assume, though, that the Winos enjoyed some of the tastiest drinking ever experienced at Hollywood’s venerable Raleigh Studios when the Rhone Rangers set up camp there on Wednesday night.

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Over 40 wineries were represented at the event (many by the winemakers themselves, which is always a treat), each of them pouring the Rhône varietals and blends that allow them membership in the exclusive Rhone Rangers organization. Thanks to the admission discount extended our way by event co-sponsors Blue Lifestyle and The Tasting Panel Magazine, a contingency of eight Winos were on hand to experience all of the floral whites and spicy reds firsthand.

The “Rhone Rangers,” originally no more than a nickname for a few brazen California winemakers who were experimenting with then-uncommon Rhône varietals back in the ’80s, is now a full-fledged organization composed of nearly 200 member wineries. Executive director Cheryl Quist explained to me the basic qualification for joining the group: a winery must produce at least one Rhône-style wine, of which a minimum of 75% of the blend is made up of one or more Rhône varietals (these include not only the familiar Viognier, Syrah, and Grenache, but also nineteen other grapes ranging from Marsanne and Mourvedre to the obscure Bourboulenc and Terret Noir).

We started off our tasting with a few spunky whites, Viognier being preeminent among the single-varietal bottles. The 2007 Kenneth Volk “Live Oak Vineyard” Viognier (Santa Maria) offered a huge floral nose with nice big slices of passion fruit and guava. The palate was plump and crisp, with good acidity and tropical fruit lingering on the finish. Our good friends at Eberle were pouring the 2007 Eberle “Mill Road Vineyard” Viognier (Paso Robles), which featured a bright and yeasty nose, almost like fresh-cooked pasta, along with some crisp floral elements. The palate was well-balanced, creamy without being flabby; Emily pointed out some honeysuckle notes. She also picked up honeysuckle on the 2006 Curtis Viognier (Santa Barbara County), a tightly-woven bottle with great acidity on the palate and some nice wildflower elements on the nose.

Among the other whites, several Winos thoroughly enjoyed the 2006 Krupp Brothers “Black Bart” Marsanne (Napa), which showed us a great bouquet of orange blossom and fresh-baked sourdough bread. The palate was big, broad, and oaky, and offered its own dose of that bready character. The 2006 Zefina “Serience” White Blend (Columbia Valley) sported a sprawling, buttery nose with nice floral elements, which it followed with a dry and oaky pal, hints of pineapple, and a long finish.

A couple of rosés also fared well: the 2007 Ventana Dry Rosado (Arroyo Seco) was a 90/10 Grenache and Syrah blend, which featured a red berry nose with some cranberry and an almost “hard candy” element. The pal was crisp and a bit tart, with great structure — not a whole lot of fruit, but very refreshing. And the 2006 Krupp Brothers “Black Bart” Syrah Rosé (Napa) offered some jammy red fruit, smoke, and spice on the nose, with some beguiling bakery-fruit elements — almost like you’re smelling raspberry tarts baking in an oven. The palate was big and fruit-forward, with some bright acid chasing the wine on its way down.

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The event was nestled into a cozy corner at the historic studio; Emily and Katie show off their talented noses; taking fastidious notes

On to the reds! We re-visited the Eberle table for a taste of the 2006 Côtes-du-Rôbles (Paso Robles), the winery’s signature red blend, featuring Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. This was a solid, easy-drinking bottle, rusty and bright, with nice medium body and a lightly spiced, red-fruit finish. Next up was the 2006 Minassian-Young Mourvedre (Paso Robles), serving up a potting soil nose with some dried plum and raisin action; Katie said it was earthy, “like dirt,” and Mary got “dark, dark, dark fruit… and blueberry syrup!” The palate was big and round, with some great big berries up front and some spice-rack tannins on the end; Emily thought it was well-balanced, and Katie enjoyed its smoky character.

The event’s lone member of the Oregon delegation was Domaine Serene, where we tasted two single-vineyard Syrahs from their Rockblock label. The 2005 Rockblock “Seven Hills Vineyard” Syrah (Walla Walla Valley, Oregon) featured light pepper and charcoal on the nose, with some milk chocolate elements sneaking in there. The palate was light and brambly, with good solid smoke and spice. On the other end of the Syrah spectrum, the 2004 Rockblock “Del Rio Vineyard” Syrah (Rogue Valley) was an inky monster with a bonfire nose, big dark chocolate, and lots of pepper lingering on the coalmine finish.

Back over at Curtis, winemaker Chuck Carlson poured us the 2005 Curtis “Heritage Cuvée” (Central Coast), a light-bodied blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault, which followed its spicy, red-berry nose with a delightfully smooth tongue featuring a lot of ripe red fruit. And the 2005 Curtis “Crossroads Vineyard” Syrah (Santa Ynez) lobbed us a serious cinder nose with cloves and some dark plum notes. The pal was fleshy and opulent, with chocolate syrup and dark cherry slathered all over the velvety tannins.

Our buddy Blair Fox was a busy guy, doing double-duty at both his own label’s booth and that of Epiphany Cellars, one of the three labels for whom he crafts wine. The 2005 Epiphany “Gypsy” (Santa Barbara County) is a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Petite Sirah, and offered us a nose of wet asphalt, and even wet campfire (that steamy moment right after you pour water on the logs). The palate followed suit with dark baking chocolate and powdery tannins that lingered. And the 2005 Epiphany Petite Sirah (Santa Barbara County), which comes from a 100-year-old California clone, featured a hefty nose of molasses and spice. The palate was big, with a lot of great fruit riding a spicy and acidic structure. It was delicious when we tasted it, but we assumed it’d have the legs to hang out for a couple more years before fully expressing itself.

As always happens at such events, we left bemoaning all of the myriad tables we’d missed (why don’t they make these things longer than two hours?), such as Wino favorites Summerland, Qupé, J. Lohr, Blair Fox, and Four Vines, along with the thirty-or-so others we didn’t get to discover. We have no doubt, however, that the Rhone Rangers will ride again — hopefully to another Hollywood studio in the not-too-distant future.

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Chuck Carlson pours us a glass; so many good smells that day; Emily and Kim in one of their signature “bouquet-races”

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Blair Fox is cool under fire; Emily’s not taking any prisoners; that’s known as Mary’s “not too freakin’ bad!” face

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005

1 Comment »

  1. Hey Jesse-
    It was great being able to see you guys again and I am glad you enjoyed the Epiphany wines!
    Blair Fox

    Comment by Blair Fox — June 12, 2008 @ 11:55 am

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