Wine Blogging Wednesdays #46: Rhone Whites

By Jesse on June 11, 2008

It’s not a crime if you’re going to blog about it, right? Isn’t that some kind of law?

To be fair, it wasn’t even a crime to begin with. Last Wednesday, several of us found ourselves at the regrettable terminus of the delicious Rhone Rangers event in Hollywood, and we grappled with the realization that we hadn’t gotten a chance to taste a number of the wines we’d been so looking forward to. One winemaker — whose identity shall remain shrouded in mystery, as to add intrigue to this somewhat unimpressive crime story — suggested that we take all of his mostly-full bottles home with us, a suggestion we happily accepted. Moments later, as we witnessed the cleanup crew mindlessly throwing half-full bottles into the garbage without regard for their precious contents, we more or less expanded our winemaker’s offer into a blanket mandate to “save” as much wine as possible.

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So it was thus that we crept through the soundstages of Raleigh Studios, desperately clinging to our purloined cargo: an impressive eighteen-bottle bounty, four bottles of which were still unopened! The following Saturday, six Winos showed up at my door to enjoy the spoils of our desperate pillage — nay, “rescue mission” — of the leftover Rhone Rangers wine. (By that point, however, only thirteen bottles remained… admittedly, I’d gotten a bit thirsty in the meantime.)

Our actions were fully vindicated when — in what could only be interpreted as a sign from above — we learned that Dr. Debs had recently chosen white wines made from Rhone grapes as the theme for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday. Fortunately, we had one such unopened bottle to satisfy the requirements of the topic… and twelve additional bottles to satisfy our Saturday night vino cravings.

The bottle we uncorked for WBW #46 was the 2007 Minassian-Young “White Rhônoceros” (Paso Robles), a beguiling blend of Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne, clocking in at a monstrous 15.6% alcohol. Upon pouring the wine, we were all floored by the wacky nose. “Straight sourdough,” I said immediately, and no one disagreed. “Uncooked sourdough,” clarified Andrew. “So, like… sourdough dough.” The bready, yeasty character blew off with some swirling, revealing the floral notes we’d originally anticipated. Max got some jasmine, and Kate got lilac.

The palate was sweet — really sweet. “Almost nectary,” Mary pointed out, as she topped off her glass. After a few extra minutes in the ice bucket, the wine exhibited a nice acidity which had been absent on our initial (slightly warmer) evaluation. Even on the palate, though, that inexplicable sourdough flavor really persisted, to the point where several Winos were off-put by it. That said, it was to the wine’s credit that, despite the high ABV, it didn’t taste at all hot or unbalanced… just a bit unusual. Retailing for only $18, this was an unexpectedly bemusing wine that might just be worth another go around at some point.

Our other Rhône-style white was the 2006 Ethan “Paradise Road Vineyard” Viognier (Santa Barbara County). Despite having been opened three days prior, the nose was still lively, with vibrant floral notes bouncing around a glass also inhabited by vanilla, slate, and some cigarette smoke. I got a bready character on this one as well — something akin to that “fried dough” stuff from the county fair, perhaps? — but nowhere near the degree of the Rhônoceros. The palate was round and smooth (Mary even called it “creamy”), with a lot of gentle oak complimenting some green apple notes.

Next up was a rosé (not sure if that counts, Dr. D, but we elected to err on the side of drinking more). The 2007 Verdad Rosé (Santa Barbara County), made up of 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, featured a nose of bright red currant and what Mary called “distinct strawberry-kiwi.” The palate was dry and refreshing, like the French wines that likely inspired it, with some acidic lemon and cranberry notes giving the light quaffer some backbone.

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Emily and Mary participate in the Great Rhône Heist, 2008; you know it’s a tasting when I break out the madras; as Andrew drinks, he appears blurrier to those around him

Our sole unopened red was the 2006 Spicerack “Punchdown” Syrah (Sonoma Coast). The nose was rich and befitting its name: pepper and cloves danced around on a sumptuous bed of blackberry, milk chocolate, and kindling. The palate failed to disappoint, offering some big raspberry and blueberry flavors that coasted along effortlessly on the well-balanced tongue. Playful black pepper notes lingered long after the swallow.

From this point on, as we got into the open-for-three-days stuff, we encountered bottles that were alternatively tasty and/or past their prime; bouquets would set us up for deliciousness, only for the palates to disappoint us in their unrepentant oxidation. However, a few winners showed their resilience. The 2006 Minassian-Young Grenache (Paso Robles) offered a rich and smoky nose in which Mary found black licorice and Max found Jaegermeister. The charcoal palate was light and gamey — not as fruit-forward as we’d expect, but an intriguing expression of the grape nonetheless. The 2005 Qupé “Bien Nacido Hillside Estate” Syrah (Santa Maria Valley) offered a big cola nose with notes of black pepper and, according to Max, tire rubber. The palate was spicy and rich, with hints of something light and herbal dancing around there as well. And finally, the 2005 IO “Ryan Road” Syrah (Paso Robles) served up a delightful nose of bright red fruit, dark chocolate, and what I thought smelled exactly like a leather-bound book in some old man’s hunting cabin: a “musty tome,” waxed Max. Unfortunately, a few sips of this one revealed that it, too, had kept company with some oxygen during its three days open, and only its lingering bouquet could hint for us at what might’ve been.

The Great Rhône Heist — sorry, Rescue — of 2008 cannot, however, be called a total bust, as we succeeded in discovering several dynamic bottles while at the same time fulfilling our obligations to Dr. Debs for WBW #46. We can only hope that next month’s WBW corresponds as serendipitously with whatever free wine we manage by our own bizarre means to then acquire.

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So many bottles, so little time; Max and Kate need some motivation; wine should do the trick!

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Andrew’s conspicuous when he poses; there’ll come a point in the evening when I stop taking notes, but we’re not quite there yet; Mary is endlessly amused by the whole “white Rhônoceros” thing

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005

6 Comments »

  1. If I’d been there, I would have been in the dumpsters with you, my friends! Thanks for participating and for the reviews. 15+% sourdough is not something I’ve tasted before, but I like the idea of the “white rhino”.

    Comment by Dr. Debs — June 12, 2008 @ 7:26 am

  2. Conspicuous? More like “unbelievably sexy”.

    Comment by Andrew Lang — June 12, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

  3. Hehe, I look kinda frightened by Andrew’s unbelievably sexy posing.

    Comment by Mary — June 12, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

  4. Like he’s about to reenact Intimacy!!!

    Comment by Mary — June 12, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

  5. Sounds like you had as much fun with your Rhone-style white as I did on this Wine Blogging Wednesday!

    Comment by Dale Cruse — June 15, 2008 @ 7:57 am

  6. Uncooked sourdough…. Sounds to me like you were smelling the lingering effects of the winemaking practice itself: fermentation, yeast, the sour/lactic tang of the malolactic ferment. If you liked the wine after it aired, it might be worth revisiting in a couple of months, after those “youtful” components have had a chance to settle down and integrate. Nice post.

    Comment by David McDuff — June 16, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

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