These are the Rhone Rangers, a cocky name that suits their enthusiasm. They talked about their work--and poured plenty of wine--at a seminar and two tastings in downtown Los Angeles.
If the public doesn't get what they're doing, they do it anyway. At the seminar, Steve Anglim (above) said that people hesitate to try Viognier because they can't pronounce the name, but he makes a beauty anyway.
I recently opened the 2004 Anglim Viognier, which I bought at the tasting room in Paso Robles a few years ago. This 10-year-old white wine was as fresh and bright as the day it went into the bottle. Amazing!
"It's an absolutely wonderful grape," Anglim said, explaining that he dials back on the floral component to make a lean, structured wine that is only delicately floral. For an example, try the 2012 Anglim Viognier from Bien Nacido Vineyards.
Another white to consider is Grenache Blanc. "I look at it as the Sauvignon Blanc of the Rhone," said Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines in Los Olivos. "There's not that much of it around." The grape is a genetic mutation of red Grenache. "It's a chameleon. It tends to like a warm climate more than cool," he said. For the first time, he's putting it into a "Rhonish" blend along with Roussanne and Viognier. Tercero's 2012 Grenache Blanc sells for $25.
There are only 400 cases of Campesino's 2013 Alina, a white blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. "It has the heaviness of a Chardonnay, lively acidity and the tropical fruit aspects of a Sauvignon Blanc," said Macario Montoya of Campesino, in Napa. Marsanne is "the finesse behind the wine," he said. It adds a citrus component--zest, not juice, he specified.
The rosé was Cornerstone Cellars' 2013 Coralina (above), a Syrah rosé fermented totally dry. Cornerstone is in Yountville.
If any wine stood out for me, it was Cruz Winery's 2012 Grenache. The pungent bouquet made me think I had plunged my nose into an herb garden.
The unusual herbal bouquet came about because the grapes had a long hang time during which they picked up the flavors of surrounding vegetation, explained Steve Gower of Crux (above, with the wine). "We don't keep a clean floor," he said, meaning leaves and anything else nature provides litter the vineyard. This Russian River wine is organic.
Donelan Family Cellars, a boutique winery in Sonoma County, presented its 2012 Syrah, Cuvee Christine. Donelan buys the grapes from the surrounding area, contracting for exclusive rights. "For us it's about location. If you have a great location, you can make great wine." said Cushing Donelan. The aim with this wine was nuanced subtlety and elegance, he said. Christine is his mother.
Tablas Creek poured its flagship wine, the 2012 Esprit de Tablas red, which blends Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and Counoise. It's modeled after red wine from Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape in France. (Tablas Creek was formed in partnership with Château de Beaucastel.)
Mourvedre is the predominant grape in the blend; Syrah provides structure, and Counoise contributes wild spiciness, nice juiciness and acidity, said Jason Haas of Tablas Creek.
This wine sells for $55, but Tablas Creek has come out with a line of $20 wines for those who want something less pricey.
The winery that surprised with the quality of its wines was Cellar 433--from Arizona. Yes, southern Arizona, between Tucson and New Mexico. John McLouglin (above), who began planting grapes there 15 years ago, is now the leading supplier of Arizona-grown grapes.
The wine he poured at the seminar was the 2012 Mourvedre from his Dragoon Mountain Vineyard at Willcox. The vineyard is on top of an extinct volcano at an elevation of 4,500 feet. "We have to have altitude to get the temperature down," he said.
McLoughlin has planted 150 of the 400 acres there with 100 grape varieties. "We're figuring out what we can grow," he said. "We're finding the Rhones do very, very well."
His Mourvedre made that obvious. And so did The Emperor, a wine he pulled out at the afternoon tasting, held at Vibiana. It blends 70% Grenache with Petite Sirah, Marselan, Alicante Bouschet and Blaufrankisch, which gives some inkling of the variety of grapes he works with.
A winery that drew a knot of admirers was Qupé, from Los Olivos. A few got to taste the Qupé 2011 Syrah from X Block of Bien Nacido Vineyards, poured from a decanter. This 30th anniversary wine sells for $100.
The wine that Bob Lindquist of Qupé is pouring in the photo above is a Marsanne. The good news is, it's in the Tablas Creek bargain wine category. The price is $20.
To join the Rhone Rangers, a winery must produce at least one Rhone style wine that contains a minimum of 75% of one of the Rhone grape varieties approved in the Côtes du Rhône in France. Members can come from any state, but California is especially active. Of the 55 wineries that poured at the afternoon tasting, 35 were from the Paso Robles area or Santa Barbara County.