Rocking the Rhônes!

mineralAs a wine writer, one of the most exciting things is to taste wines from producers that  am unfamiliar with, and that I have no bias or previous information for.  Coming to a wine with a fresh perspective gives me to ability to focus on what I taste, and feel, vs what I remember or think I should expect.

Enter Domaine Montirius.  This small, family run vineyard is a relatively recent entry in to the Rhône; founded 26 years ago by Eric and Christine Saurel, it is now a true family business.  Certified bio-dynamic since 1999, the Saurels are dedicated to pursuing balance in the vineyard, and in the wines, and to find the perfect expression of the land in those wines.

In the practice of biodynamics, it’s important to “observe, feel, listen to and taste, repeatedly, and to act on different clues in the environment.  The idiosyncrasies of Mother Nature create a natural rhythm to the winemaking process.

The 2011 Montirius Mineral Vacqueyras is an unusual blend of 50% Bouboulenc, 25% Grenache Blanc, and 25% Roussane.  You might be wondering about Bouboulenc, as its one of the more obscure white Rhône varietals.  It’s a hearty grape, and tends to resist weather and pests, but s a forgotten variety for the most part until the Surels re-planted it in 1994.  A late ripener, it requires patience and tenderness, but yields a minerality and brightness.

The grapes were hand harvested and fermented whole cluster.  Aged without oak, there is a texturally intense fresh white wine. Strong notes of ginger and grapefruit peel, with tropical mango and green apple to follow. The palate is reminiscent of a baked apple, with the spice cabinet making a bold appearance. This wine is perfect for meatier fish, chicken, and even pork.

When I first tasted this wine, I anticipated the retail at $35+.  Even at that price, I think there is excellent QPR.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn it is only $22!  This is a wine to run out and stock up on, as it will certainly be my summer sipper as we slip in to warmer weather.

Thank you to the Teuwen Communications team for helpng me find the undiscovered and unusual Rhône Valley wines!

 

Sometimes, smaller is better

Often times, people have the assumption that larger is better; whether it’s in wine, packages of snacks at Costco, or houses with more bedrooms than people in the town where I went to boarding school, the message is bigger is better.  Even in wine, the message can be bigger is better; while not referring to size, it often shows up in large production labels, that assume that releasing 10,000 cases means they are successful.  It also shows up stylistically, when wines become Fraken-fied, with additives and strange concoctions of science much more than art.

My choice, therefore, is to spend as much money as I can on supporting smaller, local producers who not only need to cash more, but have more creativity and stylistic control than – dare I say it – that label with the Kangaroo on it down the street.

Luckily for me, I was invited to the Micro Winery Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa recently.  Here, several smaller wineries – including Inspiration, were pouring their wares.  I have a few highlights from the event and a shamless plug for a fellow blogger turned winemaker who is doing some great things with Rhone varitals.

First up, Wesley Ashley Wines‘ Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc is a Rhône style
blend of  Vioginer, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara.  The Viognier adds a nice aromatic note, while the Roussanne gives a crisp acidity that would be perfect for a summer sipper.  We all know by now, that I love a good Grenache Blanc, and the 20% addition to this blend rounds out the white and gives it a solid body.  This is no wimpy wine!  Classic flavors of nectarine and apricot show up under the floral notes of the viognier.

Also from Wesley Ashely, the 2009 Intellivent Design Cuvee is another classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  The Grenache, which is 75% of the blend, shows off its strawberry spice, with the Syrah adding some great backbone.

YOu can find Wesley Ashely Wines at the winery by appointment, The Wine Mine in Oakland, and several restaurants around the bay area.

This is a winery to watch!
Keeping on the Rhône theme, next up we meet the Two Shepherds.  William Allen, a fellow wine blogger over at Simple Hedonisms, and partner Michelle Berger launched Two Shepherds wine to focus on Rhône style wines from California with distinction.

So far so good I’d say!  It takes extreme talent and guts to start a winery, particularly if you’re day job is in sales, as William’s is.  Having known him for a few years now, I have seen first hand the sheer tenacity that it takes to launch a brand, learn about the chemistry of winemaking, the ins and outs of running a business and also trying to pay the bills.  Kudos to a successful launch!

I was one of the lucky few to taste the delicious Grenache Blanc, which is sadly sold out now – but it was a great example of a Rhône white, that balances out acidity with the creamy subtle sweetness.  Some GBs can be either too acidic (I’ve had a few from Spain) or too full bodied which implies sweetness.  The Two Shepherds balances those two, with a nice minerality, white peach, lemon lime flavors, followed by a flinty finish.  I am eagerly waiting for more of this to be bottled so I can nab some for the cellar!

Also from Two Shepherds, the MRV is a classic white Rhône blend, comprised of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  I enjoyed a bottle of this last night with Butternut squash Lasagna, and the creamy body of the MR balanced the sweetness of the Butternet perfectly.  The Addition of the viogner adds a touch of honeysuckle.

There are two red offerings from Two Shepherds, the GSM, and the SM (Syrah/Mourvedre).  The GSM blend is a bit different than your average southern Rhone, or for that matter, Paso Robles Rhone blend, as the Grenache in this blend adds acidity and flavors to develop that are unique to the area.  The lighter style blends perfectly with the fuller bodied Syrah and Mourvedre, to create a masterpiece of bright red berry, spice box, and a lingering flavor that I personally can only describe as Grenache.

This wine isn’t technically released, but it will be soon and I suggest buying a bottle and letting it sleep for a bit.  If not, give it some air before you sip and swirl.

The Syrah/Mourvedre blend uses the same Syrah from Russian River, and is blended equally with Mourvedre.  The SM is slightly fuller bodied than the GSM, as you don’t have the higher acid in the Grenache to lighten the load.  It is also delicious and would be fantastic with roast chicken, a burger, or cassoulet.

You can find Two Shepherds wines at the winery by appointment, and via mail order, but also at K&L Wine Merchants, Wicked Wines in HBG, and several restaurants in the Bay Area including The Girl & Fig, Spoonbar, and Toast Wine Lounge.  Click here for details.

The moral of this story?  Seek out those small producers.  They work in small lots, and can be more creative than people making large amounts of wine.  Have fun discovering them.  The custom crush / coop tasting room is more and more popular, as it allows smaller brands to showcase their wines while sharing costs for capital expenditures.

Now, I don’t harbor any fantasies of being able to be a chemist and make my own wine, but it sure is fun to live vicariously!  I’ve picked up some of the pieces of the puzzle on the way, and while I don’t think I could go it on my own, I do lust after a barrel or two of Pinot Noir in my future.

Some of my other favorite coop tasting rooms:

  • Winery Collective – San Francisco
  • The Wine Yard – Santa Rosa
  • The urban wineries of Coffey Lane (that’s my own name) – The NPA, Carol Shelton, Vinify Winery Collective & Custom Crush, Inspiration Custom Crush, all located in the same complex as the micro wineries featured in this post.

Explore your town!  There are Urban wineries in San Francisco such as Dogpatch Wineworks and Bluxome Street.  Oakland and Alameda have an urban explosion.

Support your local winemaker!  You won’t be sorry!

 

On the table top…


It’s Thursday, and I”m back in Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone, the annual extravaganza showcasing the 22 Rhone Varietals from around the world.  Since the first event didn’t kick off until that evening, we had some free time to visit a few favorite wineries – starting with Tablas Creek.

Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded in 1989, as a partnership between the Perrin family of Chatau de Beaucastel and Rover Hass, who founded Vineyard Brands.  Having a shared vision of creating Rhone wines in California,they set about creating a New World Rhone house.

Today, Robert’s son Jason showed us around he property which boasts a spanking new tasting room, complete with cork floors (can I have some in MY house?  Seriously noise cancelling comfort at its best) and several tasting areas that are easiy divdied up for differnet groups, or opened up for a community feeling.

The first wines of Tablas Creek were created in 1997 when the Estate Winery was completed.  On this day, we toured the property, examined the new tasting room, and…well, drank some wine.  With a wet wet wet 2010-11 growing season under way, Tablas – and most of Paso Robles- has seen a lot of rain.  In a place where a typical year sees 28 inches of rain, so far (and this was in April) they have seen 36 inches.  Tablas Creek is dry farmed, and with this kind of rain and whacky snow, sleet and frost, there has been some damage to the vines recently.  Fortunately, most of the crop was saved, and there will be wine to show for it.  What will this year’s weather do?  Who knows.  Stay tuned, I’ll take up the cause and go taste the wines every season.  I’m a giver that way.

Each parcel on the property is hand picked to ripeness, meanng that there might be several passes on a row before all the bunches are harvested.  Another highlight of Tablas is that they use 100% Native Yeast, and do not innocolate with commerical yeastes.  It’s my personal belief that this gives much more character to a wine, and lets the fruit develop the beauty of the juice without overmanipulating it and turning it in to a Frankenwine.

Our first taste on the warm spring day was the 2010 Verminto.  It was bright and crisp, with lot fo honey and stone fruit.  The minerals clung to the glass with a burst of tangerine that I just love.

A new line for Tablas Creek is the Patelin de Tables.  Launcehd in 2010, the white is based on Grenache Blanc, (see my passion ofr this wine HERE), and the red is based on Syrah.  This is a ncie counterpart to the Esprit de Beaucastel line, which are based on Roussanne and Mouvedre.  The Patelin de Tables Blanc had crisp pears, and green apple and was fresh and bright.  I loved this wine, and could easily sip this on the patio for days.

Next up the 2010 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, which is viognier based.  It was smooth and rich, with low acid and tons of floral notes.  There is a touch of rousanne and marsanne blended in as well,  I have to say, it was a nice white, but my money is on the Patelin de Tables.

The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc had a lot of nutty notes, as well as baked fruti.  This is a roussane blend, and is showing a touch of oxidation in it’s 5 year old life, but in an enjoyable way.

A favorite of mine, and one I enjoyed at the Pink Out as well, is the 2010 Rose.  With 48 hours of skin contact, it has a rosy glow, and is a blend of 50% saignée (juice bled off from red wine production) and 50% purpose made rose.  The majority of this wine is mourvedre, which gives it a backbone and some structure, even for a light rose.  Great choice!

Ahh now on to the reds!  Starting with the 2009 Côtes de Tablas, a grenache based big boy with huge spicy blackberry notes, cinnamon spice and plum.  I absolutely adored this wine.  The additions of syrah, counoise and mourvedre to the blend liven up the wine and give it a dark and brooding character with a kick of pepper at the end.

A treat from Jason was the 2009 100% Grenache, with its delicious spicy plum notes.  I am a grenache FREAK and the high acid balances out the big fruit.

At this point, I have no idea what we were tasting, just that I had a great afternoon tasting some fantastic Rhone wines from Paso.  There was not a bad wine in the bunch, and I could easily have taken a seat on the new terrace and sipped an entire bottle of any of them.  You can find Tablas Creek wines fairly easily in the market, and if you are even in Paso Robles – I suggest looking them up.  A smorgasbord for your senses awaits!

Thanks Jason for taking the time to show us around and open up so many treats.  Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

 

 

I'm drawing a blanc

Blanc did you say?  Yes Blanc.  As in white.  Wine.  White wine!  I am not the biggest wine wine drinker in general, instead preferring the heartier meat of a red wine, but there are a few white that really rope me in.  Specifically, Greanache Blanc.  I particularly enjoy GB because it is NOT your average white, it’s nothing like the overblown California chardonnay that I run screaming from, and it’s just plain good.

Grenache Blanc the counterpart to Grenache, or Garnacha, which is classically found in Chateau Neuf de Pape wines from the Rhone.  It is unusual to find Grenache Blanc on it’s own outsidede of the US, but particularly in Paso Robles, this single varietal flourishes.

During my recent trip to Paso Robles, when were were visiting some Zinfandel vineyards, we were treated to dinner at Artisan, a local hot spot for dining.  Since we were exploring the area’s wines, we thought we’d explore the area’s foods as well!  Michael Kobayashi, the owner and general manager, welcomed us like old friends.  We sat down to a well varied menu and wine list, which included a particularly good wines by the glass program.

First up, the Paso Robles Wine Commission selected our appetizers – Cayucos Red Abalone – The green apple and tropical fruits in the Halter Ranch, Roussanne/Picpoul/Gren Blanc/Marsanne “Côtes de Paso Blanc” really brought out the flavors of the abalone, and we enjoyed that along with the Ranchero Cellars Grenache Blanc.  The Halter Ranch white (and red for that matter) were my faves of the evening, and the white
with the honeysuckle, stone fruit and richness topped by a light but noticeable wet river rock flavor were my winning combo.  In the Halter Ranch, I tasted white and had tons of nectarine and grapefruit flavors, with a touch of cotton candy and a hint of light caramel, or brown sugar as well as some lovely floral and honeysuckle notes.  I probably could have had this wine all night and it was a gorgeous match with the abalone, but didn’t work quite as well with the Pork Belly we also had for an appetzer.

We also ordered the Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso red, which is a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mouvdre, Couioise, and Cinsault = basically a Rhone mutt.  This went beautifully with the pork belly.  Before we moved on to mains, I just HAD to order the KILLER gouda and porter fondue. This dish was so amazing that I really wanted to lick the scalding hot cauldron clean.  For mains, I had organic chicken, peas and carrots, aligot potatoes, hen of the woods gravy  which was simply luscious.  With that we continued sipping on several by the glass selections, including another glass of Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso because I loved it so much.

I also tried the Jacob Toft Sarah’s Cuvee, which si a GSM as well.  This was a lovely wine but there was just something missing for me.  For kicks, and because we were in experimentation mode, we tried the Calcareous, Grenache/Mourvedre as well to see what happens when you leave the syrah out.  I think that was it, but I stopped taking notes since iphyoning at the dinner table makes my partner a little testy, so I just enjoyed the lovely food and wine.

Hats off to the people at Artisan.  They made our meal an extremely enjoyable experience.  So much so, that, the next night after being given the shaft at a local brewery, we went back!  There we were, on a Saturday night, with no reservation in a very small town.  There was a festival, and we weren’t sure we’d get in.  But Mike worked his magic, and the hostess who greeted us remembered us and took care of us immediately.  There is something to be said for excellent customer service, on top of excellent food.   The second night, I had an off the menu burger (to DIE for) which the waitress from the night before stopped by to suggest to us.  I split this with my other half, after enjoying the butter leaf salad, beets, walnuts, Point Reyes Bluer cheesem  which was delicate and flavorful.  I started with beer, but quickly moved to wine so we could try those that we didn’t have the first night.  Of courses, by then we were a bit beat and weary of wine tasting, but it was still a blast.

I can’t wait to go back and see Artisan while down in Paso at Hospices du Rhone!  Please do stop by and see Mike and the gang!

The first meal was sponsored by the Paso Robles Wine Commission,  The second was on us, but both were worth 10 times as much as we paid!