The Rhone Report

Top 10 Reasons to Try a New Wine Tasting Experience:

Attend the 2009 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting March 22 in San Francisco

10. Spit in public! 
The best way to appreciate samples of some of the 500 or so wines available from about 125 American wineries is to use the provided spit cups in front of about 2,000 utter strangers.  Well, it’s ok to swallow some of your very favorites.  But using the spit cups most of the time sure enhances the experience and lets you enjoy a great dinner in San Francisco afterwards.

Grenache Blanc & Picpoul: Less Known White Rhone Varietals Surge in U.S. Popularity

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier are the best known of the white Rhone varietals.  But there are two less recognized grapes that really add a “je ne sais quoi” to the overall quality of a white Rhone blend and each produces a zippy single-varietal wine as well.  These are Grenache Blanc and Picpoul.  Both are newcomers to the United States and are slowly starting to gain popularity.

2008 Hospice du Rhone Events: Highs & Lows of American Rhone-style Wines Tasted

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

The 16th annual Hospice du Rhone events in Paso Robles, California from May 1 to 3, 2008 was an opportunity to consider Rhone-style wines from a fresh perspective.  Unlike most tasting opportunities, these events included Rhone-style wines from the Rhone Valley itself (51 wineries), elsewhere in France (4 wineries) as well as from Spain (4 wineries), Australia (17 wineries), South Africa (6 wineries), Chile (2 wineries), Argentina (1 winery) and the United States.  The American wines were mostly from California (144 wineries), but a few examples from Arizona (2 wineries) and Washington State (5 wineries) were also included.  While this is a California-dominated event, and while many of the Rhone Valley’s best producers aren’t represented, there is still sufficient European and other entries to make for interesting comparisons and contrasts.  The events included two general tastings and a series of focused seminars.

Is Chateauneuf-du-Pape Really the King of Southern Rhone Red Wines?

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

The most famous appellation in the southern Rhone Valley is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Wine critic Robert Parker makes no bones about loving Chateauneuf, and calls it the most important appellation in the entire Rhone Valley. According to reputation, the French appellation contrôllée system and market prices, the pecking order of southern Rhone wines is something like this: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Vinsobres, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Cairanne (and Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet), Cotes-du-Rhone Villages from other named villages, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages (with no named village) and finally generic Cotes-du-Rhone. Check out our discussion about the various Rhone appellations.

America’s Best Rhone Style Red Wines: 11th Annual Rhone Rangers Tasting Reviewed

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

Last month we discussed the white Rhone style wines offered at the 2008 Rhone Rangers tasting event at Fort Mason in San Francisco on March 18. This month we turn to the reds, of which we tasted 50. Among those we tasted were some old favorites and some wineries or bottlings with which we were not yet familiar. We don’t pretend that we tasted a representative group of wines, because our sample was skewed to wines we have loved in the past and others about which we have heard positive comments.

America's Best Rhone Style White Wines: 11th Annual Rhone Rangers Tasting Reviewed

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

Like many lovers of Rhone style wines from America, we have just returned from the 2008 edition of the annual Rhone Rangers tasting event at Fort Mason in San Francisco (March 18). This was the 11th year that the Rhone Rangers, a group of about 200 American producers of wines using 22 varietals traditional to France’s Rhone Valley, have shown off their wines at this public tasting event. This year, about 138 wineries presented approximately 520 wines.

During the tasting, we enthusiastically tasted as many wines as we could within the 5 hours (3 public and 2 trade/media) the event was open. We tasted 30 white wines first, and then we tasted 50 reds. We skipped the rosés, not because we don’t love them, but because we didn’t have time. Kudos to Rhone Rangers for providing eco-friendly paper spit cups instead of the plastic cups so common at other tastings. We divided our attention between wines and producers we have known previously, producers new to us, and specific bottlings we didn’t already know. While we found many wines to admire, we are sure we missed other gems.

Do Northern Rhone Syrahs Have to Break the Bank?

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

The classic red wines of the Northern Rhone Valley are some of the world’s greatest. Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas reds are the finest expressions of Syrah on earth.

But the best of them have gotten to be very expensive, especially in American dollars. Recent vintages of Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave are now more than $200 per bottle (and his scarce, top cuvee, Cathelin, is over $1,000). Guigal’s Côte Rôtie La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque are nearly $250 per bottle, and even the Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blond bottling is over $75.

Cotes du Rhone Wines: Sans Pedigree, Are These “Plain Old” Wines Any Good?

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

Twice, when dining at La Beaugravière, a restaurant in the town of Montdragon near the southern Rhone Valley wine growing areas, we have ordered the very same pair of wines.  La Beaugravière has a renowned list of Rhone wines available, perhaps the best in the world.  So why would we order the same pair of wines on a second occasion?  Because we found them to provide an ideal contrast with each other, and to both be ideal companions to the simple Provençal food served at La Beaugravière.

Making Sense of the Rhone Valley Appellations

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

The French appellation contrôllée (or appellation d’origine contrôllée, AOC) system was born in the Rhone Valley (specifically, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape) in the early 20th century. The appellation system is intended to guarantee that the wine comes from the place (appellation) that is identified. It seeks to establish an expectation of a certain quality, and in doing so it sets forth specific requirements.

The Art and Science of Blending Rhone Varietals in California

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

As lovers of Rhone blends, we eagerly traveled to Paso Robles in the spring of 2005 to attend a “blending seminar” at the Tablas Creek Vineyard. We love both the white and red blends from the southern Rhone Valley, among them the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas and others. At home in California, we love the wines of the Tablas Creek Vineyard. So we were excited to attend this event and to learn more about blending these wines.

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