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.

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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.

Cali-centric participation

Rhone Rangers 11th Annual Tasting at Fort Mason San Francisco (Click image to enlarge)All the presenting wineries at the San Francisco event except nine were from California. The “outsiders” were Columbia Crest (WA), Columbia Winery (WA), Delrio Vineyards (OR), Domaine Serene (OR), McCrea Cellars (WA), Sawtooth Winery (ID), Snoqualmie (WA), Valley View Winery (WA) and Zefina (WA). It is unfortunate that more of the 22 non-California members of Rhone Rangers didn’t elect to participate, because tasters didn’t get enough exposure to the current releases from appellations such as Columbia Valley, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley. There are additional American producers of Rhone wines in areas other than the west coast, but they haven’t joined Rhone Rangers. As a result, participants in this event didn’t get to taste any Rhone wines from places such as Virginia (where some very good Viognier is grown), Texas (where both Syrah and Viognier are grown) or Colorado (where some Syrah is grown).

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.