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Rhone varietals

What is a Rhone wine – WBW71 post

Wine Blogging Wednesday 71

Wine Blogging Wednesday 71

One of the issues many new to the wine world face is learning the grapes certain wines are made with. This is more an issue with old world wines, such as Italy and France, though it can be an issue in the US as well. For example, when I tackled today’s Wine Blogging Wednesday post, Rhone not from Rhone , I had to first recall exactly which grapes make up Rhone wines. The main ones are GSM, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, if you weren’t sure. However, there’s a great supporting cast of cinsault, petit sirah, viognier, roussanne and marsanne. For today’s WBW post I selected a Paso Robles cuvee, or a blend, of Rhone varietals and am excited to tell you about it.

By way of background, Lenn “Devours” Thompson started an initiative to corral wine bloggers, getting them focused on the same topic once a month, called Wine Blogging Wednesday. Each month a different blogger would come up with a topic, and we’d all write about it. I didn’t join the fray until 2008, years after WBW was in motion. However, it’s a great way to get different perspectives on the same topic. It shows that even the experts see grapes differently.  Today’s topic is Rhone Wines not from Rhone, brought to us by Tim Elliot of Winecast.

As I mentioned, wines made in the Rhone style include Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes. I could have selected a Grenache from Spain, or a Syrah from California for this article, however I’ve wanted to write about my dinner and interview with Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines and thought tasting his Liberty School Cuvee was the perfect opportunity. I’ll first cover the wine, then a little about Austin and dinner.

Liberty School Cuvee 2007

Liberty School Cuvee 2007

The folks at Liberty School believe that the Central Coast of California is perfect for Rhone varietals. If their 2007 Cuvee is any indication, I say they’re right. A cuvee is a blend, and this wine is a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier. I’ve often said that I’m not a fan of Syrah from California, as it comes in big and jammy, and I prefer the more restrained, earthy Syrah from France. However, at 13.5% ABV the Liberty School Cuvee is not a big wine, and it’s anything but jammy.

I taste the wine at three intervals, right after opened, after 10 minutes of air, and after 30 minutes of air. While it definitely opened and changed, it was fairly consistent throughout. The wine was a dark inky purple, and the cork bottom was almost black. At first, the nose had a very meaty bouquet, with a note of cocoa and spices. It had a great lush mouthfeel, and after 10-30 minutes there were dark berries balanced with some earth and nice leather notes on the palate. When I say leather, I could envision a well polished leather chair in a stately mansion, regal and sophisticated. The wine was definitely dry, though not tannic very tannic. Towards the end I started to taste secondary notes on the finish of spiced cherry pie and smoke, with a finish that lingered. I grabbed this wine at the grocery for $15, and it’s definitely a wine to try. We paired this wine with hamburgers, though we could have thrown a variety of grilled, roasted or smoked meats it it successfully.

What I enjoyed most about the wine was how it captured the essence of old world Rhone wines, with a touch of new world finesse and approachability. I’ve planned on tasting some more Hope family Wines and Libery School Cuvee against some Rhone wines in the near future and compare and contrast. I had taste several Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage a few weeks back, and while they cost a bit more, I’m interested in the taste profiles as a comparison. I’ll be sure to let you know.  I’ll also let you know more about Paso Robles, home of Liberty School and Hope Family wines, as I’m visiting the area next week.

I hope to catch up with Austin Hope again when in Paso. He’s a great guy. very dynamic, and passionate about wine and all that it entails. My interview of Austin turned more into a dinner with a great guy, as the restaurant was too noisy to record our conversation, and we talked too quickly and about too many topics to take notes of any quality. We did, however, cover a few topics that I thought were quite interesting, such as multi-vintage wines and box wine, as well as a hot project that make change the way you look at Paso in the future.

Austin feels that the concept of multi-vintage wines needs to be looked at a bit more closely. He maintains that by using wines of different vintages, winemakers will be able to capture the youth and expressiveness of younger vintages, with the maturity and complexity of older vintages. He believes by doing this, wines will be more approachable upon release, and offer more than any young release wine can. I’m excited to see what he does with this concept. Austin also believes that he can put out a box wine of sufficient quality to carry a Hope Family Wines name. Expect a spring or summer 2011 release of his box, and I will definitely get my hands on it. I expect it to be a very approachable and affordable wine.

As for the last project, well, that one I can’t talk about yet. However, when Austin told me about it, I found myself secretly rooting for him to succeed. We’ll see soon!

Have you tried a Rhone style wine, whether from France, California or elsewhere? Let me know what you thought!

 

Gramercy Cellars and DeLille Cellars Washington State Syrah

The non-profit group Hospice du Rhone endeavors to educate about and promote the Rhone grape varietals. Rhone varietals include Grenach, Mouvedre, and today’s topic, Syrah, along with other lesser known grapes such as Bourboulenc and Camarese. Syrah is a grape that offers many expressions, from the peppery Shiraz you’ll find in Australia, to the round and fruit focused Syrah you’ll find in California. It’s a grape that takes on the characteristics of the terroir, the earth that the grapes come from, and will be different whether from France, California or Washington. A group of wine writers received four Washington Syrah samples from Hospice du Rhone, and taste the wines together, using twitter to discuss our notes. I fired up the grill, cooking some mild Italian sausage and some hamburgers, and set out to taste the first two of the four wines.

Gramercy Cellars 2007 Syrah

Gramercy Cellars 2007 Syrah

The first wine of the night was from Gramercy Cellars which was founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam. The 2007 Lagniappe Syrah is co-fermented with 2% Viognier, which will add floral notes to the wine, and is then aged 15 months in neutral French oak. It’s made with fruit sourced from neighboring vineyards in Columbia Valley, while their own two vineyards mature.  Initially tight on the nose, displaying some “meaty berry” notes after about 30 minutes of air, the palate was subdued black fruit with some leather and pepper. However, paired with grilled Italian sausage, the wine began to shine, showing additional complexities including layers of mocha under the fruit.  With food, the pepper finish eased and the berry and mocha flavors come through, and the wine became a well balanced accompaniment to the meal.

The team at Gramercy indeed specifically makes their wines with a food pairing focus, and I found it all too easy to enjoy another sip after a bite of grilled hamburger or sausage. At $38, the wine not only complimented the meal, but it stood up well the next day. On the second day, the Lagniappe Syrah’s bouquet opened a bit more, showing dark fruit on the nose. The palate seemed a bit rounder, with a jammy berry focus, similar to grabbing handfuls of fresh blackberries and shoving them in your mouth, until it overflows. The finish, however, retained it’s white pepper component and was still screaming for some food to help tame it. All in all a nice wine which is definitely made with food in mind.

DeLille Cellars Doyenne 2007 Syrah

DeLille Cellars Doyenne 2007 Syrah

Next up was DeLille Cellars 2007 Doyenne Syrah from Yakima Valley, WA. This Syrah was blend with 2% Viognier as well, though aging and fermentation information were not available. The nose was not very fragrant after being open 45 minutes, and it could have decanted over an hour and a half to reach full potential. It had that “meaty fruit” bouquet, but nothing stood out as “wow”. The palate was dark fruit and cocoa, similar to the Gramercy, with a soft silky approach and a powerful finish. However, the Doyenne Syrah really screamed when paired with food. Sipping after a bite of the grilled sausage brought out a cascade of flavors, especially spicy chocolate.

The second night found the Doyenne still smooth and silky, as the wine opened up in the bottle. There were great blackberry and black raspberry flavors, with the oak showing a little bit on the finish. At $50, I would have a hard time just plunking this wine down on the table to sip on. However, with a meal, such as grilled meats of any sort, I wouldn’t hesitate a second to pop open this bottle! I’d like to see how this wine matures over 3-4 years, and the DeLille Cellars website has an aging chart for their wines, which noted this Syrah as a “Hold”.

Have you had a Syrah from Washington, or anywhere, that really stands out? Let us know about it, leave a comment below. Next up, we’ll talk about the other two Syrah we taste that evening, including one from Charles Smith, the Food and Wine 2009 Winemaker of the Year.