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Rhone Rangers: Cali French kiss

What happen when America meets the Rhone River Valley? Something intriguing like a Cali French kiss. Since the early 80’s several American winemakers began experimenting with Rhone style wines and decided to make something other than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. These “brave” few became known as the RHONE RANGERS. In 1997 13 wineries establish the non – profit organization to promote their wines, now more than 100 wineries from California, Virginia, Washington and Arizona joined the association. One rule to be part of the Rhone Rangers: produce at least one wine with at least 75 per cent of Rhone grape varietals. The Rhone varietals are more than 20: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Roussanne are the most famous.

At the Skirball Rhone Ranger event in L.A. I had the chance to taste several wines of these producers: I’ve been positively surprised from the variety in the blends, as traditionally happen in the Rhone Valley, which include Picpoul, Counoise, Bourboulenc, obscure but truly delicious varieties. I was happy to taste a lot of organic and biodynamic wines, here some of my favorite of the tasting event:

1. TABLAS CREEK VINEYARD – 2015 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC – ADELAIDA AVA 

26% Viognier, 25% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 24% Roussanne

Whole cluster pressed, stainless steel fermented, native yeasts. Intense, harmonious, persistent: excellent white. Peach pit, honey and white flowers. The viognier variety is not overwhelming the others, it is perfectly balanced.

2. TWO SHEPHERDS – 2015 CARIGNAN ROSE’ TRIMBLE VINEYARD, MENDOCINO

100% Carignan

The Trimble Vineyard is 40 years old, head trained, dry farmed, and certified organic. Fermented and aged 50% in stainless barrels and 50% in neutral French oak, is a pleasant aromatic wine with vibrant acid and excellent texture.

3. QUPE’ – 2014 LOS OLIVOS CUVEE – SANTA YNEZ VALLEY AVA (PREVIEW – on the market in Sept. 2016)

57% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre, 14% Grenache

Syrah and Mourvèdre organically farmed, Grenache biodynamically farmed. Cool climate vineyards, 15 months in neutral French oak. This wine will surely evolve in something unique. As now it shows harmonious notes of toffee, almond paste, cacao beans with pink peppercorns and a very pleasant balsamic note.

4. MORGAN – 2014 DOUBLE L SYRAH – SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS AVA

100% Syrah

Hermitage style Syrah (cool climate). 50% whole berry fermentation, native yeasts, extended maceration, 14 months aging in 42% new Bordeaux French barrels. At the nose: dark cherries, blueberries, blackberries, some cedar and caramel. At the taste: persistent with a long lingering mineral graphite finish.

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