By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
New World offerings of white Rhone varietals are a slow-growing category, but are very exciting for those of us keeping track of such things. The northern Rhone varietal Marsanne produces white wines in France’s Croze-Hermitage and other AOCs (see below) but is not allowed in white blends of Chateauneuf du Pape. Roussanne is allowed in the northern Rhone and Chateauneuf and has a reputation for being a finicky grape to grow. It is producing well in vineyards in Washington and Southern Oregon. Other Chateauneuf white varieties Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc are being produced in small quantities in the New World and are yielding very promising results.
Chef Ted donned his toque this week to prepare the recipes of Laura Calder’s French Food at Home (Cooking Channel) episode, French Barbecue. Delightful brochettes of chicken, red snapper and shrimp each had their own marinade and added vegetables or fruits to create a dinner that paired superbly with the white Rhone varieties on the tasting table.
James and Poppie Mantone both came west to pursue their love of wine and met while working at LaVelle Vineyards near Eugene, Oregon in 1997. Love and marriage began the life journey that now includes two daughters and a dozen-year-old winery in the Columbia Gorge. Syncline Wines (named after a nearby geologic feature) focuses on Rhone varieties, and the Mantones have had great success winning an avid following. Their Marsanne offers superb balance with flavors of pear and citrus with mineral and floral notes – great with mixed seafood grill.
Jon Meuret’s wines from Maison Bleue Winery in Walla Walla, Washington have been alternately lauded as the best Rhone-style wines in the U.S. and (not coincidentally) the most French-style wines in Washington. These are wines that those who cut their wine teeth on the wines of Europe truly appreciate. Jon maintains strong relationships with growers in the Yakima Valley to create his remarkable wines…including this Marsanne from the same vintage and vineyard as the Syncline bottling above. Look for aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, lush citrus, jasmine and orchard blossom, and flinty mineral – another great food wine.
Winemaker/owner Sean Boyd created Rotie Cellars to craft only Rhone varietal wines from selected Washington vineyards with narrow focus and limited production. He has had great success with his Walla Walla winery and seems to be at the forefront of a new generation of Northwest Rhone Rangers. The Northern White Marsanne offers aromas of melon and mineral with hints of pear and almond. The crisp palate is very food friendly with appealing flavors of stone fruits, earthy mineral notes and crisp acidity.
Pandora (Belmonte) Cellars
This unique winery in Carnation, Washington is far from the vineyards of Eastern Washington, but owner/winemaker Dan Williams has no trouble sourcing quality fruit from growers in the Yakima Valley. His goal in starting the winery was to offer high quality wines at reasonable prices, and his Marsanne from Lonesome Springs Vineyard near Benton City qualifies on both counts. Partially barrel fermented, it offers ripe aromas of melon and peach with notes of creamy vanilla and mineral. The palate adds field herbs and citrus to the mix with ample acidity to match foods from the grill.
Cliff Creek Cellars
The entrepreneurial Garvin family of the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon has operated many businesses over the years and added grape growing in the 1990s planting Sams Valley Vineyard near Gold Hill. Joe Dobbes makes the wine for Cliff Creek Cellars, and a wine country presence is maintained through a spacious tasting room in downtown Newberg. This wine is 32% Marsanne and 68% Roussanne and shows the advantage of blending these two varietals. Complex aromas and flavors of pear, peach and mineral mingle with hints of citrus, anise and hazelnut. This blend is a lip-smacking accompaniment to lighter foods from the grill.
Yakima Valley winemaker Mark Wysling recently started his new label Wysling Wine with the release of some Rhone-stye blends including Band of Sisters. This blend of 55% Marsanne, 34% Roussanne and 11% Grenache Blanc offers aromas and flavors of white peach, ripe melon, mineral and honeysuckle.
Seven of Hearts Chatte de Avignon
Byron Dooley crafts small lots of superb wines from grapes grown in the Willamette Valley and other AVAs in the Northwest. Grapes for this classic Roussanne were harvests from Rattlesnake Road Vineyard near Arlington, Oregon, just upriver from the John Day Dam on the Columbia River. The wine was barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak providing complexity and character with aromas and flavors of stone fruits, wet stone mineral and spicy notes of ginger and cardamom.
From the famed Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain, DeLille Cellars crafts its superb Roussanne that places in the top of our rankings each year. Offering aromas of tangy mineral, pineapple and Asian pear, the nose yields to lovely flavors of apricot, earthy mineral, honeysuckle and kumquat. It has excellent mouthfeel and lingers on the palate with refreshing acidity that complements flavorful seafood and lighter meat dishes.
Whidbey Island Winery
It has been exciting to follow the 22-year career of Greg Osenbach, owner and winemaker at Whidbey Island Winery. He planted his vineyard at the winery near Langley beginning in 1986 and released his first wines in 1992. Over the years he has tried working with many varietals, always keeping the locally grown Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine in the lineup. Currently, he admits to being drawn to Italian reds grown in Eastern Washington and this Roussanne from the Horse Heaven Hills. Look for complex aromas and flavors of citrus, mineral and tropical fruits with notes of floral spice and apricot – a tasty and classy food wine.
Novelty Hill Winery
Novelty Hill / Januik Winery has become quite a wine country destination in Woodinville with a central location, a wide offering of quality wines and even wood-fired pizzas for sale on weekends. The venue is popular for private gatherings and weddings throughout the year. Novelty Hill Roussanne offers aromas of melon and Asian pear with flavors of tropical fruits and white peach mingling with mineral and spice.
Coyote Canyon Vineyard
Then Andrews’ family’s Coyote Canyon Vineyard is located in the heart of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA and has been producing premium winegrapes since 1994. The Roussanne grapes were handpicked, pressed as whole clusters and fermented in stainless steel. Extended contact with the lees adds body and a round mouth feel. Aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, honeysuckle and stone fruits are complemented with a touch of residual sugar as a nod to those seeking a gentle sipping wine in addition to a food-friendly pour.
The story of Syncline Wines and the owners/winemaker appears in the first review of this column. It is exciting to add commentary on this excellent Washington Picpoul, a variety that is virtually unknown to much of the American wine-drinking public. The variety is permitted as a blending grape in Chateauneuf du Pape and this bottling shows the character sought after by French winemakers adding it to their blends. Lemon, mineral and earthy spice greet the nose and palate, and the wine finishes with crisp acidity, from this variety whose name translates to “lip stinger.”
Here is another variety that is just gaining traction in the United States both with vintners and consumers. Grenache Blanc makes a bright wine that adds body and fruitiness to blends of Roussanne, Marsanne and Picpoul. Consumers love fresh and balanced wines, and they will find none better than Joe Dobbes’ spritely and refreshing Grenache Blanc. Look for forward aromas and flavors of pear and citrus, complemented by notes of earthy mineral and spice and finishing with crisp acidity.
Ott & Murphy
David Ott and Eric Murphy crafted their Northern Rhone-style white blend from 49% Marsanne, 49% Grenache Blanc and 2% Roussanne. Grape clusters were destemmed and the berries cold-soaked for 24 hours before pressing to tank, the wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lie for 11 months with weekly stirring (batonnage). The wine underwent complete malolactic fermentation to open and enhance flavors. Look for aromas of spicy pear, apricot and orchard blossom with following flavors of tropical fruits and mineral.
Brian Carter Cellars
Oriana (Latin for “golden lady”) is Brian Carter’s blend of 51% Viognier, 35% Roussanne and 14% Riesling, crafted to highlight fruity aromatics and to present a palate that complements a wide variety of cuisines. It is sometimes difficult for consumers to remember proprietary names for wines, but it would be wise to make a note of this selection. A delightful accompaniment to our French mixed grill, I discovered that it was also one of 20 finalists in the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, which I judged last week. Look for aromas and flavors of ripe pear, tangerine, white peach, jasmine and spicy mineral.
Wines from other areas:
Ahhh, those were the days, when the U.S. dollar was strong and there wasn’t so much competition for French wine. It takes a little experience to really appreciate French wine (like many French things), but once you get it, it never leaves you. This wine is a dancing nymph with delicate notes of flowers and fruits and earth and spice. Paired with our French-inspired dinner, it took us for an evening stroll on a warm summer day in a vineyard near Saint-Vallier. Chef Ted even noticed a scent of lanolin from the sheep grazing nearby. Superb.
This wine hails from the Hope Family Vineyard near Paso Robles, the crown-jewel property of this estate with climate and soils well suited to Rhone varietals. The concentrated fruit from the Roussanne vines provided backbone and structure to carry the resulting wine through its journey. I was dumbstruck to discover that the barrel fermentation in French oak included 60% new barrels – a regimen that would have overwhelmed grapes of less character. Instead, the aromas of orange blossom and stone fruits were complemented by just a hint of barrel spice and the palate offered apricot and ripe peach with notes of vanilla and spicy mineral.
Writer’s Block (Steele Wines)
This brand from Jed Steele features just a few distinct varietals including this Roussanne harvested from Shannon Ridge Vineyard in Lake County. The wine was barrel fermented in Hungarian oak, 20% new, which the winemaker believes elevates the natural spiciness of the variety and adds depth and richness to the wine. Look for aromas of stone fruits, pear and notes of menthol with flavors of tropical fruit, tealeaf and earthy flint.
Martian Ranch & Vineyard
Owner Nan Helgeland purchased this ranch and named it as a blending of her sons’ names Martin and Ian. For the first years on the ranch she lived in a fancy Airstream trailer that she and her friends dubbed the “Mother Ship.” The name was given to the winery’s Grenache Blanc, a tasty sipper and food wine showing aromas and flavors of earthy mineral, pear, garden herbs and juicy fruit.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek Vineyard is a result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The partnership purchased land in the Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles in an area that had similarities to Chateauneuf du Pape. Vineyards were planted to Rhone varieties, and 25 years later, superb examples of varietals and blends are the result. Most of the winery’s Roussanne is blended to become Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, though a few of the most characterful barrels are reserved and bottled as varietal Roussanne. This vintage shows aromas of toasted brioche, pear, pine and orchard blossom leading to flavors of mineral and garden herbs with hints of butterscotch and spicy oak.
This wine is a blend of 76% Marsanne and 24% Roussanne grown at the winery’s estate vineyards in Sonoma. The wine shows aromas of nectarine and honey with notes of mineral and a tiny hint of celery salt. Tropical flavors blend with pear and peach on the palate and a distinct semi-sweet finish due to a half-percent of residual sugar.