By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
The main red grapes of France’s Rhone Valley include Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Additional grapes are permitted in the wines including Cinsault, Carignan, Counoise and others. The wines from this region have long been known for their combination of juicy and spicy character with a firm backbone on the palate and ability to age for a half decade or more. Wines from the Northern Rhone are Syrah-dominant and wines from the Southern Rhone are Grenache-dominant in the blends.
In the United States, the Rhone varieties were slow to catch fire, but are now among the most sought-after wines in the Northwest, California and beyond. Seek out these favorites with my tasters to enjoy with your springtime culinary creations!
Winemaker Aaron Lieberman crafted this flavorful, Old World style Syrah from grapes grown at the Steelhead Vineyard south of Grants Pass, Oregon. It was the favorite of my tasters for its blackberry and cherry fruit with complex notes of white pepper and dried herbs. The palate is juicy with velvety tannins and a long finish.
Jon Meuret crafted this wine from superb Columbia Valley fruit and named it Métis (may-tee), a French word for the descendents of both Native and French Canadian parents. Just over half Syrah, with the balance Grenache and Mourvedre, the wine offers the best of both North and Southern Rhone styles, featuring aromas and flavors of blackberry, pepper, niçoise olives, mineral, herbs and meaty bacon.
In 1976, Anne-Marie Liegeois said goodbye to her life in Champagne, France and left for the United States with her husband Tom Hedges. The DLD Syrah is an homage to both the Dupont and Liegeois sides of Anne-Marie's family. The most interesting selection in our recent tasting, the wine is earthy and rich with savory spices and dark fruits – a touch of aromatic brettanomyces will be controversial, but pleased my Old-World-focused tasting panel.
This is Woodward Canyon’s third edition of this Rhone blend, made from grapes harvested from their sustainably farmed estate vineyard west of Walla Walla. Roughly equal amounts of Mourvedre and Syrah were joined by 9% Grenache to create a wine redolent of blueberry, herbs and spice, all wrapped in a warm cocoon of toasty oak, finishing with hints of espresso and dark chocolate.
Mark Ryan Winery
This Red Mountain Syrah from highly lauded Mark Ryan Winery came from four clones of Syrah: 877, 383, 174 and Phelps. The wine is aged in special French oak 500L barrels (roughly double the size of standard barrels) to improve purity of fruit and textural qualities in the finished wine. Needs a little breathing time to show best – look for black cherry and dark plum with notes of coffee, vanilla and spice.
This wine was formerly produced under the name AIX, after Aix-de-Provence in the south of France. The wine is a blend of equal amounts of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and makes a powerful statement of smoky dark fruits, herbs, cherry and toasty oak. Hints of chocolate, anise and spice linger on the finish. Serve Doyenne with your finest efforts from the grill
Ron Coleman’s southern Rhone blend often adds a dollop of the less common variety Counoise to a base of Grenache and Mourvedre. The wine doesn’t see new oak and rewards that innovation with juicy plum and cherry fruit, notes of sage and tobacco, and a depth of fruit on the lingering finish.
This brand from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was inspired by a series of seven waterfalls that once flowed along the Columbia River through what is now known as the Wahluke Slope. Talented winemaker Doug Gore crafted this blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cinsault, creating a wine with a split personality of both dark fruits and brighter red fruits. Joining blueberry and cherry are dried fruits, anise, vanilla and cocoa.
A popular American wine with a connection to the Rhone is Petite Sirah. This variety is genetically identical to Durif, a cross between Syrah and the ancient variety Peloursin. Maryhill’s Petite Sirah from the highly regarded Art den Hoed Vineyard near Mabton offers deep blackberry, black pepper and mineral flavors framed by toasty oak.
This selection from Charles Smith Wines has been a favorite with my tasters for many years. Superb quality at a bargain price is expressed through aromas of sweet dark fruits, sage and dried herbs, followed by a soft-but-firm palate of ripe plum, berry and earthy spice.
Wines from other areas
Madrigal Family Winery
The Barberis Vineyard at the north end of the Napa Valley near Calistoga produces a dark, inky-black hue of a wine. My tasters celebrated this character for its association with Petite Sirah. Aromas of smoky black pepper mingle with cocoa, earthy mineral and vanilla leading to a palate rich with dark fruits, cocoa, vanilla and baking spice.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
This blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise rang the bell for many tasters for its complex and approachable style; some compared it to a Pinot Noir. Tablas Creek is associated with Chateau d’Beaucastel of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France and has developed the cultivation of Rhone varieties in the Paso Robles area. Look for spicy cherry and plum leading to rich nuances of dried herbs, black fruits and earthy mineral.
As winemaker Peter Gago says about this historic wine, “quite possibly first sampled by your great-grandparents, treasured by your parents, soon to be discovered by the next generation. Again!” Ever changing aromas of dark fruits, coffee, cocoa and spice lead to flavors of dried plum and dark berry with firm tannins begging for smoky meats from the grill!
Cline Family Cellars
This variety is widely planted in France, Spain and Italy, but rarely
given top billing when used to add color and body to blended red wines.
This extra-ripe example (15.5% alcohol) offers spicy blackberry,
brandied plums, enticing notes of citrus and a finish of toasty oak,
vanilla and dried fruits.
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