By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week
Today we take a spin around the wacky world of Rhone varietals and blends of Rhone varietals (sometimes blended with non-Rhone varietals). I say “wacky” because there is a crazy variety of flavors and complexities vying for your attention and your pocketbook. These varieties sometimes lend themselves to the production of quaffable “fruit bombs,” just right for sipping slightly chilled on a warm day. Some are very serious wines with lots of expensive French oak and lingering finishes.
Rhone Blend RosÚs
Kyle and Amy Johnson produce their delicious rosÚ in a light and fruity style from 100% Syrah grapes grown mostly at the Weinbau Vineyard on Washington’s Wahluke Slope. My tasters found aromas of fruity melon, vanilla, pear and hints of cucumber leading to a palate of soft strawberry and watermelon flavors. You can taste Purple Star wines at Cellar 55's cooperative tasting room in Vancouver, Washington. Five eastern Washington wine labels can be tasted at this new tasting room and wine storage facility.
This food-friendly rosÚ is crafted from mostly Grenache and Mouvedre with a 13% splash of Cinsault. The wine offers aromas of strawberry, cucumber and cherry with notes of dried herbs. The palate is dry with strawberry and citrus flavors yielding to hints of vanilla and smoke on the finish. It is very nice with a wide variety of lighter summer foods.
Schmidt Family Vineyards
Schmidt Family Vineyards takes advantage of the Applegate Valley’s lovely summer weather with expansive gardens and sprawling vineyards adjacent to the elegant, craftsman-style tasting room. In the winter season, you can relax by the cozy fire while you sip your wine. The 2011 Syrah is a dark and rich wine that pairs well with meats from the grill. Look for aromas and flavors of dark cherry, cassis, cranberry and notes of vanilla and toasty oak.
Brett and Denise Isenhower moved from Colorado to Washington State in 1998 and started their winery in Walla Walla in 1999. They craft their wines from fruit grown at vineyards in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys. Isenhower River Beauty Syrah is sourced from the Olsen Ranch Vineyard, Blackrock Vineyard and Dutchman Vineyard. Aromas of rich black fruits, cranberry, mineral and spice lead to ripe flavors of cassis and cran-cherry on the palate with a finish of toasty vanilla and mineral.
My tasters were quite impressed with Rotie Cellars’ Southern Rhone Blend featuring Grenache and Mourvedre that was reviewed in column one of this Red Rhone series. This mostly-Syrah Northern Blend offers a nice contrast with power and structure taking the fore. The wine offers ripe dark fruits with earthy mineral, cocoa and hints of floral perfume around the edges. The wine finishes with earthy texture and dark plum and berry to pair with your meats from the grill.
L’Ecole No 41
The winemakers at L’Ecole No 41 blended 20% Grenache into this Columbia Valley bottling of Syrah, creating an approachable wine with generous fruit and soft tannins. Grapes were sourced from five vineyards from the Horse Heaven Hills to the Columbia Valley to the Estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Aromas and flavors of dark plums and blackberry mingle with dried herbs, hints of toasty cedar and dark chocolate.
This is perhaps the best value in a Syrah that I have encountered this year. For a bargain price you can have a ripe nose of blueberry, cherry and vanilla and a rich and complex palate that adds earthy mineral, coffee and leather to the mix of fruits. In the Waterbrook style, there are toasty/smoky notes from the 18% new American oak in the aging regime.
Brian Carter Cellars
Every year I look forward to tasting Brian Carter’s latest vintages of his wonderfully blended wines that reflect old-world sophistication with new-world excitement and intensity. His Southern Rhone-style blend – named Byzance after the French for ‘luxurious’ – offers aromas and flavors of rich dark berries, earthy mineral and notes of smoky meats and cocoa. Very tasty with meats from the grill.
Thurston Wolfe Winery
Winemaker Wade Wolfe named this blend for the origin of the two dominant grape varieties in the blend – Grenache and Tempranillo – coming from northern Spain’s Rioja region. Aromas of fresh cherry and blackberry mingle with herbs and oak spice, leading to a toasty, rustic palate that offers chewy berry flavors, toasty oak and finishing notes of floral perfume and soft tannins.
Helix by Reininger
Helix is the genus name of the Burgundian escargot snail, and an image of the delectable critter graces the wine label of this brand from Reininger Winery. Helix is also the name of a rural farming community near Pendleton, Oregon that traces history in the winery family. Chuck Reininger’s Southern Rhone (So Rho) blend offers bright red fruits of strawberry, cherry and pomegranate along with earthy mineral and hints of cassis. Chuck says to pair with Charcuterie, but give a grilled steak a chance as well.
Coeur d’Alene Cellars
This Rhone-style blend features a dominant portion of 67% Syrah blended with 24% Grenache and small amounts of Mourvedre and Viognier. “The varietals were sourced from unique terroirs throughout the Columbia Valley, combined together to showcase the art of blending varietal and vineyard in the bottle.” Look for blueberry, citrus zest and vanilla on the nose with following flavors of berry, cherry and toasty cedar. Be sure to visit Coeur d’Alene Cellars tasting room – Barrel Room No. 6 – in the heart of Coeur d’Alene offering light meals and snacks along with wine and beer tasting.
The 2011 vintage is Thurston Wolfe’s 10th release of 100% Washington State Petite Sirah, a rare variety for the region. Wade Wolfe’s long work with Petite Sirah in Washington gives him unique insight into the fermentation and aging of the wine. His wine from the Zephyr Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills opens with dark berries mingling with spicy mineral, tar and white pepper. The palate redoubles the berry notes and adds smoky cedar, tobacco and vanilla – a superb match for your beef from the grill.
Pat and Loree Spangler moved to Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in 2004 and purchased an established winery and vineyards. Pat has proved to be an exceptional winemaker, crafting Bordeaux varietals and selected Rhone favorites like Syrah, Petite Sirah and Viognier. The 2010 Petite Sirah offers ripe aromas of blackberry, white pepper and toasty cedar with flavors of berry and cherry mingling with baking spices and floral notes.
Wines from other areas
Kingston Family Vineyards
“Lucero is named for a star-like marking on a horse’s forehead, and inspired by the stars still glistening in the early morning sky when we pick Syrah at Kingston.” The Lucero Syrah was very popular with my tasters offering cherry and spice on the nose and cherry, white pepper and cassis on the palate. Complex berry and barrel spice notes pair well with pork or beef from the grill.
Artadi El Seque
Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle seeks out old vines to create his fine bottlings in Spain. He traveled to the warm region of Alicante and found old-vine Monastrell (Mourvedre) indigenous to the region. The vineyards of El Seque are influenced by both the Mediterranean Sea and the nearby plateau of La Mancha. Look for ripe aromas and flavors of dried plum, dark berries, spicy oak and mineral – a nice pairing with rich meats but also pastas and lighter dishes.
Australia’s Barossa Valley was planted extensively with Shiraz, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Grenache by the early settlers. In the 1950s, Penfolds started experimenting with table wine blends of Shiraz and Mataro, adding Grenache when they introduced the SGM in 1992. This wine was elevated to the Bin range with the 1998 Bin 138. The wine is highly aromatic upon opening, showing raspberry and red currant as well as meaty earthy aromas and baking spices. The palate is restrained but complex with coffee and chocolate flavors adding to the fruity/meaty mix – a nice complement to grilled beef.
Gary Eberle crafted some of the first Syrah in the U.S., planting 20 acres at his Paso Robles winery in 1975 and making a 100% Syrah varietal wine in 1978. This distinctive wine has many old world characteristics with earthy and meaty notes, but it also offers new world, fruit-forward qualities. My tasters found it to be a grand accompaniment to our grilled meats with juicy blueberry and blackberry flavors providing high notes in the pairing, while toasty oak and vanilla mingled on the palate.
So here’s the first wine you will ever taste that is a blend of four different continents. The multi-continental assemblage includes Grenache from Spain, Shiraz from Australia, Malbec from Argentina and Tempranillo from California. You can have this experience of a lifetime for the bargain price of only seven American greenbacks. Oh, and it is also a darn tasty bottle of wine, brimming with rich and jammy berry fruit, hints of vanilla and spice, and moderate tannins to pair with your burger, steak or romantic conversation.