Rhone Rangers Savor Summer Wine Tasting – June 29, 2024

Rhone Rangers Savor Summer Wine Tasting – June 29, 2024

I attended the recent Rhone Rangers Savor Summer Wine Tasting in Sonoma, and wrote a report for the Grape-Nutz.com website. An abbreviated version of the report is below – there are lots more photos plus tasting impressions from 16 wineries here: Rhone Rangers Savor Summer Wine Tasting – June 29, 2024

Report on the Rhone Rangers Savor Summer Wine Tasting, held on Saturday, June 29, 2024 at Cline Family Cellars in Sonoma, California. The event focused on current releases of Rhône-varietal wines from member wineries in the United States.

The festivities started with a dinner at the girl & the fig in Sonoma, held the evening before the tasting. The dinner included the presentation of this year’s Rhone Rangers Lifetime Achievement Award to Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John winery. I did not attend the dinner, only the afternoon tasting at Cline.

The Rhone Rangers organization is a non-profit group, which promotes the enjoyment of Rhône-varietal wines produced in the United States. Although the term “Rhone Rangers” has been used since the 1980s to describe some of the early proponents of Rhône-style wines in the US, the organization itself was not founded until 1998. There are currently over 100 wineries from California, Oregon, Texas, Michigan, and Virginia that are members of the Rhone Rangers. The organization holds a number of events throughout the year.

General Tasting Impressions

This was the second year that the Rhone Rangers Bay Area tasting was held at Cline Family Cellars. There were just over 30 wineries participating this year, about the same as at last year’s event. The outdoor Cabana Lawn at Cline was a fine venue for the tasting, and though it was a sunny and rather hot afternoon the winery tables were shaded well by lots of large canopies. The winery lineup this year featured quite a few “rock star” vintners so I spent a good deal of time at their tables and didn’t get to as many others as I had hoped to, including some I’ve liked quite a bit in the past.

Some less-common varieties were on display at the event, including Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Vaccarèse, and others, and it was fun to try them. I noticed as was writing my notes that there are a lot of white and rosé wines on my list of favorites and not so many bigger reds. Maybe the hot weather during the tasting was a factor in this, or perhaps that’s just the direction my senses of smell and taste were going that afternoon.

The selected tasting impressions below don’t cover every wine I tasted at the event, but include the wines I felt were most noteworthy, with at least one from each winery table I stopped at.

The quality of wine at this tasting was outstanding, the best I’ve experienced at a Rhone Rangers event. It helped that the winery lineup was top-notch, with many truly legendary California producers of Rhône-style wines on hand. There were almost too many overall favorite producers, but they included Acquiesce, Belong, Lindquist Family, Ridge, Tablas Creek, Tercero, Terre Rouge, The Language of Yes, Ojai, Troon, and Two Shepherds, while the others I checked out were nearly as good.

This year’s Rhone Rangers event was an exceptional showcase of American Rhône-style wines, and this tasting really is a “must” for fans of these wines. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

Some Favorites
Whites and Rosés
Abacela 2023 Estate Grenache Rosé
Acquiesce 2023 Picpoul Blanc
Acquiesce 2022 Grenache Rosé
Belong 2023 “Chasing the Sunset” Rosé
Kendric 2022 Viognier
Lindquist Family 2022 Clairette
Rhônedonnée 2023 “Trailside Flowers” Roussanne
Ridge 2023 Grenache Blanc
Tablas Creek 2023 “Patelin de Tablas” Rosé
Tercero 2021 Mourvèdre Rosé
Terre Rouge 2022 Vin Gris d’Amador
The Language of Yes 2023 “Les Fruits Rouges” Rosé
The Ojai Vineyard 2023 Brick Barn Vineyard Viognier
Troon 2022 “Extended Lees Aged” Grenache Blanc
Two Shepherds 2021 Vermentino

Reds
Belong 2019 Mourvèdre
Cline 2022 “Ancient Vines” Carignane
Covenant 2022 “Landsman” Syrah
Lindquist Family 2021 Bien Nacido Vineyard Z Block Syrah
Ridge 2022 Buchignani Vineyard Carignane
Tablas Creek 2022 Vaccarèse
Tercero 2018 Cinsault
Terre Rouge 2016 Sentinel Oak Vineyard Pyramid Block Syrah
The Language of Yes 2022 “En Passerillage” Syrah
The Ojai Vineyard 2022 Santa Barbara County Syrah
Troon 2022 “Amphora” Mourvèdre
Two Shepherds 2021 Grenache

Others of Note
Abacela 2019 Estate Reserve South Face Block Syrah
Acquiesce 2022 Sparkling Clairette Blanche
Covenant 2023 “Red C Rosé”
Rhônedonnée 2021 “Night Ride” Syrah
Ridge 2021 “Evangelho”
Tablas Creek 2023 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc
Tercero 2022 Clairette Blanche
The Language of Yes 2022 “En Passerillage” Grenache
The Ojai Vineyard 2022 John Sebastiano Vineyard Grenache
Troon 2023 “Glou Glou”
Two Shepherds 2023 “Natty Pets” Sparkling Orange Picpoul

Selected Tasting Impressions
I’m posting selected tasting impressions here from just a few of the producers whose wines I tasted at the Rhone Rangers event – notes and photos on 16 producers are in the full Grape-Nutz.com report. The vintners below are among the true legends of California Rhône-style wine but as noted above, there were many producers at the tasting whose wines impressed me.

Lindquist Family Wines
Bob Lindquist was one of the earliest of California’s “Rhone Rangers,” and has been making wine on the Central Coast since 1982. In addition to the Lindquist Family Wines label, Bob’s wife Louisa has her own wine label, Verdad, and they work together on wines for their Sawyer Lindquist label. Bob was behind his winery table at the event, and three wines were particular favorites. The 2022 Clairette from Nolan Vineyard in Alisos Canyon had bright pear and stone fruit plus floral notes, with medium-light weight on the palette and a crisp finish. Next was the 2021 Bien Nacido Vineyard Hillside Roussanne, with pear, spice, and herbal aromas plus a richer texture and long finish – this wine should develop more complexity with time in the cellar. The 2021 Bien Nacido Vineyard Z Block Syrah was fermented with 33% whole clusters, and displayed dark berry fruit, savory herbal notes, earth, and pepper on the nose, with medium-full body, a lively texture and firm tannins, another wine that deserves further aging.

Tablas Creek Vineyard
Founded in 1989, Tablas Creek has a 270-acre estate vineyard in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles that was first planted in the early 1990s – it’s now certified for organic, biodynamic, and regenerative organic farming. They purchase fruit from a number of other noted vineyards as well. Jason Haas heads up the winery, while Neil Collins is the longtime winemaker and Jordan Lonborg is the viticulturist. Jason was on hand at the event and poured a fine group of wines. The 2023 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc is a blend of mostly Viognier and Marsanne, plus Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and a little Clairette Blanche. This had floral stone fruit and citrus aromas with herbal undertones, medium body, and vibrant acidity on the palette and finish. Sourced from 11 Paso Robles vineyards, the 2023 “Patelin de Tablas” Rosé was made mostly from Grenache, plus Mourvèdre, Vermentino, and a tiny bit of Counoise, and displayed bright and fruit-forward strawberry notes along with floral and citrus scents, medium-light weight with a lively texture. The light-colored 2022 Vaccarèse had red cherry, spice, and dried herb aromas, with medium-light body, a bright mouthfeel, and moderate tannins.

Terre Rouge
Winemaker Bill Easton and his wife Jane O’Riordan run Terre Rouge, which was founded in 1985 – Bill was one of the early Rhone Rangers vintners. The winery is located in Shenandoah Valley in Amador County and most of the Terre Rouge vineyard sources are also from the Sierra Foothills, including several sites that they farm themselves. Bill was behind his winery table at the Rhone Rangers event – I enjoyed all of the wines he poured for me, with three highlights. The 2022 Vin Gris d’Amador, made from about 50% each Grenache and Mourvèdre, was savory and spicy with red berry fruit and citrus notes, medium body, and a lively finish. The 2015 Grenache Blanc from Hawk Creek Vineyard in southern El Dorado showed pear and stone fruit aromas along with the petrol note that the variety often has after some aging, medium weight on the palate with a long finish. I finished with the 2016 Sentinel Oak Vineyard Pyramid Block Syrah from Shenandoah Valley, which featured dark berry and spice aromas, medium-full body, and firm tannins – still youthful, this should continue to develop nicely with further cellaring.

The Language of Yes
One of California’s early Rhone Rangers, Randall Grahm made the first vintage of his Bonny Doon “Le Cigare Volant” Rhône blend in 1984. His most recent project, launched in 2020, is The Language of Yes (La Langue d’Oc), which focuses on wines from Rhône and southwestern French grape varieties, all sourced from Central Coast vineyard sites. Randall was on hand to pour his wines at the tasting – all four that he poured were very good, and I had three favorites. The 2023 “Les Fruits Rouges” Rosé was made from mostly Grenache and Cinsault plus a little Tibouren – this had upfront strawberry, watermelon, and floral aromas, medium-light body, and a crisp finish. The next two wines, both sourced from cool Rancho Réal Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, were made after several days of air-drying the fruit prior to processing it (passerillage), to help lignify the stems. The 2022 “En Passerillage” Grenache was blended with 4% Syrah, and displayed bright strawberry fruit, spice, and herbal notes, with a very lively mouthfeel and finish. The 2022 “En Passerillage” Syrah, which includes 18% Viognier, had aromas of dark berry fruit, pepper, and spice with floral undertones, medium-full body, and moderate tannins.

The Ojai Vineyard
After working with some of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering 1970s vintners, Adam Tolmach established his Ojai label in 1983 with the first wines from his estate vineyard in Ojai Valley. Those original vines succumbed to Pierce’s Disease but the vineyard was replanted in 2017. Adam now sources fruit from a number of noted vineyards in Ojai and in Santa Barbara County. Adam poured his wines at the tasting and all four of them were standouts. The 2023 Brick Barn Vineyard Viognier fermented in neutral French oak, and featured stone fruit, citrus, and floral aromas with medium body and a lively finish. Fermented with about 25% whole clusters, the 2022 John Sebastiano Vineyard Grenache had aromas of savory red fruit, earth, and spice, with good acidity and fine tannins. Sourced from Zaca Mesa and three other vineyards, the 2022 Santa Barbara County Syrah was savory and a bit peppery, with plum and darker berry fruit and spice, lighter weight on the palate than most Syrah, and with moderate tannins. I finished with the 2021 Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah, fermented with 20% whole clusters – with bolder aromas than the previous wine, plus some floral, herbal, and earthy notes, with plenty of structure, this wine really demands time in the cellar but has fine potential.

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Sounds like a great time, Ken,

And thanks for the notes. I am not such a huge fan of the Rhone varieties, for whatever reasons, but I have had wonderful wines over the years from what I think of as the old timers: from Qupé back in the day; Grahm and Ojai. Good to hear that they are keeping on keeping on!

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It was a fantastic tasting - thanks for stopping by @Ken_Zinns !

And @Joshua_Kates - any reasons why?

Cheers

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Always great to see you and taste your wines, Larry! :wine_glass:

Thank you for the kind words and the support - I know that you’ve been a supporter for a very long time - perhaps not as long as @TomHill but almost :slight_smile:

We were excited to do another event in NorCal and hope to be back soon - probably in 2026 . . .

Cheers

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I’m not sure; the Rhone varietals just don’t often speak to me in the same way as Pinot/Burgundy or in a different fashion the Bordeaux grapes, with the exception of old vines Grenache. They often seem sort of a halfway house between the complex palate of pinot and the bigger beauty of Cab/Bordeaux. There are exceptions to be sure: I’ve drunk some pretty great Cornas and Cote Rotie, as well as very nice bottles from the winemakers I mentioned above. Still, it’s not something I usually reach for and my cellar holds far less of it than grapes. @larry_schaffer what is it you particularly like about them?

@Joshua_Kates - thanks for the explanation and great question. I guess I love the variety of varieties and the variety of styles that can be made - something that is certainly more difficult to do with Bordeaux varieties. From light and ethereal reds using Counoise and Cinsault to brooding reds using Syrah and Mourvèdre; from light and acid driven whites using Picpoul or Clairette to rich and unctuous whites using Roussanne and Marsanne; and to magical blends - both white and red - using the diversity of varieties above and more. Hope that helps.

Cheers

So you like the blends, especially, as well as some of the single grapes. I tend toward the latter–there’s some Viogner from Condrieu I like, but not many–and Syrah from N. Rhone. I guess we’ve run out:)

Enjoy!
Josh

Josh,

I truly like them all - but concentrate myself more on single varieties. I dig the uniqueness each brings to the table - especially some of the ‘lighter’ reds like counoise and cinsault.

And for the whites, as I said above, I love the crispness of Picpoul and Clairette AND the richness of Roussanne and Marsanne - they are day and night different and, to me, that’s exciting.

Cheers

Cheers

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