Taste of Wine

France’s Rhone roots are getting deeper

It was five years ago that I first heard the Rhone Valley story from an early enthusiast, the late Leon Santoro who made wine at Orfila in San Diego County. He could hardly contain his excitement when talking about Syrah and Viognier, his two favorite Rhone grape varietals from this ever-more interesting wine country in the south of France.
He had joined the “Rhone Rangers,” an organization of mostly Paso Robles winemakers dedicated to showing the wine world that Rhone grapes can be made into rich and satisfying wines. Names to know that are Rhone Valley based include: Syrah (also known as Shiraz in Australia) the most planted Rhone grape in California. Full flavored berry, with aromas of smoke, bacon and crushed rock. Petite Sirah is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin. It’s extremely dark in color with big tannins and needs some lay-down time to flourish. Grenache is the world’s second most planted wine grape with aromas of red fruit, licorice and black pepper. Lots of cherry flavor.
Carignane produces wine high in acidity and tannin and does best in old vineyards.  Mourvedre is the latest ripening grape and is now undergoing a big popularity push.  Chocolate, leather and earth aromas. Plum and spice flavors. Viognier is the highly aromatic white wine with excellent peach, apricot and mango flavors and aroma with  low acidity. Roussanne has tastes of honey and pear, with rose petal and nutty aromas and moderate acidity. Others to look for are Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Cinsault and Counoise.
The vintage to look for, both in France’s Rhone Valley and Paso Robles is the 2005, considered to an inflection point for southern French style wines. The latest releases are now up to 2007, with some 2008 bottles showing up on the shelves of wineries and wine shops. An elite area in the south Rhone Valley is Chateauneuf-du-pape where a blend of Granache and Mourvedre, grown in the rockiest soil in France, yields ripe, fleshy definition to the wines. This is well known to Jason Haas, whose family combined with a leading vineyard in the south Rhone area, Chateau de Beaucastel, chose Paso Robles in 1989 for a new vineyard.  They purchased a 120 acres to grow Rhone style wine grapes, a first for Paso.
They named the new winery Tablas Creek. It took quite a while to plant and develop the old world cuttings and clones. Finally they had enough to do business in 1992. Now they are used not only by their winery, but by some 400 others. Tablas Creek itself sells about 18,000 cases. Easily the most elegant of the Rhone style, the winery chooses to blend, making wines that are richer and better balanced. Its 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel combines Mouvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise and sells for $50 in most shops.
The Rhone Rangers promotional group will have their annual Southern California Tasting in Santa Monica at Pier 59 Studios West from 2 to 5 p.m. Aug. 8. Fifty wineries will join in the event. For questions and pricing, call (800) 467-0163 or access their web site, full of detailed information about this leading French terroir, at www.rhonerangers.org.
Wine Bytes
— Delicias Restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe is kicking off complimentary wine tastings every Thursday and Friday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. General Manager and wine man extraordinaire Gino Campbell is building up his wine cellar and wants customers to tell him what’s great, so come by and try. No RSVP required. For more information, call (858) 756-8000.
— Belle Marie Winery in Escondido has its summer pre-release party from 2 to 4 p.m. July 17 in the Barrel Room. Favorite new wines are being served at no charge. Open house format so stay as long as you can. No food served. Try the newest and the best.  Call (760) 796-7557 for more information.
— Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas presents a Napa Valley Vintners Tasting from 6 to 8:30 p.m. July 17. Food from nearby Bentley’s. Wine names like Lail, Elyse, Frank Family and many more top quality wineries are expected to pour. Cost is $40 per person. Call (760) 479-2500 for more information.
— Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula brings Hollwood U2, the best U2 Tribute Band to its stage from 7 to 10 p.m. July 17. Cost is $49 each, $44 for club members. Make contact at www.wilsoncreekwinerycom.
— Mille Fleurs in the heart of Rancho Santa Fe is hosting an elegant dinner with award-winning Fritz Wines of Napa Valley on July 20. Meet winemaker Clay Fritz. Five-course dinner cost is $95. Call (619) 221-8024 for more information.
— Soro’s Mediterranean Grill in Old Town Temecula has a fun-filled night at its first Fedora Hat Night at 6 p.m. July 21. Classic Mediterranean flavors will be paired with wines, with live music to perfect the atmosphere of Fedora hats and 1930s-style outfits. RSVP at (951) 587-8082.
— Carlsbad Wine Merchants has their Wine, Music and New Menu rockin’ on Friday nights. Small bite food offerings are heavy on luscious salads. First music set starts at 6 p.m. Call (760) 804-9994 for this week’s lineup.
— Canapes in San Marcos has outdoor entertainment in the patio with a Frank Sinatra Review from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 24. Enjoy unique dining selections, smart wine list and great music at James Allyn’s Canapes. RSVP a table at (760) 510-2088.

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