Twelve days ago, we ventured to The Reef in downtown Los Angeles to sample wines of the Rhone Rangers, a non–profit educational organization consisting of almost 200 winemakers (initially from California, but now also claiming members from Oregon, Washington, Virginia Michigan, Virginia, Idaho, New York and Arizona) who create wine in the style of the reds (such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah) and whites (such as Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc) of France’s Rhône Valley. To qualify as a Rhone Ranger wine, the winery must be a member of the organization and 75% of the wine’s content must include one or more of the 22 traditional Rhone grape varieties as approved by the French government for the wines of the Côtes du Rhone, twelve varieties of which are known to be planted in the USA. Roughly 50 wineries were on hand, many hailing from Paso Robles and the Santa Ynez Valley, a few from places such as Monarch Beach to the South and Fiddletown, Templeton and Shandon to the north, several from the northern California counties of Lake, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma and even one from Walla Walla, Washington. This very diverse spread of winemakers with a singular focus on Rhone varietals came together that day to present about 200 wines, more than we could sample in the limited time we had that day. So, what did we find?
We had attended the Rhone Rangers August 2009 Los Angeles tasting event and we’ve enjoyed countless Rhone Ranger wines over the years since then (several of which are among our favorites). Most Rhone wines are very approachable, exhibiting full fruit flavor and nice acidity. If you aren’t familiar with Rhone wines by varietal name, you’ve probably still heard of Châteauneuf–du–Pape, which translates as the “Pope’s new castle”. That name is derived from the relocation of the papal court to the Rhone River Valley town of Avignon in Southern France in the 14th century, where Pope Clement V (the former archbishop of Bordeaux) ordered grape vines planted around 1309 (enjoying the local wines until his vines started producing) and Pope John XXII, his successor, developed a papal vineyard there and built the new castle that eventually gave this area its name. (Fun fact: the lattitude of Avignon, France is nearly the same as Walla Walla, Washington.) Of course, the history of wine in the Rhone Valley dates back to at least the first century B.C., when wine from eastern Spain was brought up through the valley on the Rhone River (often considered the most important wine river in France) so that the people in the Rhone Valley could enjoy it. Records were scant until the latter part of the Middle Ages, but the trade in Rhone wines was well underway by the 14th Century. You may also have heard of Côtes du Rhône and its upscale cousin Côtes du Rhône–Villages (comprising 20 villages) in the southern Rhone and Côte Rôtie and Hermitage in the northern Rhone. But enough about Rhone history.
Flash forward to Los Angeles in early November. Overall, we found the quality of the Rhone Ranger wines to be excellent and noticed this was one event where we didn’t have a single wine we didn’t like. Grenache is one of Rich’s favorite varietals and Leah, more often a fan of white wines, enjoyed the reds and whites alike. Some of the wines we found most remarkable (in no particular order) are listed below. The reds included the Halter Ranch Vineyard 2013 Syrah, the Margerum Wine Company 2012 “Uber” Syrah, the Morgan Winery 2013 G17 Syrah and 2013 Double L Vineyard Syrah, the Ridge Vineyards 2013 Red Blend, 2013 “Buchignani Ranch Carignan, 2011 “Lytton Estate” Syrah and 2013 “Lytton Estate” Petite Sirah and the Tercero Wines 2013 Grenache, 2011 “Larner Vineyard” Grenache. 2011 Mourvèdre, 2010 “White Hawk Vineyard” Syrah and 2010 Petite Sirah (Tercero’s Larry Schaffer produces so many great Rhone wines). Special mention also for the wines of Petrichor Vineyards of Santa Rosa. We had not sampled any of their wines before and it was love at first sip. Margaret Bradley–Foley explained the origins of the winery’s name (think geology) while we tasted the 2011 and 2012 vintages of their Syrah/Grenache “Les Trois” Red Blend and their 2013 Grenache (we had sampled their Rosé earlier that day—see below). These are very small production wines made from grapes living on 2–1/2 acres at 1,100 feet elevation above the Russian River Valley atop the westernmost ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains that divide Napa and Sonoma counties. The wines are elegant and delicious.
In terms of whites, our favorites were the Kita Wines 2014 White Blend “T’aya”, the Eberle Winery 2013 White Blend “Côtes–du–Robles Blanc”, the Lone Madrone 2012 “Points West White” Blend, the Hope Family Wines 2012 “Austin Hope” Roussanne and 2013 “Treana White” Blend, the Two Shepherds 2013 “Pastoral Blanc” White Blend, the Pipestone Vineyards 2014 Viognier and the Tercero Wines 2013 Viognier and 2013 “Verbiage Blanc” White Blend. Our favorite rosés were the Campovida 2014 Rosé of Grenache, the Cornerstone Cellars 2014 “Corallina” Napa Valley Rosé of Syrah, the Tercero Wines 2014 Rosé of Mourvèdre and the Petrichor Vineyards 2014 Rosé.
It is worth mentioning again that we liked each and every wine we sampled at this event. The quality and diversity of the Rhone Rangers’ wines are among the organization’s true strengths. Another important strength is that, at their events, you get to meet the actual winemakers and observe their enthusiasm and dedication to what they are working to achieve. And, this year, the timing was excellent, because Rhone varietals pair very well with any Thanksgiving holiday meal. Have a great Thanksgiving holiday!
Disclosure: We were granted complimentary media credentials for this event.