Who Doesn’t Like an Underdog?

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If I were to take a poll of folks and ask what variety of wine immediately comes to their mind first when I say ‘popular wines’, my guess is that this list would include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, perhaps Pinot Grigio, and maybe a few more.

One group of wines that you would rarely see as part of these lists would be Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and the like.

Yep, Rhone varieties are certainly ‘underdogs’ in the wine world these days. While most folks have heard of ‘Bordeaux’ varieties or ‘Burgundian’ varieties, one would get a lot of head scratching if asking folks to name ‘rhone’ varieties.

That said, Rhone varieties make some pretty darned impressive wines if I must say so myself! Each of the 22 different varieties that encompass this collection – and no, there will NOT be a test on this afterwards – brings something different to the table. And many of the varieties, such as Syrah and Grenache, can exhibit themselves quite differently depending upon the soil and climate in which they are grown.

The first step in understanding these varieties from a domestic standpoint is to head over the Rhone Rangers website. This group, of which I am a winery member and a Board Member ta boot, is comprised of about 125 wineries located throughout the US who focus on Rhone varieties grown domestically. Though the focus is on California, there are member wineries from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Michigan and even Virginia.

As the organization strives itself on educating the public, spend some time perusing it and check out the information about the different varieties that comprise the Rhone spectrum. You’ll discover that Mourvedre, for instance, is called Monastrell or Mataro in Spain, where it was believed to originate from. And that Petite Sirah, which is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, is not really grown in the Rhone at all.

To further your education, you may also choose to attend the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting, which takes place this Sunday at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA. Discount tickets for the event, as well as the seminars (I’ll be taking part in the Grenache one, by the way), are available – use code GT-20 for a 20% discount on the Grand Tastings tickets for Sunday, and  SUNPASS-20 to receive $20 off an all – Sunday ticket that includes the seminars.

I do hope to discuss these varieties more in the future, and hopefully meet some of you this weekend – I’ll be the guy on crutches (long story – will leave that for another blog post!).

Cheers!

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Spotlight on Larner Vineyard in the new Ballard Canyon AVA

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I normally have a blast writing my own wine blog posts, but every now and then, I come across one that ‘does the job for me’ 🙂

In this case, Cameron Porter has done a fabulous job highlighting the Larner Vineyard, truly a crown jewel among Santa Barbara County vineyards. Chalk Art – the Mineral-Rich Wines of Larner Vineyard, is the blog post, and it is a great read!

This particular vineyard sits on the southern end of the new Ballard Canyon AVA, below other well known vineyard in the area including Stolpman, Beckmen’s Purisima Mountain, Jonata, Windmill Ranch and Tierra Alta. It’s chalky soils provide wines that are truly unique in their flavor profiles – well, at least to me they are!

Cameron does a wonderful job laying out what makes this vineyard unique among its peers – the climate, the soils, the careful understanding of the geology by Michael Larner, a former geologist who decided to go back to school to study viticulture and enology (and whom I am proud to call a former classmate – and a friend!).

For those of you attending the Garagiste Festival this coming weekend, you’ll get to know the area even more as Michael Larner, Mikael Sigouin from Kaena, and I share our wines from the region to compare and contrast them. And many of the producers from the area will be pouring at the upcoming Rhone Rangers event in the San Francisco Bay area the weekend of April 6. (In fact, I’ll be pouring my 09 Larner Grenache at a seminar focusing solely on that variety!!!).

And there will be more – including discussions about the AVA at this summer’s Wine Bloggers Conference taking place here in Santa Barbara County.

That said, it’s best to explore the AVA by either coming up or down here and driving it – or much better yet, by trying a sampling of the wines from the region. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Cheers!