onsdag den 25. november 2015

Rhône varieties in California – a new approach

A couple of weeks ago California Wines invited to a master class about Rhône varieties in California. I found the topic interesting and besides that I know René Langdahl Jørgensen, who was tutoring the tasting. So I went to Kold College, which was a good decision – both because that is was interesting to hear more about the varieties and because the tasting included some very nice wines.

Winemaking in California goes back to 1769, when a Franciscan missionary established the first known vineyard in the state. Rhône varieties have been present since the middle of the 19th Century, when European crops and vines were imported. Because of the warm climate in California Grenache was very popular and used for fortified wine as well. But later Syrah was getting popular as well, booming from the 1970s.
In the 1980s the organization Rhone Rangers was founded by a group of winemakers with the aim to promote Rhône varieties in America particularly California. Wines promoted by Rhone Rangers must contain at least 75 % of one or more of 22 varieties from Rhône. The varieties are both French native grapes like Syrah, Rousanne, Viognier and Cinsault among others and Spanish varieties like Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan.
At first the varieties were considered best for the warm climate zones in California, but that was not always right. A variety like Syrah is growing well in the Northern Rhône, where the climate is cooler. Luckily the winemakers in California found out as well, and since the new millennium vineyards have been planted in cooler places as well, mainly in the Central Coast area.   
That’s the reason why some of the wines, included in the tasting were not typically Californian block busters with a lot of mature fruit and high alcohol content. They had acidity and delicious fresh fruit as well. Here are some notes of the wines tasted.

Qupé Wine Cellars: Rousanne Bien Nacido, Hillside Estate 2010, Santa Maria
Yellow and clear. Intense in the nose with yellow plums, citrus and tropical fruits like passion fruit. Good acidity and a few notes from the cask, honey and a bit smoky, intense and well balanced.

Groundwork, Grenache Blanc 2013, Paso Robles
Made by winemaker Curt Schalchlin from Sans Liege. 100 % tank fermented. Yellow green and bright. Citrus and apples, but not that intense in the nose. Well bodied and fruity but with freshness as well.

Fess Parker, Viognier 2013, Santa Barbara
85 % Viognier and then Grenache, Rousanne and Marsanne. Yellow green. White pepper and honey in the nose, intense and full bodied. Not a lot of acidity. 

A Tribute to Grace, Grenache 2012, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard
Bright ruby. Not that intense in the nose, but with clean fruit like raspberry and dark cherries and some floral notes as well. Surprisingly fresh with fruitiness and good acidity. Nearly a Burgundy stile wine.

Ampelos Cellars, Gamma 2010 Syrah, Santa Rita Hills
100 % Syrah from the Danish winemaker Peter Works vineyard. Dark ruby with a bright rime. Intense nose with dark berries like blackberry and some liquorice and olives. A bit jammy but with good acidity and soft tannins. Aged for 18 months on cask.

Tablas Creek, Esprit de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles
A blend of 40 % Mourvedre, 30 % Grenache, 20 % Syrah and 10 % Counoise. Dark ruby with red rime. Weak in the nose. Dark mature cherries, spices and earthy notes. Dry, fresh and with good balance.

Turley, Cincault 2013, Bechtoldt Vineyard, Lodi  
Grapes from a vineyard planted in 1886. Dark ruby with bright purple rime, intense. Not that powerful in the nose at first, berries and spices, fresh and fruity on the palate and with soft tannins.

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