Americans blithely toss off the word ‘Rhone’ as if it has some profound meaning to them. Hold on to your French-English dictionary. The Rhône Valley in Southern France is specifically what they are referring to – actually to the grapes grown there, which are now planted everywhere and are, thankfully, gaining traction and fans in the U.S. These days people talk about ‘GSM blends’ and these three initials are cool, hip and easy identifiers, standing for Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre blended together, but not necessarily in that order.
So there’s this group called the Rhone Rangers who are producers who either specifically focus on these wines, or have them in their larger portfolio. They do events to promote their non-traditional wines (and by traditional we mean the “BIG 4” – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir), which are open to the public. I recently attended a Rhone Rangers tasting event in Los Angeles where wines from up and down the state were on display. If you love wine, and by this point you should know who you are, there are some 10,000 different grapes here on Planet Earth. Most suck. Beyond the Big 4 there are some amazing grapes out there, which get little attention (click for my article on the “Top 25 Odd-BallGrapes in California”).
And this is where the Rhone Rangers come in. People like Larry Schaffer of Tercero in Santa Barbara make nothing but Rhone wines and such is the dedication of many winemakers that they are practically obsessed with these wines. And that’s good for everyone. So this is a chance to sample different things, new things, diabolical things! Rhone grapes do very well in many parts of California, from the Sierra Foothills, to Napa, Paso Robles and parts of Santa Barbara and many other areas. Some of the excellent wines I sampled included Kale Wines from Napa with their 2013 Grenache Rose’ ($22) and 2010 Alder Springs Syrah ($45); to Kita Wines from Santa Barbara and their 2011 Syrah ($32), and an exciting new player, Guyomar WineCellars out of the Paso Robles region.
Most of life is pretty predictable so this is a chance to expand the cheap fencing that encompasses your life – to step further into an unknown, but tasty, world. So the next time you reach for a bottle of Cabernet, think instead about trying Syrah, Counise, Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, or any number of the Rhone varieties and stretch your taste buds and enliven your senses. The Game of Rhones is game on! RHONE RANGERS