Norton Safeweb

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In your search for great wines ...

... leave no Rhone unturned

Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc ...   Ever just want something different, but something eminently drinkable? Something that's also a great food wine? Rhones baby!

What are Rhone wines?

Roussanne in Sonoma Valley
Per the Rhone Rangers there are 22 varieties of grapes grown in the Rhone region of France and 12 of these are planted in the U.S.

The most prominent red Rhones are Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. For white wine Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. These grapes are usually considered to be from France, but many originated in other countries, such as Spain, then were popularized in the Rhone region of France.

Petite Sirah is the Durif grape from the Rhone, but doesn't grow well there and is fairly rare outside of California and Australia.

Syrah plantings in California really grew in the 1990s much like Pinot Noir is doing now. The demand for Syrah never really took off like many thought. Why? I believe there are a couple reasons. One is Syrah competes in style with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab has always been number one with consumers and isn't about ready to be displaced by Syrah. Secondly, I think Syrah is best in a blend and California traditionally isn't very big on blends compared to "straight varietals."

Syrah can be blended with other Rhones plus Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Sangiovese. It's even been added to Pinot Noir. One of the better blends is what's called GSM for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.

Syrah is sometimes called Shiraz. That usually signifies a style difference with Shiraz being a simpler, fruitier, easier drinking wine.

Food pairings

The reds do well with something spicy like chili or pizza along with hearty meals. Grilled red meats are a great choice. The white match pretty much with anything you'd have with a Chardonnay plus some spicy meals like chicken in a Thai or Indian dish.

Some local wineries

Audelssa, Mounts Family, Quivira, Sheldon, Two Shepherds, and Wind Gap all make interesting Rhone-type wines. This is not a complete list by any means. These smaller wineries listed here use some of the other Rhone grapes beside Syrah. There are many wineries in Sonoma County that make Syrah as a varietal from Cline at the lower priced end to Peay at the expensive side.

Other parts of California

You'll find the largest concentration of wineries making Rhone-style wines in the Paso Robles area of the California Central Coast where Tablas Creek Vineyard was instrumental in bringing Rhone varieties to California. There are a number of Rhone-style wines from the Sierra foothills, too (Amador and El Dorado counties).