Most wine lovers have probably never heard of the winery association known as the Rhone Rangers. We can assure you that it is not a renegade vigilante group aspiring to police the wine world. The Rhone Rangers is a consortium of American wineries producing wines made from the traditional grape varieties of France’s Rhone Valley.
The Rhone’s white varieties include viognier, marsanne and roussanne. The red wines are primarily made from syrah, petite sirah, grenache and mourvedre in addition to several minor varieties used in blends.
Every year the group hosts a tasting giving the wine trade and press a chance to taste hundreds of current releases and barrel samples. This year’s tasting reinforced what we have known for some time, Rhone varietals are well suited to the climate of the west coast. The diversity of the wines was astonishingly different depending on the climate where the grapes were grown. Syrah grown in cool climates, as a general rule, offered notes of fresh dark fruit with good acidity plus hints of mineral and spice. Warm climate syrah was more about ripe berries and big fleshy wines. While different, there were dozens of great wines in each style.
Of the three white varietals, viognier is our consistent favorite. Marsanne and roussanne have typically used as blending grapes to add complexity but there are a few wineries producing great wines exclusively with each varietal. Viognier is known best for its floral aromas of orange blossoms and honeysuckle. It makes a great accompaniment to spicy dishes such as Thai and stir-fry. Viognier is a wine that should be drunk young as it often begins to lose its aroma profile within a year or two from bottling.
Try a few Rhone varieties and you don’t even need a mask.
After twelve years in San Francisco, the annual Pinot Noir Summit found its way to Reno, Nevada where the best pinot noir winemakers around the world came to dazzle wine lovers with their creations. It’s an amazing idea to bring together the fussiest of pinot producers, hold them in suspense for three months while judges taste through more than 500 entries before the top 96 wines move on to a final grand shootout featuring a consumer/gender judging mayhem. The Pinot Noir Shootout is considered one of the toughest competitions in the world to earn a medal, giving the winning winemakers something to brag about.
For those attending, there were no disappointments. Not only did participants get to taste great wines, there were two educational seminars where winemakers talked about the difficulties of producing great pinot noir and why the grape expresses itself differently in each region it is grown. The secret to great pinot is location and passion. Known as the “heartbreak grape” among winemakers, great pinot noir takes patience and attention to detail when growing and selecting a harvest time. After a scrumptious lunch, participants were divided into two groups to blind taste 46 wines and pick their own winners which were announced at the evening grand tasting. So much fun for consumers to then see how their picks aligned with the judges choices at the end!
So….without further ado here are the winners:
Best of Show: TR Elliot Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Second Place: Handley Cellars 2012 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
The Pinot Noir Summit is produced by Affairs of the Vine, one of many top notch events they produce every year. Chief Wine Evangelist, Barbara Drady is well known in the wine industry for her seminars on aroma identification and wine blending in addition to large tasting events. Drady teamed up with Atlantis, Reno’s cellar master, Christian O’Kuinghttons to create the memorable event. The Atlantis chefs pulled out all the stops to create food offerings that paired well with the incredible wines. “Pork Belly Lollipops”, “Ponzu and maple glazed goat cheese and wild mushroom crostini with white truffle oil” and “steamed buns with Asian duck confit” were just the beginning of a fabulous spread.
If you missed this years event, make your plans now to attend next year
Our wine journey has been one of exploration as we continue to learn and experience new wines. Each new vintage brings something new and unique that will never be duplicated again. The excitement of constant new discoveries is the catalyst behind the column as we travel the world’s wine growing regions, sharing our experience with our readers.