Have a plan for big wine tastings

The Rhone Rangers – a membership group of winemakers who produce Rhone-style wines —seem to have developed a following and a great way of educating the public. Originally created by Randall Grahm when he was head wine dude at Bonny Doon, it has morphed and changed, but I still enjoy the annual tastings when the Rangers roll into town. This year, 39 wineries set up booths at Bell Harbor and it was an education making the rounds.

By making the rounds, I mean tasting every white wine in the room, and a few reds if I could get to them. When I go to a tasting, there’s no way you can tasting everything, so I usually go with a plan, according to what is being poured. Here’s my thought pattern, however convoluted

1. Get the big picture – what is the point to the tasting? All Washington? All pinot noir? in this case, all Rhone varietals?

2. Have a plan: If it’s a pinot noir tasting, I usually try a few whites from the region, just to get a sense of the ripeness level that I’ll encounter with the reds, and to prime the pump, so to speak. In this case, the list of very interesting, and mostly obscure Rhone whites were on my mind, and I wanted to clearly compare the differences in single varietal whites vs. blends, etc. In this case, viognier leads the pack, usually on its own, then blends of roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc (which I discovered I really enjoy for its high acidity, and green apple – even apple Jolly Rancher – flavors) as well as bourboulenc, clairette blanc, muscat blanc a petits grains, picardin, picpoul and ugni blanc. Of the latter list, picpoul was represented, but I didn’t see the others in blends.

3. Spit! You’d be completely toasted if you didn’t.

4. Talk to the winemakers/marketing guys/gals. It is easier to remember what you like if you know something about the terroir, landscape, blend, etc. Sometimes they rattle off percentages of grapes in the blend, which I’m not really interested in – I want to know what the soil and climate and elevation, etc. is like. I usually ask – Tell me about where this wine is grown… and they are usually very willing to talk about the place – a fun way to picture the region and have a geology and geography lesson at the same time. It is kind of a neumonic device for me to picture the place with the wine made there.

5. Take a few notes in your own code, and remember the good ones! My favorites from this tasting were Paso Robles’ Adalaida Cellars White Blend of grenache blanc and roussanne – very minerally with that candied green apple taste that still had killer acidity and a slightly soft mouthfeel with peach and apricot flavors – an interestingly balanced combo of acid, fruit, soft and sharp. Love it!

Other wines I tasted –

Cass Winery Viognier – Paso Robles, mineral and mint!

Cline Cellars Viognier – Sonoma/Carneros, white peach, herbal notes with crisp white peach, not too ripe!

McCrea Cellars Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Viognier – love this producer! Fruity but lean with a lean, herbal – lavendar even – note, but also soft lemon and peachiness that is characteristic of Viognier. The difference here is that everything is in balance and delicacy and elegance are the goal.

Sawtooth from Nampa Idaho! Their Snake River Valley Viognier shows that this area has promise! A lean, mineral wine with white blossom and peach aroma, high acidity. A very refreshing wine!

So check out these Rhone-style wines – great for summer!

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