Wine of the week: Rhone Rangers red wines

Story by Scott Greenberg

Cline Family Cellars Big Break Grenache

Regular listeners will know that I am a huge fan of Rhone wines – and that definitely includes Rhone-style wines that are grown domestically all over the world, not just in the eponymous Rhone Valley of France.

Located in the southern part of France, the Rhone Valley is technically two distinct vinicultural areas; the Northern Rhône Valley and the Southern Rhône Valley, which both derive their specific characteristics from the unique soil compositions found throughout the valley.

While I think it is one of the most bucolic vineyard destinations in France, and a trip to the region is definitely a must for many Francophiles, you don’t have to go all the way to France to sample some of the popular varieties from this remarkable region. Thanks to a group of passionate wine producers, the Rhone Rangers are dedicated to bringing Rhone-style wines closer to home.

The Rhone Rangers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines from the same grapes that have flourished for centuries in France’s Rhone River Valley. Their mission is to educate the public on Rhone varietal wine grapes grown in America and to promote the production and enjoyment of these wines.

According to the organization’s website, for a wine to qualify as a Rhone Rangers wine, “the winery must be a member of the organization, and 75% of the wine’s content must include one or more of the 22 traditional Rhone grape varieties as approved by the French government for the wines of the Cotes du Rhone (including Petite Sirah/Durif).”

Some of those varieties include red wine grapes, such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan, to name a few.

In addition, aromatic white wine varietals, such as viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc, are grown throughout the region.

Of course, no review of Rhône-style wines would be complete without mentioning one winery, which draws its influence from the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation. The 2017 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas, located in Paso Robles, is a multi-varietal blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault that is consciously modeled on the famed red wine of Chateau de Beaucastel in the southern Rhone Valley. It is supple and rich, with scents of berry fruit and cedar on the nose. Luscious flavors of black cherry, tobacco and Asian spices glide over the tongue on their way to a smooth, smokey finish. $60

Grenache is the unsung hero of Rhone wines, often playing a backup role in blends. But in the hands of Cline Family Cellars, it gets a big break by way of the 2018 Cline Family Cellars Big Break Grenache from Sonoma, California. The Big Break Vineyard was named after a levee that collapsed over 80 years ago flooded the local farmland. The wine shows off wonderful aromas of black cherry and blueberry jam, followed up by luscious flavors of blackberry, kirsch and spice on a medium-bodied frame. In addition, the vineyard abuts a eucalyptus grove that contributes a unique minty quality on the finish. $60

One of my favorite grape varietals in Rhone is Syrah. The 2016 Qupe Syrah Spanish Springs Vineyard, from San Luis Obispo, California, combines New World winemaking with Old World style. This lovely wine displays aromas of dark cherry and licorice on the bouquet, and lush, silky flavors of black plum, ripe cherry and roasted coffee that keep building and deepening through the finish. The seductive, intense fruit and touch of spicy black pepper make this wine shine. $35

Another Syrah wine comes from Ridge Vineyards, one of the most prominent producers in the Bay Area of California. Their 2015 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Estate Syrah from the Dry Creek region in Sonoma, California, is a bit of a play on the famous Cote Roti appellation in the northern Rhone Valley since it is a blend of 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier, meant to honor the style of that region. It features a distinctive bouquet of candied cherries, dark plum, and gardenias on the nose, leading to flavors of ripe cherry and blueberry on the tongue. Hints of tobacco and cedar wood buoy the medium-bodied finish. $45