This is an article that we recently published in our local “SLO Visitor’s Guide” and wanted to share with you:
Seems like the HOT topic in the wine world these days is Rhones. What are they? Where did they come from? And why are they so cool? Well, Rhone is a region in France, situated in the Rhone River valley and is often spoken of as either the Northern Rhone or Southern Rhone areas. In France, the planting of grapes is controlled by the Government, they allow specific grapes to be planted only in specific regions. That means there are only a few specific types of wine grapes planted in the French Rhone region.
There are approximately 22 Rhone Wine varieties, but some are much more well-known than others.
The more notorious grapes are:
Whites – Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc
Reds – Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignon, Counoise, etc.
Just 30 years ago, the Rhone wines were barely known outside of France, but these varietals have definitely made their way to the US; California especially, and are making quite an impact. The Paso Robles AVA has a very strong presence in the production of US Rhone wines. It could be that the climate in Paso Robles is similar to that of the Rhone; cold winters and warm summers with cool breezes. The southern Rhone region is slightly warmer than the northern, which fits in to the Paso Robles AVA perfectly. There are several micro-climates around the Paso Robles area, but the general characteristics are parallel to the Rhone Valley.
There are many ways to describe the individual Rhone varieties, but some of the overall characteristics are interesting. As far as the white Rhone wines, one could say that they tend to be delicate and floral, with fruit and honey on the nose, yet bold, rich and complex on the palate. This is very different than a typical California Chardonnay which will usually give away all of its secrets upon the first smell – oak, vanilla, and toast, all of which come right out to greet you on the palate as well. With the boldness and strength of many of the white Rhone wines, they tend to be able to cellared for longer than other white wines.
The red Rhone wines are just as unique as the whites, and demonstrate some very intriguing characteristics. There are some lighter red Rhones, but for the most part they are full-bodied yet graceful, rich and earthy yet floral. Think violets, black currants, leather, and black pepper. The colors in the red Rhone wines could be described as deep, dark, and beautiful. Syrah is probably the most recognized variety, while Grenache, Mouvedre, and Carignane are wonderful wines as well. Often, the Rhones will be together in a blend and not necessarily bottled on their own as a single-varietal wine.
So, what is the mystique about the Rhones? Why are they so enticing and intriguing? Maybe it’s because those of us that have been drinking California wines for years have gotten used to a certain style of winemaking. California wines have been accused of being big, fruity, oaky bombs that tend to blow the drinker out of the water with those characteristics instead of the characteristics inherent in the grapes themselves. The majority of the Rhone grapes will turn into wines that do all the talking for themselves, they don’t need a lot of fancy bells or whistles in the winemaking process. They just need a winemaker that knows how to nurture the strong and distinctive qualities that are just dying to come out on their own.
Will the Rhones hang around the Paso Robles AVA, or is this just a passing fad? There are organizations like Hospice du Rhone, dedicated to bringing Rhone producers from around the world together for a 3-day event each year to showcase and taste their wines. Another local group, The Rhone Rangers, are a not-for-profit organizations of winemakers, mostly from the Central Coast of CA dedicated to promoting their Rhone wines, it seems like this phenomena is here to stay. These groups are just the thing that will bring Rhone wines more notoriety and put them more into the mainstream wine world where they can get the accolades they deserve.
If you are familiar with Rhone wines, then be sure to look up the Paso Robles Rhone producers and get out there to try some of our world-class products. If you’re new to the world of Rhone, definitely give some of these wines a try. The whites are an easy place to start, but before you know it, you’ll be savoring a huge, earthy, blackberry Mourvedre and you’ll never want to come back to reality!