By The Glass
Rhone grape varieties take fest spotlight
MY FIANCÉE, Cheryle, and I just signed up to attend this year's Hospice de Rhone Wine Festival in Paso Robles, Calif. The Hospice is an impressive gathering of some of the top winemakers in the world, and centers on what are commonly referred to as Rhone grape varieties.
These include syrah, grenache, mourvedre, viognier, marsanne and roussanne, just to name a few. Over the centuries, many world-class renditions of each have been produced in France's Rhone Valley; hence the nickname.
We expect this to be a great year for the festival, judging by how sensational a vintage 2005 is proving to be, especially for California's Central Coast. If you can't make the festival (it's in early May), try your own little tasting. Now is a great time, as many of the very best 2005s are arriving here now.
HERE ARE some recommendations. The wines are not cheap, but if you plan this with friends, you can all chip in to defray costs.
2005 Cold Heaven Viognier "Le Bon Climat" ($30): The grape viognier can produce a stunning, mesmerizing white wine whose aromatics and quietly exotic perfume are like no other. The challenge is finding a good one; there are so few. Cold Heaven has been producing some of the absolute best in California. You will love the perfume and lightness on the palate. Complete and riveting, this wine is a far cry from the big, oaky, high-alcohol (although highly rated) versions from some of the warmer regions of California.
2005 Denner Grenache ($36): Many winemakers try to make a vanguard wine -- tough and tannic -- out of this grape. It's possible, but why compromise its delicious, food-friendly qualities? More and more delicious grenache reds are coming out of California. Here is a perfect example -- wonderfully textured, elegant and well-crafted. The Denners have a spectacular limestone, hillside vineyard across the road from the famous James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles.
2005 Villa Creek "Willow Creek Cuvee" ($36): Another stellar, elegant, grenache-based red from Paso Robles. The grapes come from both the James Berry and Denner vineyards, which helps explain the class and purity of the wine. Owner/winemaker Cris Cherry also owns Paso Robles' finest restaurant, so it is no wonder his wines are also very-food friendly.
2005 Terry Hoage "The Pick" ($40): Winemaker Jennifer Hoage -- one of the most charming, energetic, sparkplugs I've encountered -- crafted this wine from estate-grown grenache, syrah, mourvedre and counoise. The resulting red has loads of flavor, depth and roundness, coupled with class, finesse and balance.
2005 Kenneth-Crawford Syrah "Blue Fin" ($40): The partnership of Mark Crawford and Kenneth Gummere has proved phenomenol -- this wine will show you why. Black as ink, it seems to stain the glass with each swirl. It's perfume exudes ripe black fruit with violets, lavender and a rustic, gamey edge. It has muscle, like a thoroughbred, yet is incredibly light with a fabulous, though masculine, texture. They should have named it Black Beauty. See for yourself.
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org