Attempting to narrow a couple hundred wines from the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience into a manageable 10 spots was actually easier for me this year. Not a lot of stuff blew me away. There was a lot of really really good wines, of course, and typically, when there’s a whole bunch of good wines, blogging a wrap-up becomes difficult, as all the shiny things run together. It becomes very EASY to write a wrap up when the standouts–at each end of the spectrum–are so head-and-shoulders above the field.
You ready for one more shocker? This year standouts were all (basically) WHITES. Betcha didn’t see that one coming, now didja? Go to a Rhone festival and the starring wines are white??? I can hear your Instagram engagement curling up and dying from all the way over here. (*one of them is a rosé).
First wine of the event: I went straight for Amy Butler’s table and CHROME from Ranchero Cellars. You know her for her Carignan but boy does her Grenache Blanc sing.
Biggest excitement of the day was probably Craig Camp bringing his lineup of wines down from The Troon Vineyard Southern Oregon. I’ve been wanting to try these for a long time and reminds me how bad I need to go visit that part of Oregon. This is NOT Willamette–don’t make the mistake of lumping all of Oregon in together. These are beautiful wines–ripe and delicious–while showing incredible acid, remarkable fruit, and great restraint. The white blend especially–my favorite Rhone Blend of the day, reds extremely restrained low-alcohol nice.
WINE OF THE DAY are you ready for this??? Easily, handily, goes to the Peachy Canyon pet-nat . You did NOT see THAT one coming. I didn’t either. Someone whose opinion I respect said, “You gotta go taste that.” and I’m just like, ummmm, RIGHT. This wine had 3 things going against it right out of the box. First of all, it’s Peachy Canyon–a label specializing in Paso Zinfandel–wines I rarely see eye-to-eye with. Secondly, it’s PET-NAT. This stuff is… well, you know that old adage about men’s jackets: “Always top, sometimes middle, never bottom”? Pet-nat is always interesting, usually quaffable, rarely good. The third strike is: I’m somewhat of a stick in the mud in terms of my favorite pet-nats being made from the same varieties as Champagne. This one is 90% Grenache. Faintly rosé and full of beautiful creamy mousse and fruit. Crisp and clean and delicate, it didn’t taste like cider, it didn’t taste like sparkling red wine, it didn’t taste like sparkling white wine, it tasted like something that could easily be lost in a methode line-up. I can’t find it on their web site, and I don’t think there’s much of it. Probably have to join a club to get it. Probably worth it.
Chris Cherry’s MAHA ESTATE wines from Villa Creek Cellars are elegant, nicely spiced numbers. If you’re already a fan of his *normal* wines, get on the list for these allocations.
Biggest hmmmmmm moment of the day was the new label of Le Cigare Volant AND the violent style-change I noticed in the contents. I’ve been drinking this wine for a lot of years and keep a pretty good vertical in my cellar. This wine is fleshier, less acidic with basically no funk. True disciples of this wine will immediately note the issues here. Obviously, everyone knows Bonny Doon was recently sold, but unless something quite extraordinary happened, these 18’s should not have yet seen any wine-making transition. So what’s happening?
Biggest disappointment of the day was definitely Two Shepherds. Maybe my expectations were too high–I was quite looking forward to them and greedily rushed their table when I noticed they were pouring. The reds were thin and one-dimensional–even by *natural wine* standards–structure out of balance. The white was unpleasant-smelling and awkward. Flat-out not good wines.
Horton Vineyards from Virginia wine country was nice to see present. I think I’ve had one other Virginia wine, but this was my absolute first experience with Norton… I pretty much thought my whole life it was labrusca, but decided to double-check and turns out it is aestivalis. Learn something new every day. I didn’t think it was *horrible* just interesting. It had a deep meatiness to it and a smoky ripeness. I was kind of expecting something along the lines of home-made Concord (something I have had the misfortune of sampling several times in my life) or Manischewitz or something, and it was definitely FAR more quality than that. Their Mourvedre and Syrah were nicely done, clean and direct, with low-moderate alcohols.
Morgan Winery brought their 3 Syrah’s. The bargain that is Cote du Crow’s, available around here for well under $20. The step up is the G17, in MY opinion WELL worth the $10 surcharge over the base model. The nuance and fruit double in quality for just a few shekels more. A GIANT step up is their Double L Vineyard, something loyal readers will remember was my Wine Of The Day at last year’s Monterey Wines Santa Lucia Highlands tasting. The new winemaker has dialed back the *tourist* portions of the wine, instead bottling it as a tight, green, tannic, purple-fruited classic Northern Rhone stunner. I can’t recommend this wine highly enough–especially if you have yawned about “Morgan” in the past decade.
Chiron came all the way from Napa Valley, although a good number of his wines are Central Coast in source. The Emergent Truth is 50/50 Slide Hill and Stagecoach, earning the “California” appellation. Studies have shown this labeling has ZERO negative effect on 99% of wine consumers–and can even be a plus in some regions–and fortunately the 1% are smart enough to ask the right questions when a wine of this price-point and pedigree carries the all-inclusive verbiage. Oh, and it’s good. Really good.
Can’t forget Cline Cellars! All the way down from Carneros with a couple of wines a lot of us cut our teeth on: the Contra Costa County Carignan and Mourvedre–old vines of course. Not much has changed about these wines in the 30 years I’ve been drinking them, and as the number of ancient vines in Oakley and Brentwood and Antioch continues to steadily decrease, Cline–and a few others concerned about historical vines–continues to source well-nuanced, vibrant but dusty fruit from these classic spots. And these are still $20 wines!
This is always a great tasting, and I felt the 2020 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience hit a few higher notes: first of all I felt the demographic swayed younger than my unofficial observations of past years and secondly, it sold out. Unlike some events, this is rather inexpensive for wineries to participate in, meaning you will definitely see smaller labels pouring–and happily. Join their email list, follow their facebook, do what it takes to not miss any Rhone Rangers events.