The Winehound assistant manager Betty Dunbar
Paul Wellman

[NOTE: This event has been postponed.]

In a wine world soaked by chardonnay and cabernet, the many wine grape varietals that originate in France’s Rhône Valley offer an exciting array of sipping alternatives. These grapes, which include syrah, grenache, viognier, and roussanne, thrive in Santa Barbara County, so The Winehound’s Bob Wesley is showcasing more than six dozen such wines — including some from France and other regions — at a $35 SOhO Restaurant & Music Club tasting on Saturday, January 24, noon-3 p.m. Call (805) 845-5247 for tickets. He answers a few questions about why Rhônes rock below.

In a California world dominated by pinot and cab, why go Rhône? Pinot invariably stands alone, diffident and unmarriable. Cabernet, especially in California, tends to be more conducive to mixology, but overall, Rhones offer diversity because there are so @#$% many different grapes. The main ones have spread around the globe, and include astonishing values at the low end (like $8 grenache from Spain) or tear-inducing, cellar-worthy, complicated syrah from Côte-Rôtie in the Northern Rhône Valley. Add the incredible success that Santa Barbara County (and myriad other Golden State appellations) has achieved in varietal bottlings or cuvées, and the result is a vast array of complex, pleasing, and far-ranging styles. When you can blend, you can transcend.

What’s the difference between Old World and New World styles? Typically, it’s the chunkiness and plumpness of the New World fruit versus the greater complexities you’ll encounter in European bottlings, though there are numerous crossovers, and strict stylistic tendencies can be blurred. Factor in South America, Australia, etcetera on the New World team, and you taste some real bulldozers, but we can do “finesse” sometimes, too!

Do you see growth in Rhône interest through The Winehound? Always. We have specific customers who buy nothing but French Rhônes from us, which is why we carry so many. Spanish grenache, by volume, is among the top-selling wines at the shop. Don’t even get me started on Santa Barbara County syrahs: I think we sell more than most states in the Northeast. The rest of America will eventually be absorbed once they “get it.”

What kind of scene should people expect at this tasting? Lively, informative, casual, abundant, uncrowded, and far-ranging. We’ll have knowledgeable folks stationed at every table discussing their savory arrays of vino, and there’s plenty of food to keep everyone nourished. There’s three hours to meander through the lengthy list of six dozen wines, too. If you sample one every two and a half minutes, you’ll be able to try every one.


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