The Independent‘s semi-regular series of office wine tastings returned on June 22, when a dozen or so fans of the fermented grape juice converged on our back parking lot to sip from some selections that had been sent to our wine department while also snacking on a nice spread of fromage, olives, salty meats, and other assorted tasties from C’est Cheese. This round’s focus was rather Rhone, with four whites and three reds coming from grapes that evolved in that region of southeastern France, but we also went south of the equator too, for a couple of big ripe reds from both sides of the Andes.
“It was yet another lovely evening of convivial imbibing for The Indy tasting panel, with much of the usual surprises,” said food editor George Yatchisin, a veteran of these casual affairs. “In the white Rhone bracket, for instance, it was surprising how different the two grenache blancs tasted, making clear how winemaker approaches and vintages can highlight differences in a grape. As for the red Rhones, the battle for brilliance was a tough one, as the Ojai Vineyards Syrah from Solomon Hills was a pleasingly inky plunge into a darkest of fruit pools, while the Villa Creek 2008 High Road took the high road, showcasing the amazing James Berry Vineyard fruit as all the GSM components simply sung a symphony together.”
Here’s more of what we learned and liked.
Zaca Mesa Rousanne 2007: A tough grape to grow because it ripens late while being subject to rot and mildew, Zaca Mesa grows about 10 acres of this varietal, which is about 5 percent of the state’s total rousanne acreage. During our sips, many tasters mentioned “skunky” notes and “herbaceous” qualities. The only taster who decided to score the wines (that may have been sportswriter John Zant, or maybe it was his buddy and longtime Santa Barbara County wine taster Jimmy MacLeod?) gave it an 85 to 88 range.
Epiphany Grenache Blanc 2010: Fast becoming one of the more versatile and exciting white grapes on the market, we were excited to dive into a couple grenache blancs. The younger of the GBs we tasted this afternoon, this one — which is 100 percent from the Camp Four Vineyard — showed off slightly fruitier flavors with a lighter hue. Some said that it was “like a Chablis,” while others found some “slightly effervescent” qualities. Our lone scorer gave it a 84-87 range.
Ethan Grenache Blanc 2009: Although just a year older than the Epiphany, the flavor profile was distinct, offering a much more refined and crisp quality reflective of pinot blancs and sauvingon blancs. One taster noted with satisfaction: “petrol-y.” The scorer gave it an 87 to 89 range.
Saucelito Canyon Marsanne 2007: This was the “mystery white” of the afternoon delivered by Leslie Thomas of SpiritLand BYOB fame, and it stumped us all. Some thought rousanne, others guessed viognier, but it was certainly a hefty and golden marsanne from Paso Robles when all was said and done. Scored 86 to 88.
Epiphany Gypsy 2007: Always a quality buy for the price — especially at Costco, where it regularly sits almost $10 below its suggested $25 retail price — this Rhone blend of grenache (47 percent), mourvedre (22 percent), counoise (19 percent), cinsault (10 percent), and syrah (2 percent) from Camp Four and Rodney’s vineyards was a solid sipper, fruity with the right amount of elegance. But this time, the Gypsy found itself “not in the right company,” as one taster noted, for it was stacked up against two much more luxurious and expensive wines. Still scored a respectable 88.
The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Solomon Hills 2008: Coming from perhaps the coolest climate syrah planting in the state, this wine was handed to me by winemaker Adam Tolmach just a few days before our tasting, and it wowed everyone in attendance. One taster said it had “smooth tannins and mouthfeel” with a “nice smoky chocolate” flavor. Scored a 92.
Villa Creek High Road James Berry Vineyard 2008: Our panel was split on whether The Ojai Vineyard or this entry from Paso Robles reigned as the best wine of the afternoon. A traditional GSM with 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache, and 20 percent mourvedre, this was a serious wine, “berried and fruity” but perfectly well-rounded. Perhaps this taster said it best: “Delicious.” Scored a 91, although many would argue it should have been a mark higher than the syrah.
El Incidente Carmenere Valle de Colchagua 2007: We don’t get to taste too much quality carmenere, and many of us realized very quickly when this famed grape from Chile hit our lips: it was heavy duty, super dark and tannic, with one taster even noting “road tar.” Named by the Viu Manent Winery after an “incident” in which a family member crashed in a hot air balloon, this set a higher bar for carmenere than many of us had experienced. Scored an 88.
Diamantes Malbec 2008: Coming from the other side of the Andes in Argentina was this malbec from Mendoza, which proved a more smooth drinking though less powerful South American entry. Scored an 88.
Stay tuned for more tastings in the weeks to come. If you are interested in submitting wine to be tasted, email firstname.lastname@example.org today!