Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back from Hospice du Rhone

Well the weekend came and went in such a blur of fun, friends, food, information, and spectacular wine it is almost hard to believe. Hospice du Rhone was such an incredible event it is almost hard to process in just a couple of days. Over the next couple of weeks I will share with you some details about the state of Rhone grape worldwide, and give you some insight into why this is a stand alone category in terms of the value, diversity, and quality that is available to you as a wine drinker. I'll even get into some geeky detail sharing information that was conveyed through the outstanding seminars that took place throughout the weekend. But for today just some general observations from the weekend, and a few recommendations for when you want to really go big, budget be screwed.

  • People who dedicate their time and money to producing the pleasures of wine tend to be pretty laid back, warm, happy people. While there can be constant frustrations in the vineyard, in the cellar, and certainly in the crowded and competitive marketplace this is one group of people that is FUN to be around. Mix in the culture of the Rhone valley and Paso Robles and you've got yourself a party. There is something about Rhone wines that brings out a generally relaxed attitude towards the whole hullabaloo, and it shows in the atmosphere of HdR. This is a great place to reacquaint with old friends, and make new friends that share a passion.

  • White Rhone wines rock my world, and can rock yours too if you'll let them. They range from light bodied and crisp to very full bodied and rich. You can find wines that are so mineral driven as to be beguiling or so full of peach and apricot fruit that you wonder if there is some residual sugar left after fermentation. If you are looking for white wines to stock up on consider the diversity offered from the white Rhone grapes of viognier, marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc, and picpoul blanc (there are more but these were most available) and dive into this lovely category.

  • California makes some amazing Rhone wines, and this heavily includes syrah. Syrah has been discussed all over the place as being difficult to sell here in the U.S. recently, but if this leads to less production of this amazing juice it will be a shame. We all need to educate folks on the fact that a few bucks on a domestic syrah will generally get them a much higher quality wine than a few bucks towards a cabernet, as Joey Tensley of Tensley Wines so accurately pointed out.

  • Auctioneers actually say a lot of gibberish syllables to make it sound like they talk fast. "Jib-eh-duh, jib-eh-duh, do I have 800?" The auction was a blast, and very exciting. It taught me that there are people out their with funny money that I don't really understand. And thank goodness for it too, because that event really makes HdR possible for next year, and I for one want to make sure that continues.

And for your purchasing pleasure, here are my absolute favorite 6 wines from all of the hundreds of options this weekend:

Chateau de la Font du Loop Blanc 2010, Chateauneuf du Pape - A blend of grenache blanc, roussanne, clairette, and bourboulenc, the white peach, florality, and viscous texture of this wine combine into a completely ethereal experience. This wine is really spectacular and looks to retail for around $60.

Cowhorn Vineyards 2009 Estate Vineyard Viognier - A biodynamic producer from Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley is producing one of the best domestic viogniers I have ever tasted. There is an intense minerality that is completely balanced by a rather sunny layer of orchard fruit. Underlying all of this is a savoriness that makes it a rather serious wine with immense appeal. This producers syrah should be taken quite seriously as well, really a spectacular group of wines, and this one is only $30.

Domaine du Clos des Fees 2006 Vielles Vignes - A blend of grenache, carignane, and syrah this producer is growing grapes in the up and coming region of Roussillon. The warm, dry region produces wines that have a nervy intensity but this wine is so very focused with fruit, earth, and a rather imposing structure. Really delicious, all grown on very old vines, this is a wine to seek out (although it will not be easy to find).

Tensley 2009 Turner Vineyard Syrah - This wine had a very cold climate profile of violets, restrained blackberry and loads of black pepper. There was big acidity, and a very medium body with absolutely zero new oak influence. It was complex, interesting, refreshing, and beautiful. It is wines like this that both show the wonderful diversity of domestic syrah, but also highlight why consumers need to be educated and exposed. Two bottles of Santa Barbara County syrah can be wildly different from each other (I'll take this one, thanks)

Guigal 2009 La Doraine Condrieu - While expensive, this might have been the best wine I tasted all weekend. There is melon and spice, a rich mouthfeel, but also an intensity and a focus that is really extraordinary. It is not often that I am tempted to buy a $100 bottle of wine but this one lingers in my memory. Outstanding.

Domaine de la Solitude 2005 Reserve Secrete Chateauneuf du Pape - A typical newer styled CdP profile but done so well, this wine gives off a freshness and essence of quality that meets its rather dark and rich palate. Really a very good CdP that is becoming rather drinkable at this stage.

There are certainly more wines that grabbed my attention, more domestics, more Northern Rhone reds (Cote Rotie is a favorite) that will be printed on these pages in the coming days. Stay tuned, and shout out some of your favorite Rhones from the past couple of months.


  1. Hospice du Rhône is actually a pilgrimage of the faithful. On this year event, it had a decidedly French accent.

  2. I think of hospice care each time I go. Maybe others remember this as well.