Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty 'Hi-yo Silver!'

This reference from the radio and TV show, The Lone Ranger, came to mind after enjoying our first Rhone wine. I now understand why West Coast vintners, calling themselves the Rhone Rangers, organized in 1988 and are committed to the types of grapes borne out of France’s Rhone Valley.

From Washington State down to Santa Barbara, there is an endless array of climates and geography for adventureous viticulturists. They insist their wines pair better with food, and many are making more affordable vintages. The Rhone tradition dictates far less use of new oak barrels, so the woodiness in much of the American cabernets doesn’t extend to these Rhone-style efforts. Tannins are mellow, so the wines feel more inviting in your mouth. It is, perhaps, the beginning of a new style.

With 40 or more varietals, Syrah and Grenache lead the reds, but Mourvedre and Carignane hold their own and add spice and depth to blends. Viognier is the most popular of the whites while Marsanne and Rousanne also shine.

Last night we paired a non-vintage bottle of Louis Bernard Cotes du Ventoux with a hearty paprika chicken stew with pieroges. Delish! It was a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault and the peppery qualities of the Syrah were evident but the blend was earthy and "smooth as butta".

In France, the Rhone is actually two regions. The 4,000-acre northern Rhone relies primarily on Syrah for its reds and Viognier for its whites, encompassing famed appellations like Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. The 120,000-acre southern Rhone blends Grenache with other reds, and Roussanne with other whites; and is home to the ever-famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The appellation of Cotes du Ventoux is situated in the southeastern fringes of the southern Rhone Valley between Coteaux du Tricastin and the Cotes du Luberon. Perched on the southwestern side of Mount Ventoux, the vines grow in a typical Mediterranean climate. The vineyards have been cultivated for more than two millennia, making them among France's oldest.

So,who are these masked men? To find out more about the Rhone Rangers, visit their site at