Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting at Napa Valley Museum

It’s been a while since I wrote about wine on my blog. However, I haven’t stopped tasting. In fact, I’m probably tasting more wine than I ever have in my life after having moved to Napa and studying for my WSET Level 3 Advanced Exam. What I’ve been trying to do more of is just savor moments in real life instead of taking notes. However, today was an unexpected, fun day of learning at the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting at Napa Valley Museum that I thought I should share while it was fresh on my mind. I knew there was no way I could taste everything there, so I focused my efforts on a few wineries whose wines I’d had or whose wines I’d been wanting to try, and discovered a few gems shared below.

Two Shepherds Wine Lineup
Two Shepherds Wine Lineup

Two Shepherds: I have known William Allen since his Simple Hedonisms blog and via social media, and met him in person for the first time last May, where we tasted through some of his wines. Fast forward 10 months later to his latest releases, all of which are stellar examples of Rhone-style wines, some of which many people may have never tasted. My personal favorites today were the 2012 Grenache Blanc and 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé. I’m a cool-climate acid freak and these wines don’t disappoint. I must say I was especially enamored with the Rosé, whose grapes are sourced from a 100-year-old vineyard in Mendocino. It’s just so different from any Rosé on the market, due to the grape choice and the way it’s produced: crushed and left seven days on the skins, fermented with native yeast, aged in stainless steel, and left unfiltered and unfined. It is fresh, mouthwatering, and would be perfect with a variety of food or on its own. The Grenache Blanc, whose grapes are sourced from Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez, is a lovely, balanced wine that displays a mélange of citrus, stone, and tree fruits, yet has a softness to it that rounds out the acidity.

MacLaren Side by Side Syrahs

MacLaren Wine Company: I had such a great time tasting three of their cooler-climate Syrahs side by side, because it was like a light bulb went off for me. We talk about Rhone-style Syrahs and Australian Shiraz in my WSET class, but until you taste a few examples together, the differences don’t always click. Today they clicked. The three I tasted were the 2010 Judge Family Vineyard Syrah, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County; the 2010 Drouthy Neebors blend (50% Judge Family, 25% Saralee’s Trenton Station and 25% Samantha’s Vineyard, a 50-50 split between Bennett Valley and the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County); and the 2011 Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley. As mentioned previously, I am all over a wine with great acidity, so the Bennett Valley was my favorite. In fact, I am not sure I’ve ever had that style of Syrah before. The three together, from the most cool to the warmest, yet still cool, climate, created a progression from a lighter to bolder style: from ruby purple to dark purple, red berries to black cherry to blackcurrant, and coffee to chocolate, each with more spice and peppery flavors than the one preceding it. I know I must have had a smile on my face that Heather Law didn’t understand when I left the table, but inside I knew I had experienced an ah-ha Syrah moment.


    1. Ha ha! I am still star struck. Almost every day, I think, “I can’t believe I live here.” The MacLaren wines were just so much fun to try. I am glad I stopped at their table.

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