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The Rhone Valley in California - Part 3

by Sara and Monty Preiser

We present our third series on Rhone varietals in California by listing those wineries we know that are producing good wines in this category, as well as a few we don’t know much about but that are receiving rave reviews. There isn’t any question that American Rhones are going to only improve as the years go by. Now is a good time to climb on the bandwagon.

Alban Vineyards: John Alban is one of the leaders in the production of Rhones in the U.S., and many believe there is no one making better wines. All of his 2002 Edna Valley Syrahs, as well as his 2002 Edna Valley Grenache, and his 2003 Edna Valley Viognier, are simply superb and standard setters.

Behrens & Hitchcock: Making some very nice Syrahs.
Benziger: We tasted the 2002 Bien Nacido out of the barrel and loved it. It has not disappointed us in the bottle.

Chalone: Their 2002 Syrah is garnering great reviews.
Cline: An interesting story here. Cline has been dabbling in stand alone bottles of Rhone varietals for years, and, while their wines are not outstanding, they certainly are good and well representative of the grape. They regularly produce Marsanne, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Viognier. Some vintages are better than others, but we usually enjoy the Small Berry Mourvedre. It isn’t a bad idea to visit this winery and gain one’s bearings on the Rhones.

Darioush: We are mindful of the Spectator’s scores of average for the 2001 Shiraz and 2003 Viognier, but we disagree. We have tasted from the barrel and from the bottle at this excellent winery every year since they have been open, and these current releases match up to the other vintages -- all delicious.

Domaine Alfred: Some of the best Syrah you will find is produced here.

DuMol: A winery that has quickly reached first rung status, it is not surprising to find them making outstanding Syrah (2002 Eddie’s Patch) and Viognier.

Foxen: Lots of Syrahs from lots of vineyards. All good.
Gustavo Thrace: Their new Petite Sirah is layered and delicious. Let it open.

HdV: Another relatively new winery that can’t seem to miss. Try the 2002 Syrah.

Jaffurs: We had a beautiful tasting here of all its outstanding Syrahs. There are about five that bring accolades. Jaffurs also makes a Viognier. Not bad, but its Syrahs reign.

Justin: Superb 2002 Paso Robles Reserve Syrah barely beats out its outstanding 2002 Paso Robles non Reserve. But at $23, the latter is a real buy.

Lewis: Another can’t miss winery, high marks go to its Syrahs, but the Alec’s blend is more affordable, and perhaps a bit more elegant.

Martinelli: Great Syrahs, huge prices.

Mayo: Not so well known outside Sonoma, this is an up and coming winery. In the Rhone category, its Syrah is well priced and drinks well.

Neyers: Known for wonderful Syrahs, Neyers also makes a stand alone bottle of 2002 Grenache that is a thing of beauty.

Joseph Phelps: Phelps has long made outstanding Rhone blends at very affordable prices. Look for their “Le Mistral” line for something light and flavorful. For more depth, try their 2002 Syrah Napa Valley.

Pride Mountain:
The Syrah is always one of the best wines of the year in California.

Michael and David’s: Love their Lodi Earthquake Petite Sirah.

Michaud: We recently served the Marsanne at a dinner party and it was a wonderful alternative to the more usual whites.

Rosenblum: Known by many as primarily a Zinfandel house, this large winery is also making a number of different Rhone varietals, including Marsanne, Roussanne, Petite Sirah, Viognier, and many single vineyard Syrahs. All of the wines here are worth a taste, and the Reds are winning high ratings from writers and consumers everywhere.

Shafer: This well known winery has long had a terrific bottle of Rhone: The “Relentless.”

Turnbull: One of our very favorite Viogniers.

Veraison: We feel as if we were there at the outset of this winery when our young friend Josh Krupp left Fischer as its assistant winemaker and became part owner/winemaker of Veraison. He is making deep and delicious wines, especially the Black Bart Stagecoach Syrah.

Chateau St. Michelle: One of the country’s great wineries, they produce many more wines than people usually see in restaurants and wine stores. All are good, and the upper echelon are outstanding. The 2001 Reserve Syrah fits here.

Covey Run: The 2002 Syrah is a very serious wine.

Dunham Cellars: We have been drinking, and loving, their Cabs for years. With the 2002 Columbia Valley Syrah, they add another star to their stable.

L’Ecole No. 41: 2002 Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah

McCrea Cellars: Is there any winery in this country producing more Rhone varietal stand alone wines? Maybe not. How fun to try the 2003 Yakima Valley Viognier, 2003 Red Mountain Roussanne, 2002 Washington State Syrah, 2002 Red Mountain Counoise, 2002 Red Mourvedre, 2001 Yakima Valley Cuvee Orleans Syrah, and 2002 Washington State Late Harvest Viognier.

Three Rivers: 2002 Columbia Valley and 2002 Boushey Vineyard Syrahs

Of course, all wine writers would like to perpetuate the idea that they are familiar with every winery and the wines produced therein. But the reality is that such a feat is next to impossible given the number of wineries now operating in this country, as well as the rate of new openings. Therefore, the following wineries are achieving high ratings from some writers for their Rhones. We have not tasted these wines, but wanted to list them for your information. Jade Mountain in Napa, JC Cellars in Alameda, Pax in Northern California, and Quixote of Napa (owned in part by the owners of Terra Restaurant). We know where we will be this summer.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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