Once again, the Rhtne Rangers galloped into San Francisco for their annual tasting of American wines made from the traditional grapes of France's Rhtne Valley. This group of American vintners has seen its membership grow from 45 wineries in 1998 to its current 120, including wineries from California, Idaho, Virginia and Washington. As the Rhtne Rangers themselves have increased in number, so too have their fans: More than 3,000 wine lovers attended the fourth annual Rhtne Rangers Wine Tasting on March 31.
The success of the Rhtne Rangers mirrors the success of Rhtne-style wines in America, with Syrah leading the way. Seventy-nine of the 119 wineries at the tasting poured Syrah, the most popular Rhtne grape variety in America. In California, plantings of Syrah have increased from 413 acres in 1991 to 10,298 in 1999.
Syrah's burgeoning renown has been compared to that of Merlot, whose popularity surged in the 1990s due to its fruity, accessible style. However, like many in attendance this weekend, winemaker Jeff Cohn, who makes Rhtne-style wines for Rosenblum Cellars and his own label, J.C. Cellars, resists calling Syrah the "next Merlot." He believes that Syrah is destined to make a more enduring impact.
"I don't think Syrah is going to be the new Merlot, because no one knows what Merlot is supposed to be. It has no definition," said Cohn. "But even though there are many ways to make Syrah, and so many different regions to grow Syrah, [the wine] still has the 'sense' of Syrah. There's always the hint of gaminess and exotic flavors. Syrah is so food-oriented and seductive."
Other Rhtne varieties include Carignane, Cinsault, Grenache, Marsanne, Mourvhdre, Roussanne and Viognier. Viognier was the most popular of the white grape varieties at the Rhtne Rangers tasting, with 63 versions of it poured. There were also 22 red Rhtne blends, a tribute to the winemaking style of the Southern Rhtne, where most wines are blends, rather than single-variety bottlings.
P.O. Box 1229
Sonoma, CA 95476
Tel: (707) 939-8014
Fax: (707) 939-8564
Read about past Rhone Rangers events: