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Senior editor James Molesworth joined Wine Spectator in 1997. He reviews Bordeaux, the Loire, the Rhône, South Africa and New York's Finger Lakes.
James Molesworth

A California Rhône-Style White that Wows a Group

Tensley Grenache Blanc-Roussanne Santa Barbara County Camp 4 Vineyard 2007

James Molesworth
Posted: July 20, 2009

Recently I was with friends at Bar Luna on New York's Upper West Side. The newly opened, Italian-themed wine bar and tapas-style spot has some kinks to work out (as all new restaurants do), but the wine list isn’t one of them. Though Italian in bent, it is admirably diverse, particularly with the whites.

Our party had a range of dishes for our first course, from seviche and gazpacho to my white anchovies and grilled asparagus. Asparagus is a toughie—one of the "four horsemen of the wine-matching apocalypse," according to Telepan sommelier Aaron von Rock. But I thought back to the advice that Rhône vintner René Rostaing gave me a while back regarding his Condrieu and its magic ability to pair with asparagus. So, when I spotted this white Rhône-styled wine from California, from a winery with a steadily rising reputation for producing stylish, food-friendly wines, I figured "close enough" and gave it a shot.

This blend of 64 percent Grenache Blanc and 36 percent Roussanne offered superbright kaffir lime, melon and peach flavors with a finish that showed a honeyed sweetness but stayed crisp and bright. It wowed everyone at the table for its combination of effusive fruit and lip-smacking finish, and was just $58 on the list. I rated it 91 points, non-blind.

Tensley, in Santa Barbara County, is run by the husband-and-wife team of Joey and Jennifer Tensley. They pick and ferment the Roussanne and Grenache together, noting that the former is about 2 degrees Brix higher than the latter at harvest. “So we get good weight in the mouth from the Roussanne and refreshing acidity from the Grenache Blanc,” said Joey. “The wine will age on the lees, without stirring, for a couple of months in barrel and then stop malolactic fermentation and bottle early. I like to bottle early to preserve the freshness and acidity in the wine.”

WineSpectator.com member: Get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated California Rhône-style whites (and other blends), plus our quick list of Easy Finds among California whites.

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