At the recent Bay Area celebration of American Rhone Wines put on by the Rhone Rangers trade organization in April, tasters were able to enjoy picpoul blanc, grenache gris, grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne, viognier and a medley of white blends, as well as the usual red wines associated with the Rhone — grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carignane, counoise and more.
The packed hall in Point Richmond didn't have any chardonnay to offer, nor zinfandel or pinot noir. All of those grapes have their own followings. But there's a burgeoning love of all things Rhone, a collection of wines with something different to offer.
"Rhone-style wines offer beautiful finesse and elegance and with 22 different grape varieties classified as 'Rhone' and grown here in the U.S., these wines offer a multitude of choices for consumers who are looking for locally-produced, intriguing, balanced and food-friendly pairing partners," said Cheryl Quist, executive director of the Rhone Rangers.
"The aromatic qualities of white Rhones, like viognier or roussanne, pair beautifully with summer fare, for example, a stone-fruit salad with burratta, honey and marcona almonds, and white Rhone blends are a perfect match with grilled shrimp or scallops. There are so many delicious options to excite consumers and give them a reason to try these wines."
Viognier at its best is akin to an exotic bouquet of honeysuckle. Marsanne and roussanne offer creamy body and complexity, with unctuous marsanne able to exude almond nuttiness and floral, rich roussanne a taste of honey and pear. All have the ability to layer in nuanced tropical fruit notes and an intoxicating aroma of orange blossom.
Grenache blanc, rarer still, is a bite of crisp acidity, vibrant in green apple, melon and nectarine notes.
These deliciously crisp and aromatic whites are ideal for summer sipping and food pairing, with enough acidity and texture to go well with salads, seafood and the well-appointed cheese and charcuterie platter. Here are nearby producers to know.
<strong>Acquiesce:</strong> Based in Lodi, Acquiesce is devoted entirely to unusual whites. Winemaker/founder Sue Tipton was inspired originally by a white Ch?eaneuf-du-Pape, recalling it still as the "best white" she'd ever had. Offered in distinct bottles, Acquiesce makes several whites to choose from, beginning with picpoul blanc. Tipton planted 100 vines of the high-acid grape variety; her wine is lip-smacking in pineapple, lemon and jasmine. Her grenache blanc, viognier and roussanne follow suit, offering crisp, dry mouthfeel around layers of incredibly vibrant fruit. But don't miss the Belle Blanc, a blend of grenache blanc, roussanne and viognier that's like taking a walk in a gardenia-filled garden. 209-333-6102, <a href="http://whitewinewinery.com" target="_blank">whitewinewinery.com</a>.
<strong>Kobler Estate:</strong> Kobler's viognier, from the Russian River Valley, imparts quintessential honeysuckle aromas and plenty of acidity, balancing a tight rope between light, mouth-watering refreshment and a girth of texture hardy enough to pair with a meal. The family also grows syrah on a 5-acre plot once used to farm apples in the heart of Green Valley. Kobler also runs a tasting room open by appointment only on North Street in Healdsburg. 473-8287, <a href="http://koblerestatewinery.com" target="_blank">koblerestatewinery.com</a>.
<strong>Miner Family:</strong> The Napa Valley producer makes two viogniers in addition to several coveted cabernets and a range of pinot noirs. The first is from the Simpson Vineyard, located in the Madera area near Yosemite, where the winery's been sourcing viognier for almost 20 years. Whole-cluster-pressed, the wine delivers concentrated tropical aromas and flavors, a nod to its warmer provenance. In addition, Miner makes a wild yeast viognier, also from the Simpson Vineyard, meant to be drunk young while bursting in acidity. With the 2012 vintage, Miner also made its first grenache from Hudson Vineyard in Carneros, a spicy, minty clean version of the fruity red. The winery tasting room is in Oakville along the Silverado Trail. 800-366-9463, <a href="http://minerwines.com" target="_blank">minerwines.com</a>.