You’re probably very familiar with global red wine favorites Syrah and Grenache which thrive in various regions of the world and famously flourish in France’s Rhone Valley (for a few examples, read about Saint Joseph here, Rasteau here, Chateauneuf-du-Pape here, M. Chapoutier here (red and white!), and Lirac here,).
You’re probably less familiar, however, with the white wines of the Rhone Valley and for good reason– there are very few of them, and those few produced are quite coveted!
But as wine lovers around the world seek new tasting experiences, they are discovering — and loving– these less common white grapes, and more and more of them are being grown elsewhere in the world including California under the leadership of biodynamic Tablas Creek. Some of these grapes include Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Clairette Blanc, Bourbelenc (also known as Malvasia), and the better known Viognier.
Read about three Rhone white wines in California here–To Try in 2020: Paso Robles Whites– Unexpected Grapes In an Unexpected Region.
For the next three posts, we’ll focus on the white wines from the Rhone region with two articles on wines from California flanking one from France. Not only are white wines form the Rhone worst seeking out, they’re great summer wines too with enough sass to pair alone or with food. We’ll be featuring Chapoutier’s from Roussillon tomorrow, two from Sue Tipton at Acquiesce in Lodi California next week, and today, we have these three from California’s central coast:
- 2014 Tangent Grenache Blanc Paragon Vineyard, San Luis Obispo
- 2014 La Montagne, Marshall Vineyard, Paso Robles
- 2016 Zaca Mesa Viognier, Santa Barbara
- raw oysters
- mussels sauteed in wine and garlic on fettuccini
- halibut in garlic, lemon, butter
- roasted zucchini
2014 Tangent Grenache Blanc
ABV 14.5%; SRP $15
purchased on sale
Sue and I visited Tangent on a press trip in 2017, and came away impressed with the Niven family’s wines. The vineyards are situated just a few miles away from the ocean making it known as the state’s coolest climate AVA–and the vineyards have been certified SIP sustainable since 2008! Some of their wines are also available by the can. Unfortunately, this wine was much better when it was younger; I should have enjoyed it on a previous summer day!
Color: Pale lemon
Nose: Gasoline, sea grass, lemon grass
Palate: Petrol comes across on the palate as well, with a metallic finish, lots of acidity, salinity and minerality, but the fruit is gone. It being a 2014 it seems that this wine is past its prime and unfortunately was not as great as it was in the tasting room when we visited in 2017, so that was a bit of a disappointment for us.
I’m confident this would have been a wonderful pairing if the wine was fresher.
2014 La Montagne Malvasia Marshall Vineyard
ABV 12.9%; SRP
purchased at the tasting room with 15% industry discount
While we’ve interviewed La Montagne owner and winemaker Kimberly Smith in her Lompoc tasting room in 2016, we haven’t been to these vineyards located in Paso Robles. When we tasted this wine, I fell in love, and purchased a bottle — plus it’s from a vineyard with the same name as my spouse!
Color: Pale buttercup
Nose: Ocean breeze, fresh cut grass, a bouquet of freshly cut garden flowers, light scented flowers like a field blend, peach pit, apricot kernel, the nose is so pleasant, like a cool morning in a summer garden.
Palate: Orange pith, tangerine pith, blood orange pith, a bit bitter on the back of the mouth, slick mouth feel, orange oil, bergamot, earl grey tea, this wine, while very lovely on the nose was not as great as we remember it being when we visited the tasting room in 2016. In fact, as we tasted it and analzyzed it, we determined that it exhibited TCA (cork taint).
It’s unfortunate because I’d been looking forward to enjoying this wine for awhile…and this pairing should have been fantastic.
2016 Zaca Mesa Viognier, Santa Barbara County
ABV 14.1%; SRP $20
purchased on sale
For a $20 grocery store wine, this wine completely overdelivers.
Color: Pale lemon
Nose: Very grassy, honeysuckle, bee pollen, silty minerals, creek side soils, not as heady as Viognier can be, but it has a pleasant nose
Palate: Nice roundness, bright acidity, peachy, nectarine bite, stone fruit richness.
Pairing: Oysters are a favorite with white wines; the wine brings out a deep creamy earthy quality, such richness and umami together. You do not usually think of a Viognier as being an oyster wine, but this one works because it has some acidity. The rich garlic and butter in the Halibut and zucchini are so fabulous in the wine. It brings out the orange blossom and honey in the wine, and cuts through the rich creamy butter in the dish. Fantastic with the mussels, too.