As stated by the Vancouver International Wine Festival, “Rhône grapes have made an indelible mark in their native region in France, but are now being grown successfully throughout the wine world. While Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne have unique varietal expressions, they also partner well in a blend. This seminar takes you from Australia to North America’s West Coast to Spain and, of course, the Rhône Valley.”
Our Moderators were Mark Shipway (standing) and Jon Bonné (farthest left in the photo below). We had one winery principal for each wine for our panelists. Our panelists were Ross Baker, Donal Black, Frédéric Chaudière, Samantha Rahn, Garron Elmes, Bernard Duseigneur, Bodhi Edwards, Loren Gil, Matt Herde, Sam Holmes, and Austin Hope.
When you think of Rhone wines, what comes to your mind? Probably Syrah from the northern Rhone; Hermitage, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone. Both red wines. But, there are also white wines in the Rhone. Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier are all white grapes grown in the Rhone Valley. Viognier is sometimes co-fermented with Syrah to extract more colour from the Syrah grape and to add a floral component to the wine. In today’s tasting, we first tasted through 4 white Rhone wines, followed by 8 red Rhone wines.
Rhone grapes are grown around the world. Syrah, popularized as Shiraz in Australia is well-known. BC, California, and Washington state produce Syrah as well as the white grapes. South Africa and Chile are also quality producers of Syrah but were unfortunately not represented in this tasting, although what we had was very exciting to try. We did find out for example that the Yalumba winery in Australia is the largest grower of Viognier in the world and Quails’ Gate is the most northerly grower of Syrah in the world.
Soil is also important for the Syrah and Grenache grapes. I mention Grenache as this is one of the 13 permitted grapes used to make Chateauneuf-du-Pape along with Syrah. In the Rhone Valley, there are 3 major soil types; rolled pebbles (galets roulés), sand (actually there are 2 types of sand), and limestone (éclats calcaires). Each soil type imparts a different aspect to the grapes. Galets provide structure and power to the wine. Sand provides finesse and fruitiness, and limestone provides freshness and minerality. I am assuming that these soil types and the characteristics they impart to the grapes carry across to other regions around the world.
Our Featured Wines
- Lake Breeze Vineyards Roussanne VQA 2016
- Tahbilk Winery ‘Museum Release’ Marsanne 2011
- Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2017
- Hope Family Wines Treana Blanc 2015
- Ogier Héritages Crozes-Hermitage 2014
- Quails’ Gate Winery Boswell Syrah 2015
- Château de la Tuilerie Cuvée Eole Costières-de-Nîmes – Rouge 2016
- Wines of Substance MCK (Motor City Kitty) Syrah 2015
- Chapel Hill Winery The Vicar Shiraz 2016
- Gil Family Estates Atteca Armas 2016
- Domaine Duseigneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Catarina 2016
- Château Pesquié Artemia AOC Ventoux 2016
My Tasting Notes
- Lake Breeze Vineyards Roussanne VQA 2016, BC – Roussanne is an interesting grape. As it ages the wine gets more weight and a nutty flavour. Four years ago Lake Breeze Vineyards bought a vineyard that had Roussanne grapes already planted and they decided to try to make wine with it. The wine is a bright, deep lemon colour. It has light intensity, ripe stone fruit and leaf on the nose. Full bodied, thick mouthfeel with medium plus acidity. Richard stone fruit flavour with some leafiness. Tropical fruit flavour on the mid-palate, together with some pepperiness and honeysuckle notes. Medium plus length. You can drink this wine now but could let it age a few more years as well.
- Tahbilk Winery ‘Museum Release’ Marsanne 2011, Australia – The Marsanne vines here are actually older than the vines in Hermitage where the grape originated. This grape is known for its richness and freshness. It can also take on an oaky character even though no oak is used. This wine is made from 100% stainless steel ferment. The wine has a deep, bright lemon colour. Waxy, deep lemon, petrol and honey on the nose. Dry, full-bodied with floral, petrol, apple, lemon and woody flavours. There is also a waxy texture. Complex flavours. Medium acidity with some tannic dryness on the finish. A really nice wine. –
- Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2017, Australia – Medium minus intensity lemon green in colour. Light to medium intensity orange and lime aromas which continue on the palate. You also get tropical fruit and pepperiness on the palate. Dry, higher acidity and thicker mouthfeel. –
- Hope Family Wines Treana Blanc 2015, California – A blend of 45% Viognier, 45% Marsanne, and 10% Roussanne. 100% stainless steel fermented. The wine is a deep, bright golden colour. Light tropical fruit and vanilla on the nose. Full body, thick and silky mouthfeel. Prominent sweet spices, together with deeply roasted pears, and some woodiness/nuttiness and pepper. Pronounced flavour. This wine has weight, viscosity, and density. One of the wines I purchased at VanWineFest. –
- Ogier Héritages Crozes-Hermitage 2013, France – We did not have a winery principal for this wine, but their local rep, Samantha Rahn. Samantha is a lover of Syrah and has produced a Syrah in the past with Okanagan Crush Pad. This was the lightest of the Syrahs at this tasting. It is deep garnet in colour. Light intensity, deep raspberry, dark fruit aromas with a hint of leather. Dry, medium body, medium plus acidity and medium fine tannins. Some tart red and black fruit and a gamey component. No pronounced fruit flavours like the other wines.
- Quails’ Gate Winery Boswell Syrah 2015, BC – We have not talked about grape clones, but for this wine, winemaker Ross Baker made it known that this is from the French clone 877, and has 4% Viognier co-fermented in this vintage. This wine is Opaque garnet in colour. Nic deep violet and dark fruit nose. Off-dry, full body with medium acidity and fine tannins. Dark fruit, vanilla and black pepper on the palate, along with some salty minerality. Medium plus length. A very big fruity wine. –
- Château de la Tuilerie Cuvée Eole Costières-de-Nîmes – Rouge 2016, France – Deep, dull garnet colour. Likely unfiltered. Light sausage/meaty, black olives and dark fruit nose. Fuller body, dry and round with medium acidity and fine tannins. Clove, nutmeg, and black fruit flavours. Peppery. A very cool wine. –
- Wines of Substance MCK (Motor City Kitty) Syrah 2015, Washington – I am not sure of the meaning behind the label, but I did find a musical group called Motor City Kitties in Detroit. As Charles Smith was in the entertainment industry, maybe he thought there was something in their performance and the performance of this wine? After some digging I found out that Charles Smith had a cat in Walla Walla called “Motor City Kitty”.
This wine comes from a single vineyard, the famous Boushey vineyard in Yakima on volcanic soil. The grapes undergo wild ferment. This wine is medium plus garnet in colour. A blend of leather, iodine and olive aromas in the glass. Medium plus body with medium plus acidity and medium fine tannins. Black olives, lemon skin, leather, and black fruit flavours. Peppery. Grippy finish. Another wine I really enjoyed.
- Chapel Hill Winery The Vicar Shiraz 2016, Australia – We think of Australia as a hot climate for grapes, but along the coast, you get cooling ocean breezes in the afternoon and evening to compensate for the heat earlier in the day. The vineyard for this wine is close to the ocean, giving a cooler climate to grow grapes. Almost opaque garnet with a ruby edge. Light violet and black fruits on the nose. Dry, medium plus body and medium acidity. Floral, red fruits, pepper with some vanilla flavour on the finish. A touch of dried herbs on the palate as well. Some grippiness on the finish. –
- Gil Family Estates Atteca Armas 2016, Spain – This is from the Calatayud D.O. in Spain; a top region for the Garnacha (Grenache) grape. The grapes for this wine come from a single vineyard. Deep garnet in the glass. Aromatic; cedar, a mix of red and black fruits, and vanilla on the nose. Full body, smooth and round, thicker mouthfeel. Fine tannins and medium acidity. Prominent clove aroma and pepperiness that builds throughout the sip. Ripe black fruit and vanilla flavours. Good tannic backbone. A New World style wine.
- Domaine Duseigneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Catarina 2016, France – We were told that 2016 was a good vintage in the Rhone Valley so you may want to buy more of this wine and other Rhone wines. The grapes for this wine come from a biodynamic vineyard(s), with the vines being around 60 years old. The wine has a medium plus garnet colour. Light red and dark fruit, plus floral notes on the nose. Medium plus body, round with medium acidity, and medium fine tannins. Floral with red and black fruit flavours and some pepperiness on the palate. Drier tannic finish.
- Château Pesquié Artemia AOC Ventoux 2016, France – This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. The wine is medium-plus garnet in colour. Sausage, tea leaves, and red fruit aromas. The wine is dry and round, with a thicker mouthfeel. Lots of violets on the palate, very peppery, and has red fruit flavours. Lighter acidity and fine tannins. –
Syrah and the white Rhône grapes can be found around the world. BC has shown that even in our most northerly reaches for Syrah in the world, that Syrah produces exciting wine. Going to the southern hemisphere, Australia has well popularized their Shiraz style around the world. The Syrah grape can handle cooler and hotter climates. But we should also not forget about the white Rhône grapes. They are aromatic, can age and show unique character in the bottle. Enjoy.