Mourvédre* and its cousins are a hot commodity in the USA right now. Mourvédre is one of 22 grapes known as Rhone Varieties. Fortunately you don’t have to go to France to taste these interesting wines. American-made wines are featured at tastings sponsored by the Rhone Rangers each year. The 2012 San Francisco Celebration of Rhone Wines featured 500 wines from 100 wineries mostly from California (lots of Paso Robles wineries).
The three most common white Rhone grapes grown in California are Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Marsanne and Roussanne are often blended together. One of my favorite blends is Viognier with Chardonnay. Popular Rhone reds are Syrah, Grenache and Mourvédre.
These grapes are naturally bold and flavorful. Like Petite Sirah, they are very distinct; for instance, if you taste rich honeysuckle nectar, it is most likely a Viognier. Syrah is frequently paired with BBQ, rich sauces and meat while a lesser wine would be over-powered. While an occasional full-bodied Syrah will find it’s way to my table, my favorite California Rhone wines are restrained the fruit ripeness is controlled and enough acidity is present to create a balanced wine that doesn’t leave my teeth purple or my tongue honey-coated.
Here are producers that I recommend:
Two Shepherds. Winemaker William Allen is an on-the-move tech executive, a committed wine blogger, a marketing evangelist for Sonoma wine events and a darn good winemaker. His first bottling was in 2010 and he is quickly ramping up to deliver 2011 to meet demand. Tip: Get on his mailing list.
Inspiration Vineyards & Winery. Jon Phillips’ wines are food friendly and terroir-driven. He makes a small amount of Chardonnay-Viognier (190 cases), bright, elegant Viogniers, a very French White Rhone Blend and several other varietals mostly from the Russian River/Dry Creek area. Tip: The tasting room is open Thursday – Monday, no appointment necessary and if it’s not during harvest, you’ll probably meet the winemaker.
Cline Cellars. Drinking wine out of the barrel with Charlie Tsegeletos was a seminal moment in my wine loving journey. His enthusiasm for winemaking and wine education remains unbridled even after 30+ years. His 2010 Old Vine Mourvédre is a steal at $20 and his Mourvédre Rose is always a winner. Tip: Join the Pendulum Club, (the only club I belong to) the people are wonderful, the deals are great and the winery is a lovely home-away-from-home.
Hope Family Wines. Founder Austin Hope and winemaker Jason “JC” Diefenderfer make some great Rhone wines in Paso Robles. A larger winery with five very well-priced labels (Troublemaker, Treana, Liberty School, Candor and Austin Hope) has something for everyone. I especially like Troublemaker Blend 3, a red Rhone blend made from multiple vintages ($20). Tip: Read more about Troublemaker online.
*It was about 10 years ago when I first heard the fun folks at Cline Cellars teaching people how to remember Mourvédre (here’s how to really pronounce it).