Simple Hedonisms gets ‘Rhoned’ in Paso Robles at HdR 2010

For weeks I was writing, Tweeting, and adding Facebook Posts about last weekend’s event; Hospice du Rhone. I had to admit, after all the build up, I wondered if I was going to be disappointed – kinda like that movie that gets so many rave reviews that you feel let down after so much hype. (Spoiler – the event met and exceeded expectations.)

We left Thursday morning so that we could get to Paso in time to hit a few tasting rooms, as the agenda was jammed pack Friday and Saturday, and Sunday we had to head back early. (I will write a seperate article on the tasting experience, but the sample of four visited had great hospitality and wines.)

It had been a decade since I had been to Paso Robles, and much had evolved; the region had expanded significantly, but so had I as a passionate wine writer and consumer. Wine is such an amazing thing, after 20 years of consuming it, reading, traveling , tasting – the more I learn, the more I expose my palette to new things, the more doors it opens up to enter; seeming now at an accelerated pace. Part of this expansion has been discovering the full breadth of Rhone wines. I discovered Viognier and Syrah years ago, followed by Grenache, but getting to experience and appreciate many more of the 22 Rhone wines, both as individual varietals, and often blended together, has been one of the most enjoyable, never ending discoveries I have embarked on. I could gush more, but will save that for future articles and thoughts I’d love to share.

One of the interesting phenomenon about Paso Robles, besides doubling in wineries in a decade to over 180, it has become a concentration of planting for an array of Rhone varietals, something Sonoma County is lacking outside of a few. The town has also expanded with restaurants and cultural aspects, yet retains much of the small town feel, and ‘wild west.’  Its off the beaten path (good thing or moving would be tempting) but I can’t think of a better place for a (US based) host of a global celebration of Rhone varietals. (I mean hey, the Rhone Valley in France wouldn’t bite.)

Day 1 – The Rhone’s Begin

Seminar : We Have Come a Long Way Baby ! The Past, Present and Future of South African Syrah

Producers: Marc Kent, Boekenhoutskloof; David Trafford, De Trafford; Eben Sadie, Fairview Winery; Andrea Mullineux, Mullineaux Family Wines; Eben Sadie, Sadie Family Wines; Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards; Chris Mullineux, Stellenzicht
Moderated by: James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

You have to be serious about wine, and a have a spit cup, to start tasting Syrah at 9 a.m.  An incredible array of syrah’s were discussed, and poured, covering the history and diversity of South African syrah. South Africa has a amazing breadth of varietals and soil diversity; 250,000 acres planted by 4000 growers, with wine produced by over 500 wineries. You can learn more about their wines at The Wines of South Africa website.

Syrah releases were poured from as far back as a Mullineux Fairview 1986 Reserve ‘Shiraz’ to 2008 current release. I find the ongoing marketing distinction of Syrah and Shiraz interesting. Genetically the same, some Vintners don’t really mean to imply anything calling it Shiraz vs Syrah; where as others jumped on the popular Shiraz bandwagon during its boom. I think that can backfire as stylistically Shiraz came to be known as a young, highly oaked, fruit bomb, which some experienced wine drinkers, self included, will shun. Commentary seemed to indicate a  trend for South Africa seems to be to move back to Syrah naming from Shiraz.

Seminar – Côte Rôtie – The Next Generation

Producer: Stéphane Ogier of Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier, Ampuis, France
Moderated by: John Alban, Founding Director of Hospice du Rhône

In retrospect, this was my favorite seminar, both for wines tasted and the experience. Unfortunately two of the wines did not make it to be able to taste, but the other 7 were incredible. Stéphane gave a great presentation in his viticulture and wine making philosphies, excuding his passion for both as he spoke.

  • The 2008 Viognier Condrieu really impressed me and was one of my favorites; harvested  late, full bodied, but only 12.5 % alcohol. The importer told me at the tasting that afternoon Stéphane’s wines were available at my favorite importer, K&L Wines, but they are sold out of all, much to my chagrin.
  • The 2007 Syrah L’Ame Soeur, Vin de Pays was beautiful, Smoke and earth on the nose. I was impressed with the use of natural yeast.
  • The 2007 Ogier Syrah, Belle Helene, Cote-Rotie, was planted 70 years ago by his grandfather. Smoky , floral nose; blackberry, black fruit. Nice finish.
  • The finish was a 2005 Ogier Roussanne. Amazing golden color, honey, melon on nose.  Stéphane is holding til 2014 for release; impressive restraint!

Rosé Lunch

The tradition for the Friday lunch has always been Rosé wines.  Food was prepared by Chef John Toulze of the girl & the fig hailing from my own Sonoma County. A nice choice of Rhone rosé was available, many from South Africa.

Friday Rhône Rendezvous Tasting

I was thankful for the extra hour for prior to the public tasting, to make the rounds on a white tour, before diving into reds. The roster of  Rhône producers pouring was almost intimidating. There was a wide array of artisan food offerings throughout the tasting – but I have to confess I was so distracted by the selection of Rhone varietals and producers I hardly ate any, nor gave a second glance to the Chef demonstrations.

The iRhône HdR iPhone app that I had written an early review of was very useful for the event, although not all Producers stuck to their list. (I was also a bit surprised by a few who had nothing but barrel samples, always a treat, but expected finished wines as well.) Since my review the App had been updated to allow Tweeting of Tasting Notes right to the #HdR2010 Twitter Hashtag, which was great.

My white run unearthed some great white Rhone finds, both single varietal and blends, including the blend from Alta Colina, the white blend and the Viognier from Denner Vineyards, the Fausse Piste 2009 Decouvertes Yakima Viognier,and the Kukkula 2008 Vaalea Derby Paso Robles Viogner rousanne blend. (If you can’t tell, I was focused on Paso producers.)

The public had come in by the time I started my red run, so slowed down, and palette fatigue began to creep in a bit. My iPhone was also about out of battery, so unfortunately tasting notes and Tweeting stopped. Many great finds again, including a number from Hug Cellars, including their  2008 el Pape Central Coast GSM.

Evening event – Sommelier Soirée

Headed back to the hotel for a quick break, and got tied up attending to some personal things, so was late to this event. HdR is blessed to be attended by Top Sommeliers, hailing from throughout the United States. For this event,  they pilfer their personal cellars  to bring an exceptional array large format bottles. Entertainment was  by the  Grammy Award winner Louie Ortega and his band. I did get to taste some great wines, and meet some interesting people, including the US based Ambassador of New Zealand wines. (How do I get one of those jobs?!)

After an amazing, long day.  it was time to retire to the hotel and dream of Day Two’s lineups at Hospice du Rhone. Come back for Part 2 – cheers!

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