Last week we had the chance to take a field trip to Seattle’s
Maritime Event Center on Pier 66 for the annual Rhone
Rangers Seattle Trade Tasting.
Yes, that’s right we played hooky on a Tuesday to taste
But not just any wine, wine made in the style of France’s
Rhone Valley — a region near and dear to both of
If you’ve never heard of the Rhone
Rangers here’s a little background: It’s a
California-based non-profit educational organization dedicated to
promoting American Rhone varietal wines. It’s membership based, and
goes around the country holding tastings to spread the word about
Some of the events are open to the public, while others are for
trade only to introduce winemakers to restaurateurs and
distributors who might be interested in carrying their wines.
We went to the trade event in Seattle. Most of the wineries
pouring were from California, but there were five Washington
wineries present (Chateau Ste. Michelle,
Columbia Winery, Harbinger
Winery, Maison Bleue Winery,
Mercer Estates and Waterbrook
The nice thing about this event was in most cases the winemaker,
or someone from the winery who knew about the winemaking process,
was pouring. So they could easily answer questions and give us
insight into the wineries.
For this tasting, Brynn stuck primarily with the whites, while
Mary hit up the reds. If we found one we loved from our designated
color, we told the other to try it. This allowed us to divide and
After three hours of tasting (and spitting), we came to the
conclusion that there are some darn good Rhone-style varietals
being made in the States. But we already knew this living in
Washington, where winemakers have jumped on the Rhone bandwagon in
the last decade, producing some top-notch Rhone-style wines.
Before we list the wineries that caught our eye, a little
history on Rhone wines and the varietals allowed in this
Unlike France’s other regions where wine can be blended between
three to five grapes — Red Bordeaux blends often contain different
levels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and to a
lesser degree Malbec and Petite Verdot — wines from the Rhone
Valley can include up to 22 different varietals.
No, that’s not a typo, we said “22”.
A snip-it from the Rhone Rangers website about the most common
red and white grapes in France’s Cotes du Rhone region:
The most common red Rhone varietals are Syrah, Grenache, and
Mourvedre, with Syrah predominant in the Northern Rhone and
Grenache in the Southern Rhone. Other relatively common red grapes
include Cinsault and Carignan. Finally, the list includes some
grapes that are found only in trace amounts even in France, and are
just beginning to be explored in the United States, including
Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Vaccarese, and Terret Noir.
The principal white Rhone varietals are Viognier, Roussanne and
Marsanne, each found throughout the Rhone Valley, with Grenache
Blanc a widely planted but less well-known contributor in the
Southern Rhone. The other white grapes include Bourboulenc,
Clairette Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardin,
Picpoul/Piquepoul Blanc, and Ugni Blanc.
In the Northern Rhone region (St. Joseph, Crozes Hermitage,
Hermitage will be on the label) Syrah is the only red grape
allowed, but winemakers traditionally add 5 percent Viognier to
bring out floral notes. This is usually co-fermented with the
In Southern Rhone, it’s more like a grape free-for-all. A
Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhone or Gigondas technically can
have all 22 of the above grape varieties.
So, what was our favorite winery of the bunch you ask?
To be honest it was hard to come up with just one — in fact
Brynn had a favorite wine from two-thirds of the tables she visited
— but in the end we decided we were most impressed with
Washington’s very own Maison
Bleue out of Prosser.
Owner and winemaker Jon Martinez was on hand to pour, and
explained his Marsanne was typically a crowd favorite — especially
among wine media.
Mary would have to agree with this statement, although Brynn was
more impressed with Martinez’s 2010 Notre Vie Viognier from
Arthur’s Vineyard. He also had another unusual white grape
varietal, Roussanne. This rare grape was aged for nine months in
Burgundian barrels for a round, full-bodied mouthfeel.
The Viognier was a 100 percent Viognier wine that spent time in
70 percent French oak barrels. The rest was kept in stainless steel
tanks before the two were mixed.
The wine showed a nice balance of acidic minerality with the
sweeter, more tropical floral flavors often associated with the
Viognier grape. The combination of oak and stainless steel aging
allowed these two styles to blend perfectly.
Beyond his delectable whites, Martinez’s table was also full of
red blends — seven of them to be exact.
Most were from Snipes Mountain and Boushey vineyards. Boushey
Vineyards has been around since the 1980s and is highly sought
after. Dick Boushey planted Syrah in 1994.
(Sidenote: Dick Boushey was at the Rhone Rangers event and Mary
chatted with him for a bit about beer, of all things. Brynn only
quickly compared notes with him on a couple Viogniers and a
Of the reds, we recommend the Maison Bleue Red blend, a 50–50
blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Yakima Valley called
Jaja — French slang for wine.
The ‘09 Grenache from Upland on Snipes Mountain was all
raspberries, white pepper and aromatic. The balance and finish were
great. But Mary’s absolute favorite was from the same vineyard: A
2009 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. “What balance!” she
said. “Rich concentrated fruit flavors, smooth and showy at the
Stay tuned next week for more Rhone Rangers reviews.
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