I love Rhône wines. Wait…let me classify. I love Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Tannat, Roussanne, Marsanne, Terret Noir, Picpoul Blanc….I love the varieties and the blends of said varieties. My experience with these wines is mostly from those Rhône Rangers in California. I am just beginning to explore further into French wines and Rhône Blends. In France the wine or blend is named by the area in which it is grown, the AOC , which is a completely different way of learning about the wines.
So as I learn about these wines, I start with comparing a couple of Rhône Blends from two of my favorite California wineries for Rhônes, Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon. We chose the 2011 Patelin de Tablas from Tablas Creek and the 2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon.
These two wines differ in where the grapes were grown, the makeup of the blends, the vintage and the wine-making techniques. So first lets look at the wines themselves.
2011 Patelin de Tablas
https://tablascreek.com/wines/2011_patelin_de_tablasHere you can find all the geeky details.
This wine comes from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, but this is not an estate wine. This wine comes from multiple vineyards that they source from.
“Patelin” means neighborhood in French, so these are grapes not from the estate, but from the neighborhood. The list of vineyards is long (16 different vineyards across 4 different AVA’s in the Paso Robles Region). The AVA’s range from Adelaida Hills (higher elevation and warmer), to Templeton Gap (cooler with a coastal influence) to El Pomar (which is more moderate in climate) and then Estrella which is warmer. The soils differ in these AVA’s also, Adelaida Hills, Templeton Gap and El Pomar tend to be limestone, where as Estrella is sandy loam.
Tablas Creek first produced this wine in 2010 after having a very light harvest in 2009. This was second vintage of the Patelin de Tablas in 2011.
The blend is 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre and 1% Counoise, and sits at 13.7% Alcohol.
As to the winemaking techniques: the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in a mix of Open-top and closed stainless steel fermenters as well at 1500-gallon upright oak casks. As usual for Tablas Creek it was only native yeasts that were used. After blending they were aged in stainless steel and 1200 gallon oak foudres. So, kind of a variety (I think some of that may be due to available space). They made 8460 cases of this wine. That’s alot compared to the Côtes de Tablas of which they made 1560 cases.
2013 Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne”
Randall Grahm has been making this homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1984. The name comes from a weird wine law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The story goes that a railway worker in northern France claimed he saw two Martians on his property who had landed in a cigar-like machine. Soon the reports spread and the French were all worried about these “flying cigars” or Cigare Volant. The Mayor of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region put a law into place banning these “Cigare Volants” from landing or even flying over the area or vineyards. And…it worked, there have been no alien sitings in the region since then. Randall came across this law and in his own inimitable fashion, names his homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Le Cigare Volante”.
This wine is from the Central Coast. This wine comes from multiple vineyards that are not necessarily close to each other. It is a bit more diverse in soils and climates that they Tablas, which at least sources from the same region.
When you talk about wine-making techniques…well in Randall’s own words
“The idea of “raising” the wine in glass demijohns was also a bit of a fever dream, occasioned in part by the many hours I spent in deep contemplation of the mysteries of redox chemistry; there was something dream-like (à la Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan) about the many hours driving around southern France with Patrick Ducournau, deep thinker about oxygen and wine (and inventor of microbullage, or micro-oxygenation). I’ve already written quite a bit about the nature of the esoteric élevage en bonbonne—bâtonage magnetique, etc., the opportunity for the wine to digest a substantial volume of yeast lees, and the extraordinary texture and savoriness this protocol engenders.” From his Production Notes
When you visit the tasting room you can see one of the demijohns (or carboys)
This wine is 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, $16% Mourvedre and 4% Cinsault and it sits a little bigger than the Tablas with Alcohol at 14.3%.
This wine’s production was only 554 cases.
What to Pair with these Rhône Blends?
I took inspiration from Randall’s suggestions.
“All manner of cute creatures: rabbit, tiny birds, etc. Rabbit in Mustard Sauce (We suggest our Cigare Blanc mustard for this dish). Beef Kidneys. Stilton. Braised Oxtail.”
Well I have a thing about eating cute creatures, so we settled on the Stilton as well as a Cambozola (a triple creme chees with the flavor of a bleu cheese).
Tablas Creek suggested Grilled Steaks, rich beef stews and spicy sausages with the Patelin.
We set off and got some sweet italian sausage, a shepard’s pie and steak and stout pie.
So here is the spread: Sweet Italian Sausage with a brown mustard, Shepherds pie, a steak and stout pie, some zuchinni noodles sautéd with spices, black olives, a fig jam, the Stilton, Cambonzola, some manchego and aged gouda.
Tasting the Rhône Blends
In general, the Patelin was more fruit forward, with a bit of wet hay on the nose (I love that funkiness), and you get a little mineral. The fruit is red and bright, but then there is spice and a bit of anise. The tannins here are light, but the wine still has great structure. It has developed, but still will be great for further cellaring.
The Le Cigare Volant was mellower on the nose, But when it hit your mouth, it was richer than you expected from the nose. My first impression was Thyme in cooked strawberries with hints of smoked spices (like a sweet smoked paprika that is very mellow)
Pairing the Rhône Blends with Food
Both of the wines were fantastic with the sausage, but each brought out something different in the wine. The Steak and stout pie was also good with both, when paired with the Patelin, brought the fruit forward, with the Cigare Volant it highlighted the more savory notes. Michael liked the aged gouda best with both wines (mostly because he’s not so into the Bleu cheeses). The Bleu cheese with fig jam and the Patelin de Tablas was a big hit for me. We got less scientific as we tasted on savoring every bite and pondering on it. We pondered quite a bit and I forgot to write down all the notes, job hazard. Regardless, we enjoyed both wines thoroughly and I am inspired to dive further into Rhône blends, from California as well as digging in deeper to the history of the AOC’s of the Rhône Valley in France.
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We are big fans of Tablas but haven’t had Bonny Doon yet. Can’t wait to get our hands on BD’s homage to CDP (one of our favourite regions!).
Bonny Doon is just enchanting. Randall Grahm, the original Rhône Ranger, waxes philosophical on all things wine (and then some). I find him enchanting. When you see the gorgeous coast where his tasting room is and walk into the ecclectic but warm and nostalgic room where they pour the wines, you can’t help to be hooked. He is passionate and witty and loves to delve into the unexpected. Get yourself out to the coast, the wine is wonderful and there is so much more.
Bonny Doon and Tablas Creek are two of the best stewards of American Rhônes, in my opinion (and it’s shared by many).
I’ve been lucky to explore the Southern Rhône Crus in depth, along with some time spent in CDP. I’m a big fan of Lirac, Beaumes de Venise, Rasteau, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras – I’ll look back on what I’ve written and re-share soon.
Great post – thanks for sharing!
Thank you! I’m diving in deep to research and expected to be exploring your site for your opinions!
You picked two of my favorite CA Rhone producers! I have been a long time fan of Bonny Doon and Randall and his methods. And Tablas! Well. That goes without saying.
I’m sorry to say that I will be missing Hospice du Rhone this year due to my class schedule but you are inspiring me to have my own mini festival in my kitchen!
Thank you for the in depth tasting and food pairing ideas.
Spring will be about the Rhône for me, so when you do your mini festival keep me posted! Maybe we can do an online virtual festival in multiple kitchens?
Yes we should! Everyone commenting here should also join in. We could get some great buzz going!