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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Pinot Noir & Copper
River Salmon

A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series

Versatile Chardonnays
A 3-Part Series

Italian Varietals in America
A 3-Part Series

Cabernet Sauvignon
and Blends

A 3-Part Series

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series

White Wines for
Oysters & Mussels

A 4-Part Series


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Last Week's Reviews
Published July 14, 2014

Meat – It’s What’s for Dinner
– Served with Red Rhone Varietals and Blends
Part 1 of a 4-Part Series  (See Part 2)
by Chuck Hill

The red varietals of France’s Cotes du Rhone have become a fast-growing segment of the American wine market.  Grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise are now planted throughout the Northwest and California and are offered as varietal bottlings or as traditional (or non-traditional) blends.  Northern Rhone blends generally feature Syrah as the dominant grape.  Blends from France’s Southern Rhone (including Chateauneuf-du-Pape) highlight Grenache with varying amounts of Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault. 

A popular American wine with a connection to the Rhone is Petite Sirah.  This variety is genetically identical to Durif, a cross between Syrah and the ancient variety Peloursin.  Over the past 100 years, Petite Sirah in America has established a reputation as a rustic red wine served with hearty, meaty fare.  I am including Petite Sirah for its appropriate relationship to our current culinary raison d’etre. 

Rhone Varietals and Blends 

Rotie Cellars
2012 Southern Blend
Washington State

Since 2007, winemaker and owner Sean Boyd’s goal has been to make traditional Rhone blends in Washington State.  My tasters always find his wines well balanced and true to the varietals involved.  Sean’s commitment to lower alcohol, less oaky and finesse-driven wines is refreshing.  His blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah tempts the taster with raspberry, black currant, smoky meat, vanilla and caramel – great with steak. 

Dobbes Family Estate
2011 Syrah, Grand Assemblage
Rogue Valley AVA

Joe Dobbes crafts his Grand Assemblage Syrah from grapes grown at premium vineyard sites in southern Oregon and ages the wine in neutral oak to preserve the fruity character of the grape.  This vintage offers ripe cherry, blueberry and plum fruits with hints of spicy cedar, leather and vanilla.  The palate is well balanced and fruity, and plays well with churrasco beef and chimichurri sauce. 

2011 Aix
Yakima Valley AVA

This blend of 71% Syrah and 29% Cabernet Sauvignon reflects the wines of southern France utilizing the currant and Herbs de Provence of the Cabernet in complementing the raspberry, toasty and meaty character of the Syrah.  Visitors enjoy DeLille’s Carriage House Tasting Room just north of the winery in Woodinville. 


L’Ecole No 41
2011 Syrah, Estate, Seven Hills Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley AVA

L’Ecole No 41’s superb Estate Syrah comes from grapes grown at the Seven Hills Vineyard located in the south-central portion of the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  This vineyard was planted in 1981 and has been expanded to more than 230 acres.  The winemaker suggests “earth, spice and game” as the wine’s old-world attributes with a “new world profile of bold, expressive and concentrated fruit.”  This is a rich and flavorful wine that complements your best meats from the grill. 


Cougar Crest Winery
2008 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley AVA

For those seeking the rich and ripe style of Syrah for which the Walla Walla Valley has become famous, you need look no further.  Aromas of ripe plum and dark fruits mingle with baking spice and black pepper.  The palate is packed with jammy berry and plum flavors and a lip-smacking, fruity finish. 

Amavi Cellars
2011 Syrah, Les Collines Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Les Collines (French for “the foothills”) is one of the winery’s estate vineyards situated at a peak elevation of 1,380 feet and farmed with minimal input.  My tasters were impressed with the old-world character of this Syrah and the complexity offered by the sourcing of fruit from one of the vineyard’s oldest blocks.  Aromas and flavors of blackberry and blueberry mingle with floral notes of violets and hints of earthy mineral and spice. 

2012 Metier
Yakima Valley AVA

Most of the fruit for this complex wine came from Red Mountain, but with a 19% splash of Grenache from Boushey Vineyard, the appellation is listed as Yakima Valley.  The blend of 39% each of Grenache and Mourvedre with 20% Syrah and 2% Cinsault gives the wine a great palette of aromas and flavors.  Blackberry, blueberry and cassis push to the front - accompanied by toasty oak and caramel – and the finish reveals lavender, orange peel, herbs and vanilla. 

Ginkgo Forest Winery
2012 Grenache
Wahluke Slope AVA

Mike Thiede is a scientist by training and a farmer by choice.  Becoming a viticulturist and winemaker came naturally with both of these skills.  Make and Lois Thiede cultivated orchards on the Wahluke Slope and with the coming of Washington’s wine industry, added 35 acres of vineyards and eventually a winery.  Ginkgo Forest Grenache is juicy and spicy with flavors of raspberry and just a hint of mineral and toasty cedar.  Visit the winery’s west side tasting room in the Old Town district of Tacoma. 

2012 Garnacha, Estate
Umpqua Valley AVA

Abacela winery is the most awarded producer of Spanish varietals in Oregon.  Founders Earl and Hilda Jones sought out the perfect location and struck gold in the Umpqua Valley with a climate they believe to be similar to northern Spain.  The 2012 Garnacha comes from the winery’s Fault Line Vineyard and offers the delicate aromas and flavors that make the varietal a favorite in its homeland.  Look for raspberry and cherry with notes of lavender and light toasty meats. 

Rhone Varietal Rosés

Cinder Wines
2013 Dry Rosé
Snake River Valley AVA, Idaho

Winemaker Melanie Krause makes this rosé from Syrah grapes that were specially farmed for this wine.  Grapes are picked at lower sugar levels to retain refreshing acidity and held in contact with the skins for one hour prior to a gentle pressing.  The bright pink wine offers aromas and flavors of watermelon and strawberry with a hint of rose petal and touch of minerality.  Crisp acidity suggests serving with any seafood and lighter meats and pastas.  It also serves as a welcome counterpoint and palate cleanser to spicy meats from the grill. 

Coeur d’Alene Cellars
2013 Rosé de Saignée

Saignée (pronounced “son yay”) is a process of producing rosé wine by drawing off juice from a red wine must shortly after the grapes have been crushed.  The juice will have acquired a bit of color from its short contact with the red skins and it leaves behind a must with a higher skin-to-juice ratio for a darker red wine.  This saignée cuvee was produced from Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and other red grape varieties as well as Viognier.  A beautiful salmon pink color invites a sniff and a sip revealing strawberry, watermelon, floral perfume and hints of herbs and mineral – very refreshing. 

Petite Sirah


Alexandria Nicole Cellars
2011 Mr. Big Petite Sirah, Destiny Ridge Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Though this is a big wine with bold flavors and plenty of toasty oak, it has a restrained character due to ample acidity on the palate.  Since it is young, it benefits from a bit of aeration to develop the aroma – decant and wait a half hour.  Aromas of dark berries, caramel and smoky bacon lead to a rich palate of blackberry and boysenberry with threads of vanilla and brown sugar wrapped in a silky cocoon of toasty oak.  Meat. 


Bunnell Family Cellar
2009 Petite Sirah, Northridge Vineyard
Wahluke Slope AVA

Ron Bunnell served for many years as head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle before starting another winemaking career and several wine brands of his own.  In addition to consulting work for other wineries, he produces varietals and blends under the label above as well as Wine O’Clock and RiverAerie.  His ripe and juicy Petite Sirah comes from Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope and offers dark cherry and plum with vanilla, caramel and smoky cedar. 

Wines from other areas 

M. Chapoutier
2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
La Bernadine, France

This firm has been growing grapes and making wine in southeast France since 1808, and acknowledges the relationship between nature in the vineyard and winemaking by the hand of man.  Impeccable complexity and structure stand out in this southern Rhone blend with a broad offering of aromas – mixed berry, blueberry, leather, violets – leading to a palate with similar character though adding spicy oak, caramel and balancing acidity on the finish.  It is a pleasure to drink and a favorite with my tasters in accompanying fine grilled beef. 

Tablas Creek Vineyard
2012 Cotes de Tablas
Paso Robles, California

Tablas Creek was founded in the early 1990s by the Perrin family, proprietors of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Robert Haas, importer and founder of vineyard brands.  Vineyards of Rhone varieties were planted west of Paso Robles in hillside areas that are similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Their Cotes de Tablas blend includes Grenache, Syrah, Counoise and Mourvedre with each varietal adding important components.  Aromas of cherry, rhubarb and spice lead to a medium-bodied palate featuring flavors of plum and cherry with notes of leather and mineral. 

Las Rocas
2013 Rosé of Garnacha
Calatayud, Spain

The Las Rocas de San Alejandro bodega is located in the region of Calatayud, about 150 miles northeast of Madrid, Spain.  This up and coming winegrowing area promises to provide more wines in the future.  Las Rocas Rosé of Garnacha was produced using the saignée method and shows a bright cherry pink hue in the glass.  Aromas of delicate cherry, raspberry and rose petal lead to flavors of strawberry, citrus, herbs and orchard blossom. 

Tablas Creek Vineyard
2013 Dianthus Rosé
Paso Robles, California

The Tablas Creek Vineyard Dianthus 2013 is a blend of three estate-grown varietals, propagated from budwood cuttings from the Chateau de Beaucastel estate.  The blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise is fermented on the skins for 48 hours then drawn off and blended with other saignées from Mourvedre and Grenache lots.  The color of pale cranberry invites a sniff and sip, showing aromas of watermelon, rose petal and mineral, and flavors of strawberry and earthy mineral.  It is a nice accompaniment to lighter foods and more substantial fare as well. 

Madrigal Family Winery
2010 Petite Sirah, Estate
Napa Valley, California

The Madrigal family has grown wine grapes in the Napa Valley since the 1930s.  Third generation family member Chris Madrigal is in charge now and works with famed California winemaker Ed Sbragia to craft the special Madrigal Family bottlings.  This reserve-level Petite Sirah offers ripe aromas of plums and dark fruits mingling with spicy French oak and vanilla.  The palate is rich with flavors of dark cherry, cassis and caramel.  The wine stands alone for enjoyment but also is a superb accompaniment to meats from the grill or flavorful cheeses. 

Parducci Winery
2010 Petite Sirah, Small Lot Blend
Mendocino County

Petite Sirah is a specialty of the Mendocino County growing area, and the team at Parducci in Ukiah, CA produces this wine from selected small lots of premium Petite Sirah.  Ripe blackberry and cranberry flavors mingle with toasty oak, vanilla and hints of chocolate. 

High Valley Vineyards
2011 Petite Sirah
Lake County, California

California’s Lake County is adjacent to Mendocino County and is another favored growing area for Petite Sirah.  The High Valley AVA rises between 1,600 and 3,000 ft. elevation in the coastal mountain ranges providing a unique climate for specific varietals.  Some tasters found similarities in this wine to Italian Chianti.  While the foundation of the wine is rich with dark fruits and ripe berries, there are intriguing mineral and tar components on both nose and palate – very tasty with meats from the grill.

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