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Posted by Robert Whitley on December 3, 2016 at 10:37 AM

American Rhône

I am old enough to remember when Syrah was going to be the next big thing on the American wine scene. And not just Syrah but Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, et al.   These are the so-called Rhône-style wines championed by contrarian American winemakers attempting to break away from the crowded field that occupied the high ground of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, America's two most popular wines. 

It's hard to say who exactly led the way. Winemaker Gary Eberle, for example, brought syrah to California's Central Coast. Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon abandoned his passion to make world-class Pinot Noir to work the Rhône grape varieties that appeared to be better-suited to his climate and soil.  Both found success that reverberated around the wine world. Grahm ended up on the cover of the popular wine publication the Wine Spectator, and other winemakers drawn to the Rhne movement -- Steve Edmunds and Sean Thackrey, to name just two -- basked in the glow.  An organization called the Rhône Rangers was formed to promote the Rhone-style wines, and the Hospice du Rhône, a festival that draws winemakers and fans from around the world for tastings and seminars, blossomed in Paso Robles, California.  Yet somewhere along the way, the Rhone movement lost its mojo. Much like Pinot Noir before the movie "Sideways," Syrah became a hard sell.

Journalist Patrick Comiskey, however, never lost his passion for either the true Rhône wines produced in the Rhône Valley in the south of France or the American Rhônes being made primarily in California and Washington. Comiskey, a writer and critic for Wine & Spirits magazine, has penned the definitive work on the Rhône movement, "American Rhône, How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink."

Comiskey, a gifted writer and storyteller, spent the better part of six years -- by his estimation -- researching the topic, conducting interviews, tasting the wines and eventually writing the book.    With an exceptionally good eye for nuance, Comiskey is at his best when depicting the range of personalities -- many, if not most, of them eclectic -- who have put their stamp on the American Rhône movement. My only quibble with the book is the subhead on the cover. The American Rhône movement has stalled and seems to be in need of a spark. Could he be that spark?

Whether a fan of Rhône wines or not, "American Rhône" is an entertaining and educational read. It might even inspire devotees of Cabernet and Chardonnay to give the American Rhônes another shot.

Domaine Louis Latour, Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) En Caradeux 2014 ($35, Louis Latour USA)
This is what everyone is looking for in white Burgundy -- an affordable overachiever.  Three elements come together in a “perfect storm” to create this overachiever.  First, there’s the village itself.  Pernand-Vergelesses lies “behind” the hill of Corton (to the west) and is often overlooked since it is hidden as you drive the main road of the Côte d’Or.  These “hidden” villages are an excellent place to find an affordable overachiever.  Secondly, the En Caradeux vineyard, a Premier Cru, is good real estate, lining across the valley and actually facing the vineyards that comprise Corton-Charlemagne.  And finally -- and probably most importantly -- is the producer.  As a négociant Maison Louis Latour has a “green thumb” with wines, finding sources of top quality grapes and transforming them into exciting red and white Burgundy.  Less well appreciated is that Louis Latour is also a Domaine, owning and farming 120-acres of its own vineyards.  (Indeed, they are the largest owner of Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy.)  This wine comes from the portion of the En Caradeux vineyard they own.  Hence it carries the Domaine Louis Latour label, which is subtlely different from their Maison label. Along with a wonderful tension between perfect ripeness and enormous energy characteristic of the vintage, it delivers an alluring combination of spice and minerality. The wine is a steal -- a baby Corton-Charlemagne -- with the advantage of being far more approachable and enjoyable at a young age compared to that Grand Cru.  Latour’s whites evolve and develop beautifully with years of bottle age, so stock up on this one and drink it happily now and over the next five years.
94 Michael Apstein

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Safe Deposits: How Depositional Environments Influence the Wine World
Wayne Belding

As students of wine, we often find our investigations involving the geology of a specific winegrowing region. We talk about various soil types and bedrock origins with great enthusiasm, although the exact connection between the earth and the vine remains something of a mystery. When geologists look at the surface of the earth, we ask how it came to be. The surface and subsurface features we see in sedimentary rocks and soils are consequences of their respective depositional environments. We study the processes that create the bedrock and surface soils that we observe.
Is It Terroir or National Origin? Burgundy in Oregon
Michael Apstein

What's more important in determining wine quality-terroir, or the nationality of the winemaker? Almost everyone agrees on the importance of terroir, the idea (best exemplified in Burgundy) that where the grapes grow is critical in determining the character of a wine. Equally important in the estimation of many wine experts is the role of the winemaker or producer. But what is driving the winemaker--conscious decisions or some subconscious force, such as national origin? The Burgundians' foray into Oregon offers a chance to explore this question.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Spatchcocked Cornish Hens and Bread Salad

We have been into spatchcocked birds recently. If you haven't heard of spatchcocking, it's the culinary term for butterflying a bird (a game bird, chicken or turkey) before roasting or grilling it. We had a spatchocked turkey at Thanksgiving. It cooked in half the time a regular one would take, and had browner, crisper skin to boot. Cornish game hens lend themselves particularly well to spatchcocking, and this is a preparation we think you will like as much as we do.
On My Table
Pinot Grigio Cut from a Different Cloth
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

There's Pinot Grigio, and then there's Pinot Grigio. Most of the Italian Pinot Grigio wines that you find in wine shops or restaurants epitomize the descriptor, 'simple.' They are light-bodied, high-acid whites with neutral flavors, and their main virtues are that they are refreshing and easy to drink. But it is possible to find Pinot Grigio wines that actually have character. Together with the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy's far northeast, Italy's northernmost region, Alto Adige, is one of the places where winemakers take Pinot Grigio seriously.