I met Jason DiFrancesco almost three years ago at the SF Rhone Rangers event. I met him, quite frankly, how I meet many winemakers at these kinds of grand tastings — his table was, at the time, the lease crowded. At an event filled with Rhone varietals and Rhone blends, it can be really hard to stand out — especially among big name brands from Paso Robles, where Jason sources his grapes. But alas, his wines did stand out and because of his wines and our lively conversation, he and I became friends. So, I am pleased to present to you the latest Leverage Wines release…
This past week I featured a series of California Rhone wines in conjunction with my recently published article for Edible Communities entitled Where we Rhone. This article explores the history of Rhone varietals in California and features both iconic and up-and-coming local Rhone-centric winemakers. I’ve also included a brief Rhone wine 101 sidebar, explaining the French origin and breaking down the most common varietals. Have a read, brush up on your Rhone wine 101, and then check out a few individual California Rhone wine reviews featured here on my site.
While I was researching for a recent article about California Rhone varieties, winemaker Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards said something interesting to me. “Syrah is the winemaker’s grape,” he said, “It’s hard for consumers to understand it, but winemaker’s love it.” While it’s true that all grapes — and produce in general — is a product of its environment, there’s something about the Syrah grape that is so impacted even by the subtle nuances of its surroundings. Thus, as I’ve said before, Syrah can express itself quite differently even from vineyards within the same AVA — even from blocks within the same vineyard! Well, at 2500 feet of elevation, Halcón is one of the highest vineyards in California, so you can be sure this Syrah will taste unlike any other you’ve had before.
I walked into the Selby tasting room in downtown Healdsburg not really knowing anything about it. I’d heard great things, and I’d walked by the tasting room on more than one occasion — and kept on walking simply because it was packed. And now I know why.
Selby Winery was founded in 1994 by Susie Selby and her father David. For most of those first years the winery was a bit of a “side project:” David lived predominantly in Dallas with his wife; Susie worked as an assistant winemaker for a larger company. It wasn’t until David’s death in 1997 that Susie went full-force into Selby, making what was once her father’s pipe dream into a real wine country reality. Today Selby Winery makes sixteen different varietal and Susie is still at the head of the helm — taking on no partners or investors.
“Enjoy wine; enjoy life” is Susie’s motto and, indeed, it shows in her wines. Go to the tasting room and pick any varietal you like — they all just taste like they’re handcrafted with passion. I wanted to leave Selby with a bottle of everything. But I showed restraint and picked just one — this 2014 Dry Creek Grenache.
The Withers Winery crafts some bodacious (yes, I just used that word) Chardonnays and some elegant Pinot Noirs. But their passion — if not their claim to fame — are Rhone-inspired wines from the self-proclaimed “Rhone Zone” of El Dorado County. They craft some excellent single varietals including the somewhat obscure Counoise, but I just love how they play with the classic GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend. In fact, when I received my shipment of The Withers wines, I was delighted to see three different takes — each one highlighting a different grape. So while the previously reviewed Bel Canto was more of a GMS, this 2014 Ruben is more of a MSG (but the good kind) — highlighting my favorite of the three ingredients, Mourvedre.