For nearly four years, Lenn Thompson of the blog LENNDEVOURS has coordinated a once-a-month mid-week tasting called Wine Blogging Wednesday. The theme changes each month, and can be varietal, regional, or topical (numbers 41-45 were, respectively, Just Seven Words, Comfort Wines, French Cabernet Franc, and Old World Riesling).
This month, the theme was White Rhone Varietals, and the host was official-friend-of-Tablas Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20. Each host assembles the different contributions and does a summary writeup. Deb's writeup runs through the reviewers and the wines in traditional fashion, but also adds a new twist I hadn't seen: a tag cloud as a way of getting a quick feel for the descriptors participants used in describing their wines. The most common descriptors emerge as "flowers, mineral, apple, lemon, gold citrus, honey, peaches, pear" -- about as classic as you'll get for Rhone whites. I love that "oak" is way down the list.
I think it's an interesting testament to the growing popularity and influence of the category of Rhone varietals that the 43 bloggers from around the world who participated in the tasting chose 66 wines to taste from seven countries (France, 33 wines; USA, 25 wines; Australia, 3 wines; Argentina, 2 wines; Spain, Canada and South Africa 1 wine each). Within France, entries favored the South, with 25 wines coming from Cotes du Rhone, the Languedoc and Chateauneuf du Pape. Eight wines were sourced from the Northern Rhone appellations of Condrieu, Chateau Grillet, and St. Joseph. In the United States, the Central Coast saw 8 entries (including one Tablas Creek wine, the 2004 Roussanne reviewed by Dr. Debs herself, and one other wine made from Tablas Creek grapes: the 2004 Edmunds St. John "Tablas Creek Vineyard" Roussanne). The North Coast saw 7 entries, while the North Valley (i.e. Lodi and the Sierra Foothills) saw 6. Three other states were represented, with two entries from Washington, one from Texas and one from New York.
By my unofficial count, at least 11 of the American wines were made in part or in whole from Tablas Creek cuttings.
I think that this demonstrates pretty conclusively the diversification of origin and growth of reputation that white Rhones have attained, just 30 years after they were limited to just a handful of acres in the northern Rhone, some more (but little-regarded) acreage in the Southern Rhone and some older plantings of Marsanne in Australia.
I wonder what this picture will look like in another 30 years. I'd predict, at least for the West Coast,that you'll see more of the richer white Rhones (like Roussanne and Grenache Blanc) and less Viognier. I'd also think you'll see more blends and fewer single varietals. And I think that you'll see the Central Coast move conclusively ahead of other California regions in representation.
Then again, I'm not exactly powerless in this effort. How to proceed? I think I'll go back to planning the producers-only Roussanne conference we're holding this July!