When Wine Blogging Wednesday founder Lenn Thompson asked me to host this months’ tasting I was both honored and nervous. What theme would spark new participants to join the monthly virtual tasting? How could I come up with something original after 70 tastings? But after sharing three ideas on Twitter direct messages, we were set on, “Rhones Not From The Rhône.” When I announced the theme 3 weeks ago, I even put a bit of a spin on challenging tasters to look beyond the widely available Syrah/Shiraz and Grenache to try something new. How hard could it be to find a wine that matched this theme?
Well, as it turned out, somewhat more difficult than I had imagined when I came up with the idea; at least here in suburban Minnesota. After visiting a few stores in my area it was clear the selection was limited for Rhone varieties outside of Syrah/Shiraz. Sure I could have picked up any number of Viognier from California or Australia. Or some Mourvèdre. There was plenty of Grenache also on offer, most of which coming from Spain. But I was in the mood for something a bit more obscure so I could hold my head high as this months’ host. That’s when I spied a bottle of Cline “Ancient Vines” Carignane. “Perfect” I thought as the California producer makes a number of Rhone-style wines that are widely available and usually reliable choices. And Carignane is one of my “underdog grapes” that I don’t drink enough of. To top it off, I’ve never had Cline’s Carignane before.
So last night I opened the bottle and was immediately put off but the nose which was lean and, frankly, stinky. And not in a good way. Something was definitely wrong with the wine but I couldn’t put my finger on it. In the mouth the wine still had plenty of fruit but lacked the varietal character of the grape. And the finish was off. Since the wine was from the 2007 vintage and was purchased at a wine warehouse-style store, I chalked this up to bad storage. So I decided not to review that wine tonight and find another selection.
A visit to yet another wine store yielded several options; all white. After considering a couple Viognier/Marsanne blends, I settled on a Roussanne under the “Writer’s Block” brand. I know every winery has to find an angle to sell their wines at retail but I almost didn’t pick this wine due to the label featuring William Shakespeare. The nonsense on the back label which didn’t really relate to the wine directly also didn’t help. But the attractive $7.99 close out price was the difference here as I’ve never tasted a sub-$10 California Roussanne before.
A bit of Googling turned up that Writer’s Block is a brand from Steele Wines and is almost exclusively focused on Rhone varieties (had the store stocked their Counoise, I would have been all over that wine). Steele is a moderate sized winery in Lake County started by Jed Steele after a nine year tenure at Kendall-Jackson. Steele makes a wide assortment of red and white varieties from vineyards in Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and Lake Counties under the Steele, Shooting Star and Writer’s Block brands.
Steele Wines “Writer’s Block” Roussanne, Lake County 2007 ($14) – Golden yellow in color with aromas of pear, honey, green tea and oak toast. Rich and oily in the mouth with green apple, orange and butterscotch flavors finishing with a nutty note and good acidity. A well made Roussanne that will continue to be interesting for some time to come. A great value at their standard $14, but a steal (pun intended) at the $7.99 closeout price I paid.
Composite cork closure
Thanks once again to Lenn Thompson from the New York Cork Report for coming up with the idea for Wine Blogging Wednesday and for allowing me host a 4th time. Be on the lookout for the announcement of WBW72 from Richard at The Passionate Foodie which will include a fund raiser for Japan relief efforts.