Taste buds don't lie. If you've had an opportunity to try a few of the Syrahs profiled here two weeks ago, I'll bet your taste buds already have convinced you that red grapes from France's Rhone Valley are making remarkably delicious wines in California.
Although Syrah is certainly the star of this category in terms of single-grape (or "varietal") wines, other red grapes from the Rhone such as Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignane are also showing excellent potential in California. Additionally, these grapes are combining with Syrah to produce wonderful blends inspired by the famous wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the southern Rhone. Recommended wines from my recent tastings appear below in order of preference within categories, with approximate prices and D.C. distributors indicated in parentheses.
IO Santa Barbara County Red Wine 1996 ($40; available Sept. 1): This outstanding new Mondavi wine is a blend of 64 percent Syrah, 19 percent Grenache and 17 percent Mourvedre. Dark, deeply concentrated fruit with interesting leathery accents. (Forman)
Treana Central Coast Red Table Wine 1996 ($38): A delicious, extremely skillful blend of unspecified grapes that shows excellent complexity and depth of flavor, with notes of blackberries, black cherries, molasses and dark chocolate. (Forman)
Bonny Doon Vineyard California Red Table Wine "Le Cigare Volant" 1996 ($25): Lush cherry fruit with a host of subtle complexities, fresh acidity and fine structural balance from ripe tannin. (DOPS)
Tablas Creek Vineyard Paso Robles Tablas Hills Cuvee Rouge 1996 ($22): Bright berry fruit and nice earthy undertones in this blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne and Counoise. Tannic and built to last. (Forman)
Joseph Phelps Vineyards California "Le Mistral" 1996 ($27): An interesting wine that blends fresh berry fruit with nice earthy complexities and gutsy ripe tannins. Blended from 45 percent Grenache, 26 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvedre, 9 percent Alicante Bouschet, 5 percent Carignane and 5 percent Petite Sirah. (Forman)
Jaffurs Wine Cellars Santa Barbara County "Cuvee" 1997 ($22): Gushy, grapey and Grenache-driven, with fresh, fruity flavors. The blend is 58 percent Grenache, 25 percent Syrah and 17 percent Cabernet Franc. (Wine Source)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge Sierra Foothills "Tete a Tete" 1997 ($17) Nice purity of flavors with fine texture and a long, balanced finish. (Kysela)
Quivira Vineyards Dry Creek Valley "Dry Creek Cuvee" 1996 ($14): Ripe cherry fruit with light earthy edges and very soft texture. (DOPS)
Cline Cellars California "Cotes d'Oakley" Vin Rouge ($8): A perennial leader in terms of value, showing red berry fruit and full flavor. (Bacchus)
Rabbit Ridge Vineyards California "Allure" 1996 ($9): Rounded and juicy, with soft acidity and ample stuffing. (Constantine)
Cline Cellars Contra Costa County "Small Berry Vineyard" Mourvedre 1996 ($21): Nice minty aromas and powerful, penetrating fruit with very fine tannin. (Bacchus)
Cline Cellars Contra Costa County "Ancient Vines" Mourvedre 1997 ($15): A complete, symmetrical wine with delicious fruit that is rich but well defined and augmented by appealing, earthy flavors. (Bacchus)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge Amador County Mourvedre 1997 ($20): Meaty, plummy flavors with light gamy accents to the deep, fleshy fruit. (Kysela)
Sebastiani Vineyards California Mourvedre 1992 ($19): A few years of additional bottle age help this show interesting earthy, leathery aromas that marry nicely with the blackberry fruit. (Washington Wholesale)
Preston Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Mourvedre 1996 ($24): Medium body with pure fruit, good balance, and fine definition and grip. (Constantine)
Pellegrini Family Vineyards Alexander Valley "Old Vines" Carignane 1997 ($12): A very well-crafted wine with convincing dark berry flavors and impressive balance and symmetry. (DOPS)
Cline Cellars Contra Costa County "Ancient Vines" Carignane 1995 ($15): Pleasantly rough and rustic, with an intense core of blackberry fruit balanced by gutsy tannins. (Bacchus)
Michael Franz will be answering questions live today at noon on washingtonpost.com.