The varietals originated in Southern France's Rhone River Valley, home to the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation. An adventurous palate is not required to try these wines; they are imminently drinkable, typically food-friendly and well balanced. The blends can be exquisite. But often the wines are crafted in small batches, 100 case lots and less, and are not always widely distributed. 45 wineries will be pouring tastes of more than 200 wines at the event sponsored by the non-profit Rhone Rangers organization dedicated to promoting the stateside versions of Rhone varietals. And yes, there will be food trucks too. Keep reading for highlights.Winemaker Andrew Murray, an early advocate for Rhone varietals on California's Central Coast, will be pouring his 2010 Tous le Jours Syrah, a blend of Santa Ynez Valley and Paso Robles fruit. "We want it to be bright and fruit forward but we also want it to have the typical earthy spiciness you get from Syrah," says Murray of the wine. Rich and indulgent, with smoky characteristics, it is designed to over-deliver at $16 per bottle adds the winemaker. He notes that his Viognier goes best with shellfish--pair with a Slammin Slider oyster po'boy at the tasting.
Search out Tablas Creek Vineyards and their killer 2011 Rosé; the winery began as a partnership with the Rhone Valley's Chateau de Beaucastel. Vine cuttings from France were used to start the vineyard now densely planted with 120 acres of Rhone varietals. Follow that up with a 2010 Grenache Blanc from Epiphany and then dive into the reds such as Paso Robles' Calcareous Vineyards' outstanding 2008 Tres Violet, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache.
Pouring for Stolpman Vineyards (the winery is one of 17 at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto) will be Pete Stolpman; the head winemaker is Sashi Moorman, who trained under The Ojai Vineyard's Adam Tolmach. Not to be missed is Stolpman's 2010 Estate Syrah, softened with 2% Viognier. Moorman contends that Syrah grapes are a natural fit with the winery's Ballard Canyon vineyards.
Not to be missed: Bonny Doon, L'Aventure and Bob and Ethan Lindquist from Qupé. Make time to compare and contrast different wineries and their styles to get the full educational benefit of the afternoon tasting.
Two price levels of tickets are available. Come early (2-3:30 p.m.) via the Backstage Pass ($85) that includes wine and a picnic lunch outside provided by Border Grill, Slammin' Sliders and Coolhaus trucks. The walk-around tasting (3:30-6 p.m.) is $45 per person; food will be also available for purchase. Tickets available online and at the door.