Tasting Barrels – Blogging Hospice du Rhône

Friday, 5/12 3:00 P.M.  I thought about naming this posting "What?  No Balloons??", as the afternoon tastings at Hospice du Rhone typically feature more balloons than your average political convention.  Along with state-of-the-art media, they create a festive mood in synch with the overall HdR theme.  This year we had high-tech wizardry in spades – lots of large, flat-panel screens projecting not only the featured auction items (many available for barrel tasting only at this afternoon’s event), but candid shots of the characters in attendance.  But no balloons. 

I abandoned that idea after realizing the balloons were not missed, their absence overshadowed by the mass anticipation of tasting wines not normally available – whether previews of the wines for Saturday’s auction or Library wines long gone from retailer’s shelves.

I debated with myself about how to highlight this tasting for you.  At first I thought it would be difficult to share my experience without simply listing all the wines I tasted and the create tasting notes for those deemed worthy of putting finger to keyboard.  Other sites do that quite well, and the market needs so many things before adding one more opinionated voice to the chorus.  Further, I reasoned, why bother reviewing wines that we don’t carry, or that are difficult to find anywhere in the marketplace?

I raised good points, but my internal editor countered with the indisputable question "What payoff would there be if the highlight of this post was a paragraph about the lack of balloons?!"  So here for the curious are some of my favorites from the 40+ wines I tasted over the course of two hours.


Lnav_logo Renard, 1999 Syrah, Timbervine Vineyard. This is the sort of winery I like – small production, hand-crafted, and passionate enough to bet the mortgage that they can make a go of it in this crazy business.  Producing just over 2,000 cases, including a number of Syrahs, their 1999 Timbervine Vineyard Syrah (originally $35) was one of my favorites of the day.  In a sea of deep, dark and dense Syrahs all clambering to outshout the last, this elegant, spicy Syrah was notable by its softness.  Of course, 6 years of bottle age makes the boldest of tannic monsters simmer down a peg or two, but I have a feeling this one was more on the elegant side when it first went into the bottle.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vignerons & Rhone Vignobles – various producers.  Tasting these wines relative to their domestic counterparts is the perfect showcase for anyone who still doubts whether different vineyards produce different flavors – not only was each wine distinct, one from the other, but their contrast with the domestic producers was even more dramatic – more earth, barnyard, and spice, less hot fruit.  This entry is something of a tease, however, as I was unable to get through the crowds to taste a significant percentage of these wines and the event ran out long before my patience.

Edmundsstjohn_2001californiasyrah Edmunds St. John, 1987 & 1995 California Syrah – this man is simply genius.  While I find his whites tire easily, his reds have one foot in the old world and one in the new world and Steve has earned the deep respect of Rhone producers from both areas.  His red wines are textbook examples of wines I’d like to have every day.  If I can ever get Steve to sit still long enough to talk, you’ll see his wines available in our online store.  (Note, label at left does not match the vintages shown, but the design has not much changed)

Tablascreek_espritblanc03_label Tablas Creek 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc – Caveat.  I’ve been a fan of this producer for a long time, and this was not a blind tasting.  As such, it is impossible to taste these wines without bringing pre-conceived notions of their past flavor profile.  There.  That said, Tablas Creek wines, particularly their whites, express a most beautiful, complex mineral flavor that they attribute to their limestone vineyards (photo below is my best attempt to show a soil sample taken from their estate vineyard a year ago – click to enlarge). Tablas_creek_limestone Best as food wines, or as wines to pour for those who really like to jump into the glass and figure out what’s going on.  Our "Maya’s Selections" subscribers can look forward to Tablas Creek wines in an upcoming shipment.


  • Anything from John Alban, if you can find it and afford it!
  • Linne Calodo, ditto
  • Big Basin Vineyards – we predict this tiny Santa Cruz producer is one to watch

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