Embracing the Rhone Rangers

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 06-10-2014

rhone_rangers_bannerAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I  contend that Americans are growing increasingly comfortable with Rhone varieties like Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.

Embracing the Rhone Rangers

“Raise your hand if customers regularly come in and ask for a good Cabernet.”

I recently issued this directive to a group of 40 sommeliers, retailers, and other wine industry insiders from across Washington, D.C. Unsurprisingly, just about every hand shot up.

I quickly spoke again. “Raise your hand again if customers frequently come in and ask for a good Chardonnay.” Again, just about every hand went up.

“Now,” I continued, “raise your hand if a single customer has asked for Grenache or Mourvedre in the past month.” Not a single hand went up.

“What about Carignan? Piquepoul?” While several attendees chuckled, no hands were raised.

The 40 industry insiders had gathered to explore the market’s support for the 22 grape varieties that hail from France’s Rhone Valley. Several dozen wine producers from across the United States who embrace these varieties were in town, so I moderated a panel discussion among eight of them.

I opened with this thought experiment to illustrate how gutsy it is to focus on unusual varieties. Sure, oenophiles recognize that one can only drink so much Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. But the average consumer is unfamiliar with — and intimidated by — Rhone varieties like Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.

I left with the distinct feeling that things are changing, fast.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Comments (3)

  1. Isn’t it likley that in 20-30 years time we’re going to be having this conversation only in the other direction? Instead of the rise of Rhone wines we’ll be talking about going back to our roots with Cabs, Chards, and Pinot Noirs.

    I don’t disagree that there is a hesistation for consumers to branch out to unknown grapes, but I feel that we’re going to start the swing one way, only to have it come back again. Just my 2 cents.


  2. Based on my experience just moving down here to DC from Northern California and being from New York before that its a bit shocking to me just how conservative the wine scene is down here. It saddens me that basically the whole “New California” and Oregon are almost totally missing from the scene here and at retail level almost not at all. I am frankly stumped at the reticence of some of the better retailers who sell some fairly cutting edge european wine still sell the only the same players from the west coast.. and included in that is almost all the really exciting stuff going on with Rhone Varieties. Of course I am generalizing.. but its pretty dire. I hope it changes and fast.

  3. Oh and to Jonathan.. its not a matter of going back to the other older favorites, its a matter of exploring across the board, not trends going back and forth.