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Donkey and Goat Four Thirteen 2009
They make their wines for the table not the cocktail glass. They make Rhône varietals in both colors plus an atypical Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir true to the varietals nature, striving to make wine as naturally as possible and done so since day one.
Originally a source of oenological sustenance for gold-seeking miners of the mid-1800s, the Sierra Foothills was the first region in California to produce wines from European grape varieties. Located between Sacramento and the Nevada border, this area’s immigrant settlers chose to forgo growing the then-ubiquitous Mission grape and instead brought with them superior vines from the Old World to plant alongside mining camps.
Zinfandel has been the most important variety of this region since its inception, taking on a spicy character with brambly fruit and firm structure. Amador and El Dorado counties, benefiting from the presence of volcanic and granite soils, are home to the best examples. Bold, robust Rhône blends and Barberas are also important regional specialties.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of spice, Rhône red blends originated in France’s Southern Rhône valley and have become popular in Priorat, Washington, South Australia, and California’s Central Coast. In the Rhône itself, 19 grape varieties are permitted for use, but many of these blends, are based on Grenache and supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre, earning the nickname “GSM blends.” Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are perhaps the best-known outposts for these wines. Other varieties that may be found in Rhône blends include Carignan, Cinsault, and Counoise.
In the Glass
The taste profile of a Rhône blend will vary according to its individual components, as each variety brings something different to the glass. Grenache, which often forms the base of these blends, is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit, a plush texture, and often high levels of alcohol. Syrah supplies darker fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy, and meaty notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume as well as body, tannin, and a healthy dose of color. New World examples will lie further along the fruit-forward end of the spectrum, while those from the Old World taste and smell much earthier, often with a “barnyard” character that is attractive to many fans of these wines.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. Depending on the weight and alcohol level, these can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes—they play equally well with beef, pork, duck, lamb, or game. With their high acidity, these wines are best-matched with salty or fatty foods, and can handle the acidity of tomato sauce in pizza or pasta. Braised beef cheeks, grilled lamb sausages, or roasted squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the Rhône red blend—for example, in Australia’s Barossa Valley, Shiraz is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to add structure, tannin, and a long finish. Grenache-based blends from Priorat often include Carignan (known locally as Cariñena) and Syrah, but also international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, anything goes, and it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, or even Tempranillo make an appearance.