La Motte 2007 Shiraz/Viognier

Courtesy La Motte

Type: Dry red
Made With: syrah and viognier grapes
Plays Well With: Chili and other hearty fare

Shiraz.  Syrah.  It’s the same grape, just a different name.  The Australians made the shiraz term familiar to us in the U.S., and according to La Motte Winemaker Edmund Terblanche, the South Africans are just as likely to say shiraz as not.  Which means the following is going to get a little confusing unless we chose a name and stick with it.  And, by gum, we’re sticking with syrah, since we’ll be referring to the grape as it’s known in both France and South Africa.

So the La Motte 07 Shiraz/Viognier is made with only 9 percent viognier, a white grape known for its flowery nose and soft, fruity flavors.  It’s an old trick in France’s Rhone Valley to ferment syrah with either some skins from the viognier grape that have already been pressed and made into a white wine, or ferment with the actual viognier grapes.  We’re not sure which way Terblanche did it, just that the combination really made this wine come alive.

Usually, viognier smooths out some of the bad boy characteristics of syrah, which can get a little harsh and closed on its own, and in the La Motte wine, the viognier seems to have given the color a nice boost (from a white grape, go figure), not to mention the nose, which is still a little muted and could probably use some exposure to air.

Or, more likely, it could have used some more time in the bottle – since a muted nose can be a symptom of a too young wine.  Funny thing is, the tannins – that drying sensation that gives a wine some structure and ability to age – were a little on the light side, meaning it should probably be drunk sooner rather than later.

This should go really well with a nice, beefy chili that’s not too spicy, and a second glass after dinner should prove interesting, assuming the nose opens up.  With an easy 13.5 percent alcohol, an after-dinner glass of wine is just right.

Guerilla Pouring with Benjamin Spencer



Benjamin Spencer's great viognier

While waiting for the Rhone Rendezvous tasting at the recent Hospice du Rhone wine festival, we started chatting with winemaker and blogger Benjamin Spencer.  You can catch one of his posts here at  He also has a very small boutique winery Leojami – and you can check out their site here


Spencer and Anne were talking about writing about HdR, but then Spencer mentioned that he was about to do a guerilla pouring, as well.

A what?

“Well, basically, it’s just a behind the scenes pouring at public wine events,” Spencer explained.  “You grab your newly-released viognier, in my case, for Leojami, and you put in on ice in your trunk. And you pull it out when everybody else is tasting and you find your friends from Facebook, who you know are soms [sommeliers] at various established resorts and restaurants and wine writers for Wine Spectator, etc.”

But why not just get a table?

“For people like us, we’re only making 400 cases per year,” Spencer said.  “We’re possibly pouring out a substantial amount of our potential profit, it just doesn’t make sense. So, I’m not… I haven’t always been on this side of the law, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m very happy to get out there and work for whoever wants to taste our wines.”

We did get a taste of Spencer’s 2008 Viognier and liked it a lot.  It had the typical viognier flowers in the nose – kind of a honeysuckle thing, but not sweet like honey.  There was some nice food-friendly acidity, and Mike tasted some stone fruits and a hint of citrus, with a medium mouthfeel and no oak.

Jason Haas – Tablas Creek Rosé Heaven

Jason Haas, of Tablas Creek and nice pink stuff

We’re having an insanely good lunch at the Hospice du Rhone on the last day of April – duck confit, goat cheese, roasted veggies (food was catered by The Girl and The Fig, of Sonoma, California), and it’s the rosé lunch, partly sponsored by the Synidcat de Tavel, where they make some of the world’s greatest dry rosés.  Every table had five Tavels to share.

So what does Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Winery, go around and do?  Plops down random bottles of the Tablas Creek 2009 rosé.  Thank you, Jason.  Was that good stuff!  And given that we had the best of an entire region to compare it to, it compared quite favorably.  We can’t say that any one of the wines was better than the others because they were all fabulous.

Anne then got out her trusty voice recorder and caught Haas sitting down for a chat about making rosé.  As he noted, it’s a pretty simple process.

One of the nice things about the rosés is that they’re very straight forward to make,” Haas said.  “You make your decision as to which lots you want to use. You bleed ’em off. You stick them in stainless steel and they’re done three weeks later.”

Well, actually, there are two ways to go.  Keeping in mind that most grape juice is white, red wines and rosés get their color from the grape skins.  Red wines are fermented with the grape skins and the juice.  Juice that becomes rosé sits on the skins for only a day or two.  Then, if that particular batch of wine is only going to be rosé, the grapes are pressed and the pink juice is made into wine.  Or, if the winemaker wants to punch up some of the fruit flavors in a more typical red wine, some of the juice is bled off after a day or two and either tossed (feh) or made into rosé.

So which way do they do it at Tablas Creek?

“It’s actually half and half,” Haas said.  “We have a section of the vineyard that we dedicate to making the rosé. We co-harvest and co-ferment about four rows of mourvedre, grenache and counoise. And use that as the base of the rosé. It’s actually our original nursery block that we planted to get more vines to plant the rest of the vineyard. So that’s the base of the rosé, and then we supplement that with mourvedre and grenache saignées from other lots of the vineyard. [Saignées are]bleed offs from the fermentation.”


The bleeding off, however, is not about the reds, Haas said, “Because we really like rosé. It would honestly make our lives a lot easier if we didn’t have to do it. But we love the rosé so much that we always scour the cellar for lots that we feel like we can bleed a little bit of wine off without making them too intense.”


The result was yummy.  Stay tuned for tasting notes to come.