Two Shepherds, Two Philosophies, One Great Wine

William Allen in action
William Allen in action

It’s kind of a long story why this particular post got kicked repeatedly to the back burner when we actually tasted William Allen’s awesome syrahs last June at a Rhone Rangers tasting event. The Rhone Rangers is an advocacy group touting wines made in the style of France’s Rhone Valley. Rhone-style wines usually mean syrahs, mourvedres and grenaches or a blend of those three also known as GSM.

Allen’s wines, under his label Two Shepherds, really stood out because while the syrahs were nice and meaty, they were also well-balanced and smooth, unlike several of the other wines we tasted that day. But what makes Allen even more interesting is that he is not a full-time winemaker. He works a day job as an engineer to pay the bills while building his winemaking business.

“I don’t have much of one,” he joked about his life. “The most challenging time of year is harvest.”

And given that he’s leased blocks of grapes from seven different larger vineyards in five different counties, you can imagine he’s putting in some very long hours when it’s time to bring the grapes in. He also works with a custom crush facility, Inspiration Vineyards and Custom Crush.

But it works for him for the time being. He told us that he doesn’t have to put in the huge overhead most wineries require to do business for winemaking facilities, vineyards, storage and bottling equipment.

“It’s all money in advance,” he said.

The Two Shepherds are the two goals Allen works toward. One is Shepherding the Palate – Allen is also an active wine blogger and works actively with the Rhone Rangers to promote Old-World style wines. That usually means wines that are more balanced and subtle than many of the traditional California-style wines. The second shepherd is Shepherding the Grape – using minimal intervention to make his wines, including native fermentation (not adding yeast to get the sugars in the wine to ferment), and doing little more than protecting the wine from harm as it goes through the various processes on the way to us, the consumers.

The only problem is that he doesn’t really have a tasting room, but he will make appointments to taste at the Sheldon Winery in Santa Rosa, California. You can also buy his wines on the website

Rideau 2007 Mourvedre

Type: Dry red

Made With: the mourvedre grape

Plays Well With: Hearty meats, such as herbed leg of lamb.

Call the mourvedre grape the stinky cheese of the wine world.  While it’s a good, hearty wine that does pair well with strong cheeses, like they do about some cheeses, folks will complain about funk in the nose or taste.  Which is probably why it’s getting more and more common to see US. wines blended with the lighter grenache and fruitier syrah – the GSM you sometimes see on labels – like they do in the Rhone valley of France.

But you’re just as likely to find it bottled as a single variety wine, like this one from Rideau Vineyard.

The nose is a combination of rose petals and a hint of leather which can be one way to describe the “French funk” as it is known. But the nose is only hiding some good fruitiness and some herb flavors such as sage and mint. That may not sound very tasty for a wine, but then, this wine needs to be drunk with food on the plate, such as an herb-roasted leg of lamb or some other hearty fare that will play off some of the herbs and other flavors in the wine. While some mourvedres are made with lots of fruit and can be served as cocktails, this specific model from Rideau is not of them and that is a very good thing indeed.

Tablas Creek 2009 Rosé



Courtesy Tablas Creek Vineyards


Type: Dry rosé
Made with: Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise
Plays well with: duck, figs, cheese, nuts and picnic fare.

Let’s be clear.  This is not a sweet wine.  Alas, US rosés, in particular, have that bad rep from the cheap box wines that were so popular in the 1960s and ’70s.  But this ain’t your daddy’s Lancers.  The Tablas Creek 2009 Rosé was pink, as in the color a fresh rosé should have. The nose was fruity with watermelon and strawberry, and the fruitiness continued into the taste, even though it is very dry without any residual sweetness. It also had that yummy, thirst-quenching cleansing effect on our palates.  Alcohol was a decent fourteen and half percent.

Keep in mind, we drank this at the Hospice du Rhone Rosé Lunch, along with about five other Tavels – rosés from the Tavel region of France, near the south of the Rhone Valley.  The Tablas Creek rosé stood out among the Tavels because it was more fruit forward.  But that’s the California style. And did we say it was dry?  It is.  Really.

You can find out more Tablas Creek Vineyard at their website,

Tablas Creek 2006 Cotes de Tablas


Courtesy Tablas Creek Vineyards

Type: Dry Red
Made: In Paso Robles, California with grenache, syrah, mourvedre, counoise grapes
Plays well with: Slightly spicy beef dishes, anything laced with garlic.

With Tablas Creek Vineyard GM Jason Haas one of the honchos behind the Rhone Rangers and Hospice du Rhone, you think maybe he and his family are into Rhone-style wines?  Like the winery’s portfolio is based on these food friendly wines of the Rhone valley of southern France.  The Cotes de Tablas is a typical Rhone-style blend of syrah, mourvedre and counoise built on a foundation grenache. The nose is full of dark bramble fruit – think blackberry – with a hint of cedar. Taste it, and the nose comes through with the same flavors and a nice medium-weight mouthfeel.

The wine also felt a tidge warm in the mouth – like a lot of “hot” or high-alcohol wines, which was kind of odd because it wasn’t particularly heavy on that end at 14.8 percent, and the wine was otherwise balanced.  So it may have been a fluke and the wine was very tasty in spite of the warmth.

This is a good food wine and can stand up to some spiciness, maybe a Steak au Poivre (which is the steak with the black pepper) or Pepper steak (which is the steak with bell peppers).  The wine might even be a candidate for the Ultimate Garlic Experience – take a garlic-stuffed olive, eat it and knock back the wine over it.  Wow!

You can get the Cote de Tablas through the winery at

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.

Rounding Up the Paso Rhone Rangers

Well, we’re back home and mostly recovered from checking out the 30-odd wineries present at the 2010 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience, which happened this past Sunday.

It was a particularly good day for us. We caught up with some old friends, discovered a new-to-us boutique winery and that’s before we got to the event tasting!

The Rhone Rangers is a national education and advocacy group of about 200 wineries and other folks dedicated to educating the wine-buying public about wines made from the 22 varieties of grapes that come from France’s Rhone Valley. The principal grapes are syrah, grenache and mourvedre on the red side, with viognier, roussanne and marsanne on the white. The wine we Californians are producing do tend to heavier and fruitier than, say, a Chateauneuf du Pape (one of the major producing areas in the Rhone Valley, it’s pronounced shah-toe-nerf doo pop and means the Pope’s new castle).

But one of the things we’re getting excited about is that more and more wineries are working toward developing a food-friendly style that’s closer to the original French style. And we certainly saw that at Sunday’s event, put on by the Paso Robles chapter of the Rhone Rangers.

Imagine two rooms, with tables ringing the walls, and behind each table is someone from a winery pouring wine into your glass and trying to talk over the noise in the room and answer questions, while you’re trying to balance a wine glass, your notepad and pen, and… It’s a real blast.

We did get in on a press pass because these events are about selling wine and introducing people to some of the smaller wineries that are not as easily found on the magic maps. As for who we tasted, well, we’ll be posting those over the next few weeks. But if you want to check out the Rhone Rangers, click here for their website. And, no, we did not taste all the offerings, nor can we get to every event out there. Our livers would never forgive us.

Chateau d’Aqueria 2007 Rose Tavel

The good folks at Blackwell’s wines and spririts were featuring Chateau d’Aqueria 2007 Tavel when we wandered in there a couple months ago. The winery is one of the oldest in the Tavel region of France’s southern Rhone region (French wines being labeled after where they’re grown and made rather than by the grapes in them, with each region using basically the same grapes to make the wine, anyway, so a Bordeaux is always going to have cabernet sauvignon and merlot in it, no matter who in Bordeaux made it). Tavel is best known here in the States – when you can find it – for its dry rosés.

We at OBG love well-made rosé. We love drinking it and we love making it. Rosé, when made dry, is a fun wine full of fruit and ready to drink with all kinds of foods, from ham to cheese to more strongly-flavored fish to just about anything too strong for a white, but not heavy enough to compete with a red.

Modern commercial winemakers will sometimes bleed off some of the freshly crushed juice of red wine grapes to concentrate the color, aroma and flavors in the remaining skins and juice. But good winemakers would never dump the stuff they bled off. Good winemakers use it to make rosé – fermenting it until it’s nice and dry and crisp.

The label on the Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel just listed the blend of grapes that went into it: Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Borboulenc, but alas, not what percentage of which. That the grapes are listed on the label at all is in consideration of the U.S. market.

The blackberry nose and other red fruits opened up to some spiciness in the mouth and a light mouthfeel that cleansed the palate with nice, dry tanins.

Three things you need to know about rosés. The first is that they are meant to be drunk young and are not to cellared. The 2007 Tavel seems to be doing well. The second thing is that many roses are small productions and supplies can be limited. The final thing you need to know is that Blackwell’s was selling the Tavel for twelve dollars and we figure it probably didn’t last at that price. That being said, the folks there are so great, we’re sure they’ll find something just as good at just as good a price.

Halter Ranch 2006 GSM

hrgsmGSM is shorthand – 1980s Australian shorthand –  for a classic Rhone blend of three grapes – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The basic formula will vary from year to year as one grape stands out over the others. The 2006 contains 45 percent grenache, 33 percent syrah and 22 percent mourvedre. The nose is full of cedar, cherries and berry fruit. The fruits are dry in the mouth with no residual sweetness but lots of flavor and acids that show off the brightness of the grenache and yet allows the spiciness of the syrah to display itself on the back of the palate.
The syrah is the part that would make this a great wine for a steak au poivre – steak with a pepper sauce. As great as this wine is right now, it can lift the gloom of a winter’s night alongside a stew or a standing rib roast.  Try it instead of a cabernet sauvignon. The Halter Ranch GSM should age nicely over the next several years if you can’t decide on the perfect occasion.

Carmichael Sur Le Pont 2005 Monterey County

surlepont_revised_chivalryWhile the Carmichael Sur le Pont is not technically an oddball bottle of wine.  The fact that it is made up of 80 percent syrah means it can be legally called a syrah, and that’s hardly oddball these days.  But that other 20 percent of lesser known grapes adds something really special to the final product. We promise tastings of grenaches, mouvedres and carignans in the future. But for now they are all present in the 2005 Carmichael Sur Le Pont, with 14 percent mouvedre, 5 percent carignan and 1 percent grenache.
These are all Rhone varietals, meaning they are largely grown in and inspired by the winemaking in the fertile valley surrounding the Rhone River in France. Unlike the five Bordeaux grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc), there are 22 grapes grown in the Rhone Valley, so you can just imagine all the possible blends. Where do we start? Right here!

The wine Sur le Pont is named after the French children’s tune “Sur le pont D’Avignon,” or On Avignon’s Bridge, Avignon being one of the primary cities in the Rhone (and also more infamously known as the base for a series of Roman Catholic popes/non-popes, who during the Middle Ages tried to take over).

The wine has the nose of blackberries and cola. The taste has some dry fruit, but it’s not jammy.  Instead the wine is lightweight in the mouth without being cloying or burning with excessive alcohol.  In fact, at 14.3 percent, it’s almost a lightweight compared to the hot (high in alcohol) syrahs that are often made today.  This makes it an excellent companion to meat off the summer grill or winter stews of lamb or beef. The acids keep the palate stimulated and can handle sauces that are not spicy or terribly sweet – a mushroom gravy comes to mind.