Sawtooth 2007 Viognier

Type: Dry white
Made with: Viognier
Plays well with: Cheese, light sauces, chicken dishes

We’re always on the lookout for grapes in unusual places.  So Michael was pretty stoked when he found the Sawtooth 2007 Viognier from Idaho among the bottles he’d won in a silent auction to benefit the Southern California chapter of the Rhone Rangers. The Sawtooth vineyards are in the Nampa region along the Snake River.  They’re fairly new and there is a lot of interest in finding out what will do well there as time goes on. So keep Idaho on your radar screens and taste whatever turns up from there.

The Sawtooth Viognier had the gold color and floral smell that shouts, “This is a well-made wine.” The nose had traces of melon and no oak – which is good because you don’t usually use oak on viognier. The first taste turned up some nice, light acids which popped up again on the back of the palate. There was melon and some lemony citrus and some white grapefruit in the taste. The finish after swallowing was a good long one – meaning the taste stayed with us for a good twenty seconds – along with a nice hint of creaminess. That’s from some the malolactic fermentation – a secondary fermentation done with red wines and sometimes with whites that turns the malic acid in the wine into lactic acid, the same acid you find in milk, hence the creaminess.

We served the wine with a roasted chicken and it really put the high note on a lovely dinner.

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.

Anglim Winery – What a Kit Hath Wrought



Steve Anglim at Hospice du Rhone 2010

It started somewhat insidiously – with a gift of a winemaking kit one Father’s Day.

“It was god-awful disgusting stuff,” said Steve Anglim, owner and winemaker of Anglim Winery.

But it was enough to get him making wine, eventually leading to the winery, which began in 2002.  Steve and his wife Steffanie Anglim run the place, taking turns pouring at events and running the tasting room in Paso Robles, California, while their younger daughter plays in the back room.

“You have to divide and conquer because there’s so much to do,” Steffanie said.

The winery produces 3,500 cases of mostly Rhone-style varietals, like syrah and viognier.  Steve sources his grapes from several local vineyards but really has no yen to get out and start farming, himself.

“It’s just what you enjoy doing,” he said.  “They’re fundamentally different kinds of work.”

After Anglim’s first winemaking kit failed to produce anything really drinkable, Steffanie encouraged him to see what he could do if he got some good fruit.

“That’s how I met James Ontiveros, from Bien Nacido and others,” Steve said.  “Of course, he would laugh hysterically when I would call and ask for Bien Nacido pinot in the mid-nineties.”

Nonetheless, Steve was not deterred and ramped up his personal production considerably over the next few years, to the point where maybe they had a little too much.

“My friends said they couldn’t drink anymore,” Steffanie said.  “You know, when you’re a home winemaker, you have to give it away.  And we had a lot of it.  So it needed to be either smaller or bigger.”

The final push came when Steve’s employer at the time, Nissan, decided to move its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee, and Steve decided that he didn’t want to go.  It was time to change careers.  As for the old saw about making a small fortune in the wine biz by starting with a big one, well….

“Our mistake was that we didn’t have one of those,” Steve joked.  But, “We’ve been doing it for eight years.  I’m not dead yet.  I’m still here.”

You can find out more about the winery and order wines at their website,

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.

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.

Irish Family Vineyard 2007 Viognier

Type: Dry White
Made: In Calaveras County, California, With viognier grapes
Plays well with: seafood, salads, mild cheeses


The 2007 Viognier from Irish Family comes with the expected florals in the nose – honeysuckle in this case. A grape of the Rhone region wines in France, viognier has an instantly recognizable nose of flowers like honeysuckle or citrus like tangerine peel and also honeyed. A little blended into syrah contributes aromatics to a traditional red wine in the Rhone from France. Viognier is a handy grape to have around.


There is a flinty minerality as well that wasn’t covered by oak because there wasn’t any oak added. Steel fermentation and neutral barrels (barrels that have already given up all their oak flavors) allowed the flavors to concentrate. Crisp acidity gives a cleansing of the palate that plays well with seafood, salads and cheeses.

Due Vigne 2006 Viognier

We picked this one up at Blackwell’s Wines and Spirits during our recent visit to the Bay Area largely on the recommendation of Sara (and pray forgive us, Sara, if we have spelled your name wrong).
By Due Vigne Di Familia in the Napa region, the wine is a class act with 86 percent Viognier, eleven percent Roussanne and a scant three percent of Marsanne, aka a classic blend of three Rhone white grapes. Sara told us that the panel almost passed on the 2006 vintage because they didn’t think it was dry enough.
It was dry enough. The golden color in the glass had a nose of lychee nuts and banana on the first sniff and some citrus on a second smell. There was also some of the honeysuckle aroma. The rich mouthfeel first tasted of anise – licorice or fennel to some – that led into a hint of peach at the back of the mouth. The finish was decent and you could tell they used the oak sparingly.
The best part was that the wine was only ten dollars. You could certainly enjoy this wine buy itself. But try it with a creamy seafood bisque now or grilled scallops next spring. The wine certainly plays well with others and should have that chance. The catch is that at this price, if it’s still in the store, it won’t last.