Sure, guest love their chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon—classic wines that are easy to drink and easy to say. But as overall interest in wine increases, both operators and customers are seeking out new flavors and options for food pairings.
That hunt frequently leads to the classic grape varieties that originated in France’s Rhône Valley. These include syrah—the backbone of almost all the region’s red wine—and fruit-forward and generally well-balanced white grapes such as vigonier, marsanne and roussane. Sommeliers praise these wines for their food-friendliness and flexibility, as well as for how they can represent great winemaking in many different regions.
The Rhône is known to be home to many versatile wines, says Diana Roderique, sommelier at Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, VA. The creative American cuisine restaurant’s wine list features seven wines made from Rhône varietals by the glass for $12, and a half dozen by the bottle for $33 to $86.
Leading Rhône Regions
A handful of domestic growing areas lead the way in producing affordable and appealing Rhône-style wines—both single-varietal and blended. Eastern Washington state, for one, has been a standout, as has the Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast.
“Paso Robles is definitely the best producer of Rhône varietals in the U.S.,” notes Eduardo Dingler, beverage director at the Napa, CA, location of Morimoto. The Japanese restaurant carries three by-the-glass Rhône offerings, priced from $10 to $15; and 15 by the bottle, priced from $39 to $136. The U.S.-produced wines tend to be “thicker in mouth feel and [have] more fruit” compared with the Rhône wines made in France, he says.
Most of his customers are open to trying the Rhône varietal wines, Dingler notes. It helps that many guests don’t have specific—and potentially palate-limiting—expectations for the flavor and stylistic profiles of wines made from these indigenous Rhône grapes.
“Guests don’t pigeon-hole these into one general style, considering each larger location that grows them is so different,” says Amy Racine, wine director at Sons & Daughters restaurant in San Francisco. Many of these wines also tend to be good value wines, and some of them age well, she notes. Sons & Daughters offers 140 wines based on Rhône varietals, priced from $48 to $150 a bottle, with a rosé by the glass priced at $14.
Another plus: Winemakers across the U.S. are using Rhône varietals, so these wines can be an appealing choice for guests who want to experience or support the local wine industry.What’s more, some French producers have teamed up with their American counterparts, such as Paso Robles’ Tablas Creek and Château de Beaucastel. The French and U.S. winemakers are partnering to share insights, clonal material for grapes and educational programs, which should only enhance the quality of locally produced Rhône varietal wines.