As a prelude to attending Hospice du Rhone, John Alban invited me to visit him at his vineyard in Arroyo Grande. Now, John’s proud of many things, like his family, his vineyard (located where no one thought it could succeed), and his winery (focused on Rhone grapes that California had ignored prior to his emergence). But a special place in his heart is reserved for Hospice du Rhone, a wine event he founded with Vicki Carroll in 2000, an effort to provide one locale for Rhone producers worldwide and Rhone lovers to convene, kibbitz and drink really great wine. In a future column, I will describe my visit to HdR 2022. But for now, let’s talk about some of the barrel samples John offered me.
2019 Reva (mainly syrah with a hint of viognier), named after his mom. The vineyard is based in the sandstone portion of his acreage. Iodine or oyster shell in taste and strong aromas – John’s vision of what Reva should be now. Tannic, opens up after a bit, dark berry flavor.
2018 Lorraine, a 100% syrah from the California king of syrah. The Lorraine vineyard lot features heavy chalk. The Reva, Lorraine and Seymour’s all have an additional year in barrel than Pandora, resulting in 44-46 months of barrel time for the three. Almost four years of inventory taking up valuable space at the winery. Featuring a delightful bouquet of plum nuances, Lorraine is silky, well-balanced. Still needs a few years to reach potential, but it’s popping now, ready to be bottled in June. But, according to John, you have to wait at least two or three years from bottling for the wine to recover from bottle shock and to be similar to what it was at the time of bottling. Then give it another few years to develop its potential. By the way, Lorraine is John’s Irish bride.
2018 Seymour’s (John’s physician father). There’s not much aroma yet to this syrah, probably will develop with the years. It’s tart on the finish, but outstanding. John describes how Seymour’s is made: “Seymour’s is aged 3.5 years in a mix of new and used French oak barrels after undergoing open top fermentation by its native yeasts; then bottle unfined and unfiltered.”
2019 Pandora, 100% grenache. The name comes from the legend about Pandora, the Greek take on Eve (the first woman) who opened the forbidden box, releasing the horrors that afflict mankind to this day. But the reason John named it Pandora: “What is all too often overlooked is that Pandora shuts the vessel in time to retain one attribute: Hope.”
John says that this is a very feminine wine. Now, John’s a smart dude (you know, Vasser grad and all), but his definition of what constitutes a feminine wine differs from mine. In my conception, a feminine wine features soft, silky, enticing characteristics. Pandora is definitely not that. It’s “a bring you to your knees” wine. It wallops you with major fruit that explodes in your mouth and its thicket of fragrances delight your nose. As John says, “It’s a ‘Look at me’ wine!”
So maybe John means feminine in a different way. Maybe it’s something like what happened to Michael Corleone (from the book and movie, “The Godfather”) when he first saw Apollonia, his future bride. He was hit by a colpo di fulmine, Sicilian for thunderbolt. One of Michael’s companions warns him about this: “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.”
Maybe John’s imagining himself as a 17-year-old youth, seeing a 20-year-old Sophia Loren emerging from the sea when he says “feminine.” I don’t know. But Pandora kicked my butt.
A word to the wise – sign up today for Alban’s waiting list. It may take a few years, but your patience will be rewarded.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.