Rhone Blend wine tasting dinner: A great dinner-party format

Penfolds Grange Bin 95 2005
Vicky and I love drinking multiple wines blind and side-by-side while trying to identify what grapes their from and the region where they were produced. While living in California last winter we frequently drank California Rhone blends, blind and side-by-side with French Rhone blends. It was great fun and we really became pretty good at identifying the differences between “New World” and “Old World” Rhone blends. So when we returned to North Carolina we decided to have a wine tasting dinner party featuring Rhone blends from different parts of the world and included a bottle of Penfolds Grange we bought in Australia last year.

The tasting format was simple; we drank four or five wines at a time and each guest was given a listing of where the wines (with bottles covered) were produced. As we sipped the wines we all talked about what we tasted in the wine and where we thought each wine was from. The wines1. were grouped into two tastings, the first group were priced between $35 and about $100 and included wines from California (Melville Sta. Rita Hills Syrah 2013), Northern Rhone (Domaine Alain Voge Cornas Les Chailles 2012), Provence (Domaine Trevallon 2004) and South Africa (Mullineux Swartland Syrah 2013); the second group were more expensive and were from Australia (Penfolds Grange Bin 95 2005), California (Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit De Tablas 2013 and Glos Saron Black Pearl 2007), Northern Rhone (Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 2013) and Southern Rhone (Chateau de Beaucastel Chateaunuf-Du-Pape 1990).

Before we began the dinner we had four wines and an assortment of Murrays goat, sheep and cow cheeses. While in California we discovered the Ralph’s Grocery Store in Malibu had a cheese shop that carried a huge assortment of Murrays cheeses and we brought home as much as we could pack in soft insulated bags. We’re really into pairing cheese and wine…but that’s another story and some future posts. For this appetizer course we selected a range of white wines that would be good with the cheese. These included: Domaine Monier Viognier 2013, Domaine Du Bagnol Cassis Rose 2015, Domaine Faury Saint Joseph white 2011 and Domaine Huet Vouvray Petillant Brut 2010.

The dinner menu consisted of roast leg of lamb, hasselback potatoes, green beans with caramelized onions and walnuts and roasted cauliflower salad with roasted red peppers, red onion, black olives, celery and parsley that pared very well with the Syrah and blended wines. The first group of five wines were very similar and the tasting results were really quite interesting. It was VERY difficult to even identify which was a “New World” wine, let alone where it was from because they were so similar. When everyone had given their “guess” for each one the bottles they were uncovered and not surprisingly none of us identified them all correctly…in fact most of the tasters only matched one wine with the its correct origin.

The second group included four wines that were more classic tasting, as a result most people matched each covered bottle with its location. These were all OUTSTANDING wines, but it is also interesting to note that the two wines most people listed as their favorite were the Hermitage and the Grange. I was especially surprised that the Grange was at the top because of its reputation of being over rated and over priced. Even setting its’s outrages cost aside, it really was a very special wine!!! See our review of Penfold Grange Bin 95 2005

The dessert was simple, an assortment of Murrays blue cheeses, fresh slices of apples & pears and dried apricots with Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac 2009…which all by itself was a fantastic pairing experience and a perfect dessert for our Rhone blend wine dinner. See our review of Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac 2009

In the end we would like to echo what we said about our Bordeaux wine tasting dinner, good food, good wine and good friends always go well together and can make a simple occasion very special. Adding the blind tasting element to your dinner party increases the wine experience by sharing and broadening each others knowledge of wine. Tasting dinners like this can be just as successful with $10 wines as $100 wines, and the blind tasting/dinner format can fit any budget. If you have’t done it, give it a try…you, and your guests will not be disappointed!!!

1. Wine shops where the wines were purchased

    The Caviste Wine Shop; Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
    Manhattan Wine Company; New York, New York.
    Vintage Cellars; Perth, Australia.