Lots of worthwhile wine knowledge can be gained from reading up on regions and styles. But it should come as no surprise that the more exciting part of learning is done by putting lips to glass.
I recently had the chance to do some hands-on research of Rhone varietals when Gary Parker, owner and founder of The WineSellar & Brasserie (9550 Waples St., #115) in Sorrento Valley invited me to its monthly "walk around" tasting.
"The Rhone Ranger" event was set up with three tasting areas with eight to nine wines each. I'm no math wizard but I quickly realized we were being offered more than 25 wines.
Upon arriving, tasters were given a packet listing the wines available to try. The lineup included a tantalizing mixture of single varietals, including Syrah, Grenache and even Marsanne, along with well-known blends like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône. What made it even more interesting was offerings weren't limited to French wines but also included wines from Australia, Washington and California, to showcase how these grapes are used all around the world and offered a range of price points from under $20 to just over $80.
I managed to try more than half of the wines while making notes and chatting with other patrons about our favorites; a few were mentioned again and again. Pace Syrah from Santa Barbara, Herman Story "On The Road" Grenache from Paso Robles and Domaine Saint Prefert Châteauneuf-du-Pape all got thumbs up from tasters.
In the end, I went home with Palumbo Family Vineyard's tasty and light Grenache Blanc from Temecula and a Grenache-dominate Vinsobres from Domaine Chaume Arnaud in the Rhone Valley, which held intense, stewed fruit on the nose and a rich, dark fruit flavor.
For those that want to study with their taste buds, The WineSellar & Brasserie features "walk around" tastings each month—plus weekly Wine Wednesday tastings. In August, it will host "Pinot-Con 2016," exploring the world of Pinot and its clones. And several attendees at "The Rhone Ranger" advised me to keep my eye out for the annual "Grande Champagne Tasting" in November with more than 30 Champagnes and other sparkling wines.