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Sonoma County Carlisle Rossi Ranch Grenache rocks the Garrigue

Rossi Ranch in the beautiful Sonoma Valley. 

With the balmy climate, the world-class wines, and the farm-to-fork food culture, Sonoma County can understandably be mistaken for the Mediterranean. In fact, when it comes to wine, Sonoma County stands up to southern French culture quite nicely.

The hot new wine term to know, “garrigue,” didn’t just pop out of the scrubland and brush of southern France yesterday, but fair to say, it’s a relatively new addition to many a wine lover’s lexicon.

It comes from the term for a plant community that’s common in the regions around the Mediterranean where grapes like Grenache happen also to be commonly grown. The idea, whether fact or fancy, is that the wines of the region evoke the earthy, wild herbal aromas of the landscape.

But can wines half a world away in Sonoma County, California be said to smell of garrigue? Absolutely — it’s a Mediterranean climate, after all. The particular character just differs from region to region — or even from a particular vineyard hidden away in the brushy hills like Rossi Ranch, points out Carlisle Winery founder Mike Officer.

Carlisle specializes in searching out nearly forgotten old vineyards like Rossi Ranch, a 108-year-old Zinfandel vineyard that was partly replanted with traditional Rhône varieties earlier this century.

Rossi Ranch, Sonoma Valley, California

“What I love about wines from Rossi Ranch is that they reflect a real sense of place,” says Officer. “When you’re out in the vineyard working all day, there’s a particular aroma from the surrounding vegetation and trees. We call it the ‘Rossi garrigue,’ a slightly resinous, herbaceous aroma,” Officer says, referring to the term often used for wines of the south of France. “That Rossi garrigue can also be found in the wines.”

I certainly found it in the Carlisle 2016 Rossi Ranch Sonoma Valley Grenache ($40). This wine exudes herbal aromas of late summer wild California sage and spicy forest scents, along with nutmeg, graham cracker, and toasted oak. There’s a delicious sensation of raspberry wine to sweeten the palate, yet, like a fragrant tree throwing shade on a summer day, it retains a cooling undertone. This is among the most exciting Sonoma County Grenache-based wines that I have tasted. (It’s scheduled for release in fall 2018).

Before opening the bottle, I planned to prepare a rib eye steak with pesto sauce for dinner. I couldn’t have guessed how exceptionally well the garrigue notes in the wine played with herbal, spicy, homegrown walnut-basil pesto slathered on steak.

Sonoma Walnut Basil Pesto

Sonoma Walnut Basil Pesto

I’d never heard of pesto being employed as a steak sauce (it’s a thing now) when I encountered the pesto-like, parsley-based chimichurri sauce that’s slathered on steak in Argentina. Why not pesto, I thought. I tried it, and loved it. This simple pesto recipe is made with walnuts, the nut tree that’s most often seen in old groves in Sonoma County.

Ingredients

6 shelled walnuts

4 cloves garlic

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper to taste

Fill food processor with ingredients, starting with garlic and walnuts. Pulse processor and then whir until pesto is fine but not pasty, adding olive oil or water if needed. A simply prepared rib eye works well with this, liberally salted and peppered with a dash of chile powder or spicy steak rub, covered and set aside to warm up to room temperature for half an hour.

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