Wine of the Month: Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc

This unique white blend is a fresh taste of a Sonoma County summer.

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Wine of the Month: Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc

Sometimes, it's rewarding to look beyond the old favorites and known standards, to try something new and different — like the Two Shepherds 2015 'Pastoral Blanc' from Saralee's Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

Limitations of Wine Lists

The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention, it seems, has an unfortunate corollary in restaurant wine lists: expediency is the mother of lameness. Popular varietals get top billing, of course: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and perhaps, Merlot — at best, Zinfandel and Rhone varietals get a shot, but all others are relegated to 'alternative reds.

Saralee's Vineyard in Sonoma County

In white wines, the field is even narrower: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and 'alternative whites.' No matter that on their home turf they're not alternatives, but rather the main grape going — and that in Sonoma County, with its varied topography and coastal, yet dramatically differing climatic conditions, the regional grapes of many lesser-known winegrowing areas may prosper as well or better alongside the more popular varietals.

Marsanne and Roussanne are just such peas in that pod. Both grown in the Rhône Valley, they're overshadowed by the famed red Syrah of the northern Rhône and the Grenache-based blends of the south. Yet some of Sonoma County's 'Rhône Rangers' who specialize in red wines like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault can't help but be seduced by the fleshy, orchard-fruit-scented white grapes of the region.

Two Shepherds

Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc wine in Sonoma County

Founded around 2010 by then-wine blogger and still-day-jobber William Allen, Two Shepherds is just such a boutique outfit, creating very small-lot wines in a Windsor business park adjacent a cidery and distillery, and across the way from a craft brewery.

Marsanne and Roussanne are somewhere around ninth and eleventh, in terms of Sonoma County's white grape crush, but don't quote me on those exact numbers — they're liable to change year to year.

Two Shepherds 2015 'Pastoral Blanc' Saralee's Vineyard Russian River Valley ($28) comes mainly from a vineyard planted by the late Richard and Saralee Kunde, who gave many small wineries the opportunity to contract for small lots of fruit from their multi-variety vineyard.

I get the sense that this was aged in neutral barrels, which is true to this boutique winery's style — some early experiments, from other wineries, with these grape varieties fermented like Chardonnay in new oak that overshadowed their charms.

It's got a bit of Viognier and Grenache Blanc, as well. Hints of golden raisin, farmhouse cider add to the charm; honeyed notes of ripe golden apricot fool the palate — the wine is dry and chalky on the finish but also buoyant, filled with the extract these grapes have in abundance (similar to ripe, dry Riesling in that regard). Seafood's a given pairing with this wine — pesto pasta with shrimp did the trick for me.

James Knight