Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Donelan: The Rhone Ranger

For me, it all started with Italy and France. However, as I continue to immerse myself in wine and force myself to explore, I’ve realized that it’s impossible for one person to understand it all. I often feel like I have a gauge on things, only to find myself reeling from a taste of something different. My current work with Snooth has opened my eyes to many new things (a great reason for all of us to explore the unknown). Rhone varieties, outside of the Rhone, have been my focus of late.

If you love Chateauneuf du Pape, Hermitage, Cotie Rotie, or Cotes du Rhone, then you understand my newfound passion. First it was an article about pairing Syrah, where I discovered the 2008 Clos de Gat Syrah Har’El from Israel, a wine that I still think about on a regular basis. Soon I was hunting for Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne and Petite Sirah. This hunt has taken me around Europe, Australia, South Africa, and of course, the United States, where I came upon The Rhone Rangers.

The Rhone Rangers is an organization devoted to the promoting of Rhone Varieties in the United States with almost 200 winery members from California, Oregon, Washington and New York. The list of wineries is impressive and extensive, with names such as Ridge Vineyards, Qupe, Bonny Doon, L’Adventure, and Larkmead filling their ranks.

However, at a recent tasting, the winery that really turned my head is also a new name to me, but a staple in the Rhone Ranger movement; that winery is Donelan. The wines were stunning; they were focused and pure, rooted firmly in the earth, yet with intense fruit and serious depth. Most could use a few years in bottle to truly shine, but all were highly enjoyable and blossomed in the glass. For those of you unfamiliar with Donelan Vineyards, you may recognize them for their previous work under the name Pax Wine Cellars. Joe Donelan and winemaker Tyler Thomas are continuing that legacy, making a selection of Rhone varieties, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from cool climate sights in Sonoma.

These are not over the top, highly extracted and heavily oaked wines either. The Donelan lineup highlighted the terroir of each sight, in many cases including a percentage of stems during fermentation and giving a nod to more traditional winemaking techniques. One fellow taster commented to me that they (Donelan) had dialed it back a bit. If that’s so, I think they may have just hit their sweet spot. If you enjoy the wines of the Northern Rhone, you owe it to yourself to check out Donelan.

On to the wines:

2010 Donelan Venus – The nose showed peach with citrus, spicy floral note and wet mineral stone. On the palate, it was soft and caressing with white fruits and a core of tart apple acidity and minerals. The finish was long and staying with spice notes and citrus fruits. (91 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.

2010 Donelan Cuvée Moriah – This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre impressed me with its rich yet playful personality. On the nose, I found spicy, red and blackberry fruit with a hint of orange peel, mint and floral tones. On the palate, it was intense yet showed pure cherry fruits, herb and spice notes with a savory quality through to the long, staying finish. (92 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.

2010 Donelan Syrah Cuvée Christine – The nose showed dark wild berries, exotic spice and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it had medium weight with a balanced spark of acidity, showing ripe red and black fruits, lavender, hints of pepper and inner floral notes. The long and staying finish revealed hints of this wine’s structure and likely its ability to age. (93 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.

2009 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill – The nose of the Walker Vine Hill Syrah truly draws you in with ripe red and blue fruits, spiced cookie and rosemary. On the palate, it was vibrant, truly exciting the senses, yet rich and dark with flavors of black cherry. The finish was long and showed great balance, as the dark red fruits slowly faded to reveal this wine’s refined structure. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Donelan Syrah Kobler Family Vineyard – In a blind tasting, it would be hard to imagine this wine coming from anywhere other than the Northern Rhone. The nose was intense and savory, showing blackberries with exotic spice, nori, fennel olive and hints of white pepper. On the palate, it started smooth as silk, yet quickly revealed a firm structure with red and black fruits turning tart into the long finish. With a few years’ time, I believe this wine will be glorious. (93 points) Available for sale at Donelan Wines.


  1. Thanks Eric, those notes are beautiful and representative of how we see the wines too!

  2. That's great to hear. I was very impressed, as I'm sure you can tell.

  3. Eric, assume you tasted Donelan at the NY event? Glad you did. We wavered on whether to cancel (I am a RR board member.) and decided not too. It was a bit of a roller coaster, some wineries never got wine, some of us had wine club members bring in bottles, but we persevered and were delighted by the support from the good people of NY & NJ.

    It was my first time pouring (Two Shepherds) in NY and was very pleased.

    Glad you discovered Donelan, Tylers wine's are wonderful.
    To your point, the Rhone Rangers is full of many small, below radar wineries, with MANY of the members under 2k cases.

    Thanks for your support. If you ever visit Sonoma to taste Donelan's look me up and we'll arrange for others too.


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