Aspen Times Weekly: The Rhone Wave Crests Again

by Kelly J. Hayes


Graham Hardy, the capable, personable and ubiquitous front of the house manager at Town, had the good fortune of tasting all of the wines in advance and working with the troika of chefs in developing a menu for the tsunami that will be poured. Here is a look at what to expect:

The Premier Course

2014 Kunin Pape Star Blonde

Scallops, green apple kimchee, sticky rice

2nd Course

2013 Petrichor le Grenache

Blood sausage tacos, fig preserves, shishito, cotija

3rd Course

2014 Arnot Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah

“Squab” au von

4th Course

2013 Owen Roe ex umbris Syrah

Eggplant crepes with shawarma spiced pork shoulder, spiced tomato dal

5th course

2013 Villa Creek Willow Creek Cuvee

Colorado lamb roulade, sunchoke purée, braised grilled cabbage

The Finale

Fair trade coffee & tea

Assorted petit fours

$61.80per + tax and gratuity

“It’s a pretty good lineup, huh?”

Chef Mark Fischer of Town restaurant was referring not to the lineup of enormous waves that had rolled into the California Coast the morning I saw him, prompting the start of the Titans of Mavericks surf contest, but rather the lineup of West Coast winemakers who will be rolling into his restaurant in Carbondale on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m.

Fischer was right. The lineup is impressive indeed.

John Salamanski and Penny Devine of CS Wines will bring a cadre of high-quality winemakers, whom the company represents in Colorado, to Carbondale’s Town for a special Rhône Wave wine dinner. It is a traveling carnival as the winemakers hit key Colorado markets back-to-back-to-back, regaling not just the dining public, but also the buying trade with their wines.

“It’s the grapes you want to get to know better,” Devine said about the Rhône-style wines that will be poured at the dinner. “You’ll want to get involved with them.” These are some of the best wines from some of the most innovative winemakers in California and Washington. The states are an emerging mecca for those who love the flavors of these fruit-forward wines made from domestic plantings of grapes that originated in the esteemed French wine region.

In the Cote de Rhône, 22 different grape varieties are sanctioned, and of those, a dozen or so are also grown in the United States. Best known are the red wine grape, syrah; and the white wine grape, viognier. But grenache and mourvèdre are becoming popular amongst the red varieties and roussane and marsanne are also becoming more widely sought out by white wine lovers.

Included will be the wines of Nathan Lee Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers, who make wines under the Arnot-Roberts moniker in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. This past week, Antonio Galloni’s respected website gave off-the-charts reviews of the small lot, single vineyard Rhône-style wines that the pair produce.

Head south and you’ll find a gem of the Paso Robles region in the person of Cris Cherry, who helms the innovative and irrepressible Villa Creek label. Cherry is committed to making wines that reflect a grape and a place, as he farms his vineyards using sustainable organic and biodynamic principles to create wines that exhibit fruit, minerality, earth and soul.

A bit farther down Highway 101 in the Buellton region are the geniuses from the famed Hitching Post winery. Gray Hartley is a late addition to the lineup, replacing Santa Barbara pioneer Seth Kunin and his Kunin wines at the dinner. Though they make some fine Burgundian-style pinot noir at the Post, he will be bringing bottles of the Santa Barbara AVA’s top syrah to the table.

Now, if there is a sweet spot for the replication of wines from the Rhône, it may be that we will find it in the vineyards of Washington State. David O’Reilly, the Yakima, Washington-based vintner who produces a plethora of wines under the Owen Roe label, believes that as well. And his Ex-Umbris syrah is worth the price of admission. Originally produced as a one-time bottling of the 2002 vintage after a wildfire struck the vineyard’s surrounding hillsides, the residual ash and smoke resonated in the syrah grapes, creating a very memorable wine. Year after year, O’Reilly makes this syrah, keeping the tale of the wine alive.

Finally, something new will make its way to Town in the form of the scent of rain on dry earth. That is the literal translation of a new project called Petrichor, pronounced pet-ri-kor, that resides at 1,000 feet up on the ridge of the Mayacamas Mountain range that divides Napa and Sonoma. There, husband and wife Margaret and Jim Foley have planted 8,000 vines of grenache (Alban clone) and two types of syrah clones. Buffeted by the elements and nurtured by the maritime climate, I am told these wines bring energy, if you will. The Foleys first winemaker was none other than Duncan Roberts, who vouched for the project and made the introduction between The Foleys and John and Penny Salamanski which brought them to the Town table.

Now I have never met the Foleys, but I have shared a glass with the other winemakers and spending time with any of them — and their wines — would be worth the price of admission to this special event. I say that because the price of admission is a shockingly affordable $61.80, plus tax and tip. A figure that reflects not just the altitude of the restaurant, but a gross undervaluation of the wines that will be poured.

Oh, and not only will there be wine, there will be a five-course, eclectically driven menu prepared by a triumvirate of Town chefs led by the aforementioned Fischer along with David Eisenson and Justin Kellogg.

Wine dinners can be dull and pedantic. But when the Rhône Wave arrives, the swell is positively intoxicating. These are some of the finest and funniest winemakers on the planet, and sharing their company is exceeded only by sharing their wine.

As the song goes, “Catch a wave and your sittin’ on top of the world.”

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at