Hospice du Rhone: An Embarrassment of Riches

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Chloe Asseo-Fabre of L’Aventure

If you’re new to wine or just want to see several producers all at once and not have to buy dozens of bottles, then I prescribe you going to a wine festival. There are several different types.

For instance, coming in early March annually is the World of Pinot Noir – a great opportunity to explore more than a hundred variations on making pinot noir wine. Or Wine Spectator hosts its Grand Tour, a chance to sample numerous types of wine from all over the world. 

Or, if you want to compare and contrast Old World vs. New World on how they treat the same grape varieties, then Hospice du Rhone (aka HdR) is for you. It’s held every other year in Paso Robles. The next one is April 2024. 

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Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solene.

The wine region in France known as Rhone allows for the cultivation and bottling of 22 different grapes, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre, viognier, roussanne, and 17 others, such as some rather obscure ones like ugni blanc or counoise. 

HdR gathers some of the top American producers of Rhone-variety wines like Saxum, Alban, Clos Solene, Epoch and Tablas Creek. 

French luminaries also attend, including Guigal, Chateau de Beaucastel, Chene Bleu and several others.  

Consequently, for the price of one ticket, you can sample bottles that collectively would easily exceed $10,000. 

I went to the HdR held last year. Held outside, the venue was awash with red and white wines from around the world.

In this column, I will tell you about some of the American wines I tasted.
In the next one I will focus on the French wines offered at HdR.

Let’s begin with one of my favorite transplanted French winemakers, Guillaume Fabre, owner and winemaker at Clos Solene, a Paso Robles institution.

He was pouring the 2020 Hommage Blanc, a roussannne white with a touch of viognier and grenache blanc. Dry and bracing, it’s a perfect wine for grilled salmon.

Also from Clos Solene was the 2016 Harmonie, a blend of grenache and mourvedre. Guillaume calls it his “ode to my French heritage and old-world roots.” It’s beautiful. Dark red with aromas of a forest after a rain, it features flavors of dark berries, leather and tobacco. 

I then had some wine from L’Aventure, the product of another French immigrant, Stephan Asseo.

There’s actually a connection between L’Aventure and Clos Solene beyond the fact that both wineries are owned by Frenchmen.

Pouring L’Aventure’s wines was Chloe Asseo-Fabre, Stephan’s daughter, who happens to be married to Guillaume’s brother, Arnaud.

L’Aventure’s offerings included the 2016 For Her, a combination of syrah, graciano and viognier, which sees 40% new French oak and 60% 1-year old French oak.

This makes for an outstanding Rhone, well-balanced with strong but not potent pepper notes. 

And then Saxum. Almost enough is said just with the name, that’s how powerful its reputation is.

My favorite was the 2018 Hexe, one of Justin Smith’s wines that sees an extra year in barrel, a blend of several grapes, grenache, mataro (another name for mourvedre), graciano, syrah and petite sirah.

While it’s still quite young (showing tremendous aging potential), it’s clear that it’s a star. Completely different from the other Saxum wines, it has a reticent nose but the tastes are right there – blueberry, plum, spices and tobacco.  

My next favorite from Saxum was the 2019 G2 Vineyard, a similar blend as Hexe but without the petite sirah. It features dark, red fruit, thick, heavy berry and delightful aromas. A reviewer on CellarTracker described it as “a showstopper, wild and exotic.” Can’t say it better.  

Next up, the French offerings from France (as opposed to those French guys in Paso).

Dedicated to the pursuit of exceptional wines