Meeting a Rhone Ranger
Making a virtue out of the reality that his wines and winery aren't exactly household names ... yet ... the amiable Paso Robles wine producer Mat Garretson headlines his eponymous winery's Website with the chuckling observation, "... Well, we've never heard of you, either."
But Mr. Garretson, a former wine retailer and restaurateur from Atlanta who is now a respected producer of Rhone-style wines in California's Paso Robles, is well worth getting to know ... and so are his wines.
"The fact that Paso Robles has emerged as the state's leading 'Rhône Zone' can be attributed in no small measure to Mat Garretson," the Website adds, noting that he had long been a fancier of the familiar Syrah, "but it was his introduction to Viognier that opened his eyes to the entire spectrum of this exotic family of grape varieties. 'In 1983, a fellow retailer gave me a bottle of wine labeled "Condrieu" as a birthday present,' recalls Garretson. 'I wasn't too impressed ... until I opened the bottle.' That bottle sparked an obsession so complete that Garretson is often referred to as 'Mr. Viognier' by his fellow winemakers."
As an occasional participant in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, I've known Mat as an online acquaintance when he was working at Wild Horse Winery while growing grapes and making a little wine on the side, years before he started his own winery on April Fool's Day, 2001.
As is typical of small wineries, Garretson's products have spread only spottily around the marketplace, and it was just the other day that I made my first sighting of a Garretson wine in Louisville. Naturally I snapped it up, and although this single-vineyard Viognier is not one of his more widely available bottlings, I'd like to share a report on it with you today, along with the advice that any wine from Garretson's portfolio is well worth a try.
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Garretson 2001 Vogelzang Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley "Table 62" Viognier ($16)
This clear, bright-gold wine breathes intense scents of orange blossom borne on heavy cream, nostalgically evoking childhood memories of Dreamsicles. Full, bold fruit flavors blend orange peel and lemon-lime with a distinct note of toasted coconut. It shows its 14.2% alcohol with a big, mouth-filling and warm mouthfeel, with orange and coconut lingering in a very long finish. Put through full malolactic fermentation and aged for eight months on its yeast lees in "neutral" oak barrels, it's not a wine for those who seek a delicate Viognier; but it handles its heady alcohol and abundant fruit with deft balance in a memorable if idiosyncratic wine. (Sept. 3, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: It made a stunning match with a dish invented to match, thin-pounded pork loin rolled around prawns and caramelized onions and accented with a quick wasabi cream sauce. (Watch Thursday's Wine Advisor FoodLetter for the details.)
VALUE: It was originally priced at $30 at the winery, so the $18 sale price I paid (at The Wine Market in Louisville) made it an excellent value, particularly in the pricey realm of quality California Viogniers. Garretson's wines in general are not cheap, but worth it, with the whites commanding $25 to $30 and the reds $30 to $45 at the winery.
WHEN TO DRINK: In theory, Viognier isn't a good wine for aging. In practice, this one is holding up very well indeed after three years, surely carried by its high alcohol and big fruit. Still, best to enjoy it over the next year or two while it's so boisterously fruity, rather than risk it falling out of balance with age.
WEB LINK: Garretson's Website is easy to navigate, once you get used to turning your head sideways to read its vertically aligned menu choices; it's loaded with information about the winery, the wine maker and his wines, and offers E-commerce and Wine Club sales where the law permits:
For the winery fact sheet on the "Table 62" Viognier, including the romantic story behind its name, see
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The Garretson Website includes both E-commerce and information on distributors in the U.S., Canada and Japan. Also, you can review vendors and prices for Garretson wines at Wine-Searcher.com,
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004