Rhone wines with hard to sell names already have a New World home thanks to the Rhone Rangers of California

Bonny Doone Vineyard 2009 Central Coast Contra Old Vine Field Blend is a great example.

I wrote yesterday a paen to a French wine blend, Domaine Aime 2010 Minervois, which I believe could be equaled in Sonoma County. But I said I thought it would be a really tough sell, offering two or three (overcomeable)  reasons.

This morning’s The New York Times, reviewing a dozen “great” American wines under $20, gives welcome space to wines and regions pretty much new to average folks in America.

And one of them is Randall Grahm’s Contra blend of largely Rhone grapes which he prices at $16. I’d forgotten about his decades-long dedication to those varieties with the “strange” names I listed in my note on the Minervois, yesterday. Grahm and some friends call their special marketing venture the mission of The Rhone Rangers. Grahm is especially noted for his Cigare Volente — the name a send-up of the name of a famous Rhone blend. Bonny Doone is located in the Santa Cruz mountains, by the way. Most of the Rhone Rangers, I think, are working on the North Coast.

“Old vine field blends” are enjoying something of a surge of interest among some winemakers and “oenoscenti.” In coastal Central California, as in coastal Northern California, early vineyards were established by Italians and other European immigrants who planted intermixed vines. They consciously distributed vines to make it possible to grow and harvest, in special spots, the varieties that live harmoniously in finished bottles like the Rhone blends I’m writing about.

The fruit thus is blended in the field. It can be less costly — and somehow more spiritually harmonious — than the modern practice of making a separate batch of each varietal, testing the developing blend for taste and balance, then putting this “cellar blend” into bottles.

The Times says Grahm’s Contra blend is built upon 55 percent Carignane (contra the practice of the French, who limit the Minervois to 40 percent Carignan). The 2009 field blend turns out also to have Grenache, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Syrah in the bottle, as in the vineyard. (Remember, Petite Sirah and Syrah are two entirely different varietals.)

Contra “is dry, fruity and harmonious” (just like the Minervois from France, I’d say) “with a streak of licorice,” writes Eric Asimov. If there’s licorice, it’s probably from the Zinfandel — or at least it would be if the Zin had come from the North Coast, where anise roots vie for  below-ground root space with our typical Zinfandel. I didn’t find licorice in the Minervois, but I  did find something a bit unexpected like, perhaps, cassis.

So: the new, also not-new, American Languedoc, American Rhone — California’s North and Central Coasts? Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.