In our last issue, we embarked on an exploration of the diversity of Paso Robles wines. Now, we continue the journey.
The only thing “halfway” about Paso Robles wine country is its location: in the heart of California’s Central Coast, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In fact, Paso Robles is a hotbed for innovation. Its winemaking community is a synergistic mixture of multi-generational farmers, experienced vintners pursuing new pastures, and renegade individuals willing to bend the rules. In Paso Robles, vintners try the untried, plant the unproven and, as a result, produce some pretty amazing wines.
Although it originated in Spain, Grenache Blanc goes by a French name, perhaps because it is France’s fourth most widely planted white grape. In Paso Robles, it’s a natural, because the wide diurnal swing of hot day to cool nighttime temperatures promote the grape’s richness and crisp acidity. In fact, nearly one-third of all vineyard acres planted to Grenache Blanc in California hail from this area. Many Paso Robles winemakers use Grenache Blanc as a blending component as well as a stunning single varietal.
GENERAL TASTING NOTES Green apple, mineral, peach, melon, hint of spice, lingering finish
SUGGESTED PAIRINGS Herb roasted chicken, pork chops, pungent cheese, melon, mint
TRY 2011 Halter Ranch Grenache Blanc; 2012 Sextant Grenache Blanc; 2009 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc
Born in France, in the Bordeaux, Sancerre, and Pouilly regions of the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc is a true expression of its soils and climate. In Paso Robles, the soils (often chalky and rich in limestone and calcium composites) yield bright, aromatic wines with
pleasing minerality, tropical notes, an amazing complexity of flavors, and an acidic component that makes the varietal very compatible with food. Paso Robles Sauvignon Blanc does not gain much by cellaring and is best enjoyed within two or three years following harvest.
GENERAL TASTING NOTES Grassy, crisp apple, lemon, orange rind, stone fruit, mineral finish
SUGGESTED PAIRINGS Poached salmon with dill sauce, tarragon chicken salad, fish tacos, tangy goat cheese, tart key lime pie
TRY 2011 Castoro Estate Sauvignon Blanc; 2010 D’Anbino Sauvignon Blanc; 2012 Niner Sauvignon Blanc; 2012 Parrish Family Sauvignon Blanc; 2012 Robert Hall Sauvignon Blanc; 2012 Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc
Although Grenache is one of the world’s most widely planted varieties, it has assumed a lesser role in California, where less than 10,000 vineyard acres are currently planted to the grape. Recently, thanks to the introduction of new high quality Grenache clones, Paso Robles has been producing outstanding Grenache, for robust blends and medium to full weight single varietals. As a stand-alone varietal, Grenache looks lighter than it tastes. Inspired by its aromatic profile, many Paso Robles winemakers use it to craft hypnotic blends, like GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre).
GENERAL TASTING NOTES Black pepper, dried cranberry, cherry, raisin, licorice
SUGGESTED PAIRINGS Lamb, mild cheeses, tomato based pasta dishes
TRY 2011 Austin Hope Grenache; 2008 Eberle Côtes du Rôbles; 2011 Le Vigne Grenache; 2008 Tablas Creek Grenache
What a misleading name! With heavy, dense-clustered grapes, and a deep rich hue, Petite Sirah is definitely not little. It is also quite different from Syrah, which possesses more fruity characteristics. Paso Robles is a great spot for this finicky grape, which loves heat as much as it dislikes moisture. It basks under the region’s intense sun and cools in its gentle afternoon breezes, which help preserve its acidity and bright fruit character. As a stand-alone varietal, Petite Sirah is a deep inky red and has a strong tannic structure that benefits from cellaring.
GENERAL TASTING NOTES Berry, pepper, nutmeg, tobacco, plum
SUGGESTED PAIRINGS Pot roast, lamb, barbecued pork, spinach pizza
TRY 2011 Broken Earth Petite Sirah; 2009 Cypher Heretic Petite Sirah; 2009 Derby Petite Sirah; 2009 Eos Reserve Petite Sirah; 2010 J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah
Most likely named for the reddish gold color its skins take on at harvest, Roussanne is not the easiest grape to grow. But, according to many Paso Robles vintners, it’s worth it. Roussanne grapes yield rich, complex wines with heady tropical aromas and distinct flavors of honey, floral, and apricot. Due to a combination of acidity, richness, and minerality, Roussanne ages quite well, and can be enjoyed for a dozen years or more after bottling. Several winemakers use Roussanne as a blending grape to add structure, acids, and/or flavor to an enticing variety of wines.
GENERAL TASTING NOTES Honey, guava, mango
SUGGESTED PAIRINGS Lobster, grilled fish, creamy dishes, Swiss cheese
TRY 2007 Anglim Roussanne; 2011 Cass Roussanne; 2008 Clautiere Estate Roussanne
Paso Robles’ second most widely planted variety is soft, fruity Merlot. It is crafted both as a stand-alone varietal and as a blending ingredient. The warm Paso Robles climate yields grapes with a more fruit-forward and less tannic structure than cool climate Merlots. Softer than other reds, a single varietal Paso Robles Merlot is to be enjoyed early. Often, Paso winemakers opt to blend Merlot with other grapes to improve the wine’s structure, depth of flavor, and longevity. They also use Merlot to bring more mellow qualities to other red varietals.
GENERAL TASTING NOTES Black cherry, currant, cedar, tobacco, chocolate
SUGGESTED PAIRINGS Game, duck, steak, Italian dishes
TRY 2008 HammerSky Red Handed; 2009 Pear Valley Merlot; 2010 Penman Springs Merlot; 2010 Villa San-Juliette Merlot