A Taste of Paso Robles

We have been spending quite a bit of time in the Paso Robles wine growing region over the past few years.  We have found in our search the most compelling wines display an earthiness/minerality, which not only makes the wines more interesting, but also create buoyancy in the wines that make the wines seem less heavy/dense then they really are.  We featured this set of wines at trade tastings, both on Maui & then again on Oahu today to share some of our “finds”.  (Sorry guys.  No Saxum to be had).

Ancient Peaks–was a very important “find” for us a few years back because of what great value their wines tend to offer.  Located in the southern nook of Paso Robles at roughly 1000 feet in elevation, this is also one of the coolest niches of the Paso appellation, greatly cooled by the fog & coastal breezes that roll in over the hills to the west.  In addition, the vineyard has 5 distinct soil types & because of the size (roughly 900 acres) of this estate vineyard, there are all kinds of nooks & crannies scattered throughout the hills to plant vines.  This vineyard (& the surrounding 14,000 acres) is owned by 3 ranching families, who also oversee its operation.  The 2015 Zinfandel “Santa Margarita Ranch“–This bottling was the first wine from this winery to really catch our attention, way back when.  We weren’t looking for another Zin, but jumped at the chance anyway because of how this wine really delivers for the dollar spent.  It is an earnest, blue collar red wine, nothing fancy & no bells & whistles.  Just good, interesting flavors, a solid core, structure & very satisfying (meaning I feel like I definitely got my monies worth & am appreciative of that).   100% Zin. 3 blocks—volcanic, shale & rocky alluvial soils. Harvested Sept 27, Oct 1, Oct 12.  16 months in oak—40% French, 57% American, 3% Hungarian, 25% new.  The 2016 Merlot “Santa Margarita Ranch”–was one of the prizes of this tasting for many, as it really was much more about the soil the vines grow in rather than fruit qualities.  We were also quite taken by the savoriness the wine had in its core, its structure & balance, all at less than $19 a bottle retail.  What a great value! 95% M, 5% CF—5 blocks—all ancient sea bed, where Merlot excels.  Harvested Sept 24, 28, Oct 8 & 27.  17 months—70% FR, 30% Am, 25% new.  The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Santa Margarita Ranch”–was another GREAT VALUE red wine.  After all, where else can one get interesting, estate grown Cabernet like this at less than $19 a bottle retail? The 2015 is quite masculine with a virile “beefy” character, & with a very satisfying core, structure, depth & earthy/savory/mineral driven edge.  85% CS, 15% Zin.  3 soils—seabed, rocky alluvial & shale parcels.  Picked Sept 25, Oct 5, 8, 27.  Oct 14—Zin.  16 months in oak—Fr & Am.  I would say the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc “Santa Margarita Ranch”–really caught everyone’s attention, because it was more about deliciousness & gulpability in a refreshing, uplifting, thirstquenching style & less about the grape variety’s characteristic fruit/pyrazine qualities & hard acids.  Yet, another great value.  100% SB  Block 41—rocky alluvial.  5 separate picks—5, 17, 20, 21, 23.  5 months in stainless

Broadside–we ran across the Broadside wines in San Francisco some years back.  This is another winery whose wines overall offer tremendous value.  The first bottle that caught our attention was a Chardonnay produced from the 30plus year vines grown in the iconic James Berry Vineyard, with a retail price of less than $20 a bottle!  Yes, we are always looking for these kinds of well priced, interesting wines.  We have since spent some time with (wife/vineyard-ist) Stephy Terrizzi & (husband/winemaker) Brian Terrizzi, in the vineyards & tasting their wines.  What another fabulous discovery for us…..wines that really over deliver for the reasonable prices.  The 2016 Chardonnay “Wild Ferment”– is done in a tasty, lively, uplifting style, featuring grapes from Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles & Los Alamos, wild yeast fermented/& aged in 90%  stainless steel & old oak barrels.  We have been carrying this wine for years on our lists.  The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–is a VERY reasonably priced Cabernet–from Paso Robles/San Juan Valley vines–I would say targeted for by the glass considerations.  It is tasty, light on its feet & totally gulpable.  (please don’t take that meaning this wine is wimpy.  It is not).  100% Cab, 14% months in old French & American oak.  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Margarita Ranch” 2016–is another one their wines which really initially caught our attention.  Since the first vintage we tried of this bottling, we were taken by the wine’s elegance, civility, texture & balance, all at a great price.  The 2016 is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot—from a parcel, comprised mainly of shale within the Santa Margarita Ranch.  14 months in French & American oak, 97% old, 3% new.  (I should add that Brian & Stephy really opened the door with the Ancient Peak people & we are thankful for that).  The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon “Ephemera” is uncharacteristic of the Terrizzi’s portfolio, because of its very upper tier/trophy pricing.  I would say, however, everyone has a dream to do something to the umpteenth degree, pulling out all stops, to make their dream wine.  I believe this is THAT wine for them.  I would also say, the wine is really good, guys.  Yes, very made, & with savoriness, style & class.  Kudos!  (As a side note, the Terrizzi’s also have their own Giornata label which specializes in Italian grape varieties grown in the appellation).

Villa Creek–I happened to eat at the Villa Creek Restaurant (now closed) one year while visiting the area in search of wine.  They had several “designer” wine offerings, labeled as Villa Creek, which showcased different grape variety blends from some of the area’s most pedigree-d vineyard sites.  The wines were really good, certainly noteworthy without having the “over the top”, unabashed bravado some of the other top wines of the area (at least at this time).  We were really taken by the wines & the prospect of how this project would evolve.  A year or 2 ago, owner/winemaker Cris Cherry decided to take a big leap of faith & concentrate on his vineyards, his winery & his wines & less on the restaurant.  Fast forward to last Summer, I have to say, the Villa Creek 2014’s were without a doubt the best I had had from this estate.  Cris is in the “zone” & his wines are today some of the very best out of the Paso Robles appellation.  The 2013 Garnacha–is a wonderfully transparent, intriguing, delicious drink.  It is quite a unique Grenache red wine, as it’s underlying minerality makes it much more interesting & mesmerizing that just the typical cherry, cherry cough drop, cherry lifesavers like qualities one frequently finds in Californian Grenache based reds.  Thankfully, our friends decanted this wine just to make sure it opened up before service.  We also enjoyed its surprising elegance, grace & refinement.  For a restaurant, I would then also suggest this wine could readily help to fill the gap that lies between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of drama & mojo.  100% Grenache—from the Luna Matta & Denner vineyards.  75% whole cluster.  Aged 500L puncheons—20% new.  The 2013 Avenger–The Avenger bottling was one of the first 3 we purchased from Villa Creek, way back when.  While the actual blended grape percentages change vintage to vintage, Avenger consistently offers a dark, mysterious, masculine, savory, sultry core, yet done with elegance, class & civility.   80% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache—Luna Matta, James Berry, Denner, Basetti (granite, serpentine).  60% whole cluster.  French & Hungarian oak, 20% new.  The 2013 High Road–The High Road bottling took me the longest to understand.  It’s not necessarily because the grape varietal mix is so different vintage to vintage.  High Road  just has a different intent.  It really is about Cris showcasing what the James Berry vineyard wants to say through its grapes in any given vintage.   It is therefore a very intellectual wine with much more refined layers of intricacies, nuances & character, which challenge the tasters in very different ways.   AND, the real pleasure comes when you have one that has a few years of bottle age.  40% Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah, 20% Grenache.  100% James Berry vineyard.  70 to 75% whole cluster.  50% concrete & 50% puncheons.

Daou Vineyards–The Daou brothers have moved into the appellation & certainly created quite the splash & attention.  The core of their 200 plus acres is & neighbors the old, historic Hoffman Mountain Ranch, with its highest 2100 feet apex.  They have also made the appellation’s Cabernet Sauvignon “cool” again & helped usher a resurgence of interest & plantings of this grape variety (& its peers).  Yes, they have an assortment of other grape varieties planted here & there, but so far their Cabernet based red wines are the ones grabbing the most attention & high acclaim.  The 2015 Chardonnay “Paso Robles”–the big question hiding behind all of the highly acclaimed red wines & their notoriety, is there an opportunity for Chardonnay grown in limestone/siliceous clay/marine soils of the westside to shine?  In other parts of the wine world, such marine soils works magic with the Chardonnay grape variety.  So, the bigger question would be the climate/temperatures.  Here is the Daou’s rendition of Chardonnay–Old Wente vine, grown in calcareous-clay, west facing.  Fermented in stainless steel, 7 months of lees contact with frequent stirring (batonnage) & then aged for  7 months in OLD oak.  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–is currently the wine which grabs the most attention, because of perennial 90 plus point scores & a $20 retail price tag.  One shouldn’t expect the black fruit of those from the northern winegrowing areas of California.  This is red fruit & much more transparent with a thread of mesmerizing “minerality” from beginning to end.  How can one not love its interestingness & drinkability, done with elegance, class & style?  The majority of the vines–337, 15, 8., grown on clay/calcareous clay predominantly.  The wine spends 11 months in tanks as well as barrels. 60% new oak.  The Daou portfolio can be somewhat confusing at first, as there are so many different offerings.  The next interesting tier starts off with the 2012 Zinfandel “Reserve”–On first taste, one can immediately tell why the word “Reserve” was attached.  This not easy drinking, transparent red wine.  It has hutzpah & bravado–ripe, dense & oak laden with lots of core & frame.  100% Zin.  (south facing). Calcareous clay soils. Destemmed.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks. Aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.  The 2015  Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”–is a step forward from their “Paso Robles” bottling in terms of density, depth, masculinity, oak presence & framing.  It is more studly & definitely has something to say.  337, 169, 412. Calcareous clay. Destemmed and optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  100% free run.  19-20 months in French oak, 50% new.  The next tier features 2 real studs, the first being the 2013 “Mayote”–Mayote is in keeping with what is currently being referred to as “crazy Paso blends“–the art of blending batches where the sum is a provocative, synergistic orchestra of flavors & character.  The 2013 is like a world class wrestler–full of unrestrained power, density & muscle–though surprisingly civil & well mannered.  45% Syrah, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot.  Clones are 337, 169, 412 for Cab and for Syrah 877 ad 470. Calcareous clay. 100% Free Run.  Destemmed & optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  22 months in 100% new (expensive) French oak barrels.  “Soul of a Lion” 2013–in comparison is an aristocrat with more class & much more about the Bordelaise grape mix model, though featuring the Paso Robles soils & climatic conditions.  The 2013 is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot.  Clones are 337, 169, 412, 191, 31 (To Kalon) for Cab. Calcareous clay soils.  100% Free Run.  Destemmed and optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  22 months in 100% new French Oak Barrels. .

Epoch–is one of the real rising stars of the Paso Robles appellation.  I was first introduced to this project by Justin Smith of Saxum, who was their consultant in the early days.  Now, the project is in the hands of immensely talented winemaker Jordan Fiorentini.  She has at least 3 incredibly diverse estate vineyards to source grapes from & an incredibly outlandish (though not gaudy) winery full of a whole arsenal of winemaking “tools” to craft the best wine she can.  This is definitely a winery to keep an eye on as the wines just seem to keep getting better & better as time goes on.  Jordan’s wines have precision, refinement, class, wonderful texture, balance & are thankfully so mineral driven.  The 2015 Rosé–a very mesmerizing, mineral driven, savory pink wine (nothing tooty fruity here)–54% Mourvèdre, 35% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 68% Catapult and 32% Paderewski Vineyards.  Fermented in stainless steel barrels with weekly batonnage. 50% whole cluster press/50% saignee.  5 months lees in stainless.  The 2013 Estate Red Blend–is a red wine blend that is the most masculine, studly, firmly structured of today’s Epoch entourage.  32% S, 25% GR, 25% Mour, 10% Temp, 8% Zin–intended to show the character of their sites rather than any grape varieties.  17% whole cluster in concrete, stainless, 1 ton bins & oak puncheons,  15 months in French oak & puncheon, 33% new.  The 2013 Veracity —this is a very provocative, seamless blend of 49% Grenache, 34% Mourvedre & 17% Syrah.  This wine has  bright acidity, a vivacious charm with superb texture, intricacy & balance. 227% whole cluster.  15 months in oak & puncheons, 32% new.  In comparison the 2012 Ingenuity shows a more masculine, darker side to what these estate vineyards want to say, while still being classy, wonderfully minerally & transparent.  The 2012 is 58% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache, 10% Petite Sirah.  80% Paderewski, 20% Catapult vineyards.  32% whole cluster in concrete, stainless, 1 tons bins & puncheon.  18 months in oak & puncheons, 40% new.  2015 Epoch White–early  on, I wondered why the New Age winemakers of the Paso Robles appellation were not embracing Chardonnay in their plantings or their portfolios  While Chardonnay may work some magic in these marine soils, as we are discovering, not with the lift, ethereal qualities & mesmerizing minerality other white grape varieties like Grenache Blanc, Picpoul & Viognier get.  We are also really digging on those that are worked in concrete rather than stainless.  Here is such a wine–46% V, 40% GR BL, 14% Roussanne.  71% Catapult, 31% Paderewski vineyards.. COOL concrete, tulips, barrels, weekly battonage.  15% skin contact, NO ML.  5 months less—61% concrete, 39% OLD oak, 9% new/1 year.

 Linne Calodo–we first encountered owner/winemaker Matt Trevisan when he was the assistant winemaker at Justin Vineyards & Winery.  He was a young turk, set on changing the local wine scene through a “dream” winery with his then cohort, Justin Smith.  They finally started Linne Calodo, I believe with the 1998 vintage.  Unlike his work at Justin Vineyards & Winery, Matt (& his partner Justin Smith) created red wine blends (mostly Rhone grape varietals) from a collection of vineyards on Paso’s westside in the Willow Creek AVA.  (There is no doubt that today, the Willow Creek AVA, a series of remote canyons & looming white/gray hillsides, is considered by many to be the epicenter for the region’s top wines.)  We were quite taken by what they were doing.  The wines were subsequently met with much acclaim & the wines received much accolades.  A lot has happened over the 20 or so years since (including Justin leaving to found his own project–Saxum).  Having said that, there is not doubt that Matt Trevisan has a gift, the talent & is today “totally in the zone” with craft, as the following wines will show.  The 2017 Pale Flowers Rosé–is a break out vintage with pink wines for Matt.  The approach is so different than in the past.  100% GR. 22 to 23 brix. From a specific block to make rosé. Whole cluster pressed in baskets over 24 hours. Fermented in fiberglass Gimar tanks.  The color is darker than I would have thought, & the wine is therefore quite masculine & savory, with lots of flavor, mineral character, a seamless flow on the palate & an uplifting finish.  The 2016Sticks & Stones”–This was the wine most tasters fawned over, in BOTH tastings.  It really is not about grapes or decadent ripeness.  It just has presence, transparency & magic–seamless & totally compelling. 74% GR, 19% M, 7% S, all Willow Creek—Trevy (1250 to 1350, planted in’13); LC Estate (1180-1000, planted in ‘05/’07) & Oakdale Ranch (1075 to 1175, planted in 1999, grafted over in ’08).  25% Whole Cluster Grenache, 75% Whole berry Grenache, 10% whole Cluster Mourvedre, 90% Whole berry Mourvedre, 100% Whole Berry Syrah.  6x6x6 concrete cubes, 2 ton stainless & 3 ton SS large. Aged for 16 months in 2250 liter Ermitage foudre, PLUS 2100 liter concrete cylinder & various OLD puncheons & casks.  The 2016 “Perfectionist”–is darker, more mysterious, sultry & savory in its core, effortlessly combining power & grace, reminiscent of a champion thoroughbred.  74% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Grenache—(from Trevy & LC estate). 100% whole cluster. 2 & 4 ton fermenters. 2 ton basket press & then aged in 2100 liter concrete for 17 months.  The 2017 Contrarian” is another “game changing” wine for Matt TervisanAlthough, it is much better than previous vintages, I really think the 2017 is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be.  I suggest wine tasters keep an eye out on this cuvee, moving forward.  Here is what Matt had to say.  The “2017 Contrarian is a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Picpoul Blanc and 20% Viognier.   Willow Creek District .  The Grenache Blanc and Picpoul come from the Linne Calodo estate and comprise 1.7 acres total.  The Viognier comes from Trevy Ranch and comprises 1/2 an acre.  The GB and PB are west Facing while the Viognier is East facing. Soils are Linne Calodo, Cropley and Naciamento.  Grenache Blanc is harvested at around 22-23 Brix and 3.10 pH .9 TA.  Picpoul Blanc is harvested at 21-22 Brix and 3.05 pH  .95 TA.  Viognier is harvested at 24-25 Brix and 3.35 pH  .6 TA.  The Grapes are whole cluster basket pressed into Nomblot Concrete Eggs 1600L where the wine is native/naturally yeast fermented.  The juice is co-fermented in the eggs and the basket pressing increases the amount of skin contact and thus the phenolic profile.

2017 Contrarian is an evolution of white wine making for LC.  The wine started out in 2003 as a 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier blend with 24 hr skin contact and an oily rich texture.  As times have changed and my palate as well,  I’ve planted GB and PB in the search of acid and a more refreshing wine.  I have achieved this but felt like I needed to bring back a hint of volume and thus re-introduced Viognier to the blend.  All the fruit is hand farmed and picked, no pesticides or herbicides.   Contrarian is blended by combining proportions of the two concrete eggs in December and the settling of lees starts in February.  The wine goes through 100% ML.  The 2017 vintage is the first year I have filtered the wine using a CrossFlow membrane filter.  In the years past Contrarian has always seen a yeast/sediment pellet form in the bottle, didn’t bother me, but the consumer thought something could be wrong from the slight haze.  Now hazy unfiltered beer and wine are a thing? go figure.   The wine is not cold stabilized and thus could throw some crystals if chilled  for a significant amount of time ( totally harmless).  The Viognier that is not used for Contrarian, finds its way into the Syrah blends and does not make the label“.

That’s just a start.  To help you explore what Paso Robles has to offer, here is a list of those wineries who were selected to pour wines at Wine Speak 2018 this past January.  There really is so much to learn about this appellation.

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