By The Wine Guys, Tom Maruqardt and Patrick Darr
Paso Robles is one of our favorite wine regions. Why? Two reasons, three actually diversity, quality and value. Located roughly in the middle of California, close to the Pacific Coast and loosely capping the San Andreas fault, a panoply of soils and micro-climates give grape growers and winemakers an abundance of terroir to craft their fruit and the resultant wines. They seem to do it all there with world-class wines such as the award-winning cabernet sauvignons from Justin and Daou and Rhone-style blends from a bevy of smaller wineries. Prices are a fraction of Napa Valleys and generally are less than Sonoma County.
According to Natalie Brown, owner of Paso Robles based Willow Creek Wine Collective, “Paso Robles is what Napa Valley was 30 years ago with small wineries that are owner operated.”
If you want to visit Paso Robles, you’ll find more than 200 wineries, some of which still don’t charge for their tastings. Even those that charge, the fee is about $15 on average – it's as much as $58 in Napa Valley and $30 in Sonoma County.
There are 11 sub-appellations in the Paso Robles AVA. Although heat-dependent zinfandel has been a mainstay, cabernet sauvignons from the northwestern corner are getting a lot of attention. Wines from Adelaida and Templeton Gap in particular are getting rave reviews. There is no shortage of rainfall here.
Grenache, a mainstay in Spain and France’s southern Rhone region, thrives in summer’s sun-drenched, dry rolling hills of Paso Robles. Not grown in any significant quantities elsewhere in California, grenache is often by itself or in combination with other Rhone varietals.
We recently tasted several examples of Paso Robles grenache and were impressed with their individuality and quality. Alcohol leans toward the 15 percent level; however, the robust fruit driven wines appear balanced. The wines ranged in color from light red to an impenetrable inky black.
Many of the Rhone-varietal wines are made in smaller quantities, so some of the grenache may be difficult to find in retail shops. Check the producer’s website since many wineries are allowed to direct ship to consumers.
Following are our tasting impressions:
Cass Estate Grenache Paso Robles Geneseo District 2019 ($32). The lightest in color and body but not lacking in nose and flavor of the four wines we tasted. Somewhat reminiscent of a Village-level Cotes Du Rhone in flavor and texture. Lovely berry notes and a hint of herbs create a very nice affordable package.
Four Lanterns Jacinth Grenache Paso Robles Templeton Gap 2017 ($48). The second lightest in color, this wine has an intriguing aroma of rhubarb. Rhubarb and strawberry notes dominate in the mouth with a smooth delivery and ample balancing acidity.
Austin Hope Grenache Paso Robles Templeton Gap 2018 ($55). Very dark in color, blackberry jam nose and intense dense berry flavors with a hint of chocolate. Very long, rich and ripe after taste. Almost in a class by itself.
Law Beguiling Estate Grenache Paso Robles Adelaide District 2017 ($78). This blend of 82 percent grenache and 18 percent syrah was the favorite of our tasting. Notes of ripe cherry, blueberry, and black raspberry dominate this wine. Aging in 30 percent new French oak and the dose of syrah have created a rich full, and balanced drink. Expensive but it delivers quality.
How do these wines age? We had an opportunity to taste some legendary grenache and grenache blends from Paso Robles. Here are our tasting notes:
Booker Vineyard The Ripper 2014. Full-throttle grenache makes your head spin with all its thick kirsch and ripe dark fruit flavors, loads of spice and unmistakeable licorice. Noticeable alcohol present when opened but melds nicely with an hour of decanting. Very much like a classic Chateauneuf du Pape.
L’Aventure Winery Cote a Cote 2010. Even after 11 years of bottle age, this wine is hitting all cylinders. Juicy raspberry and blackberry flavors with effusive floral aromas and a soft mouthfeel.
Law Estate Wines Beguiling 2014. A blend of 84 percent grenache and 14 percent syrah, this was one of the most dense and beguiling Rhone-style blend we have tasted from Paso Robles. Ful body, concentrated and ripe black berry and dark cherry flavors with a kirsch finish. Long and soft in the finish.
Saxum Broken Stones 2014. Don’t plan on heading down to the store to buy this wine. Just to get on the mailing list of this premium winery there is a wait. A bizarre, eclectic blend of syrah, mourvedre, grenache, petite sirah, tempranillo and roussanne, it wanders over the palate with a broad array of flavors: blueberries, blackberries, plums, cassis, spice.
Here are some other wines from Paso Robles we recently enjoyed:
Smith & Hook Paso Robles Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($45). Don’t be deceived by the forward and juicy flavors of this wine. It also has a lot of body and tannin to back the vibrant plum and blackberry flavors. Floral, violet aromas with hints of mineral and forest floor.
Josh Cellars Reserve Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($22). Josh Cellars’ regular cabernet sauvignon is a fixture in restaurants and stores. This reserve, however, takes the wine to a higher level at only a few bucks more. As a negociant brand, Josh pulls grapes from all over the vast Paso Robles appellation. It has mouth-coating, ripe plum and blackberry flavors with hints of spice and vanilla.
Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Lodi Petite Sirah 2019 ($25). Petite sirah is a wine for the adventuresome. Beastly inky is color and full of teeth-coating tannins, it is a wine to pair with beef, stew, chili and other cold-temperature fare. We like this friendly version of the wine with plum and blackberry flavors and mouth-coating finish.
EnRoute “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2018 ($60). Alas, the price of quality pinot noir is not easy on a budget, but this is just the reality of finding one that excels at this level. Long floral aromas with juicy raspberry and blackberry flavors and a hint of clove.
Girasole Charlie’s Blend Mendocino County 2019 ($20). This blend of red grapes is a great deal for those looking for a bargain. There is plenty of blackberry and black cherry flavors with a smooth, mouth-coating quality.
Kirkland Gigondas 2019 ($15). We have been repeatedly impressed with the good values coming from this Costco portfolio of wines. We like the chardonnay and now this French blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes. Generous blackberry and plum notes with plenty of spice and black licorice. Dense and a good match for meat entrees.