Monday, August 29, 2016

A dozen 90-point wines from Paso Robles

I bollixed this tasting before it started. I like writing theme tasting stories: great Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs, or Napa Valley Merlots. That's reader service. I wanted to do a story like that about Paso Robles wines. All I had to do was pick a grape.

But I failed. This story is like the replacement dinner you make when the dog grabs your steak off the grill. This is the upgraded-to-main-course pasta. I hope it's still pretty good. But as your chef, I apologize in advance.

Paso folks were coming to Oakland for a trade tasting. I asked if I could do a blind tasting in a separate room. Any media could join me. The wineries could have the bottles back afterward, so no waste of wine, which I always feel bad about. Jason Haas, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, said sure. All I had to do was pick a category.

I wasn't sure which wineries would be there and what their strengths are. So I made some proposals. Red Rhones other than Syrah; I think this is Paso's best category. But I hedged. I wondered how many good white Rhones they would have, and what kind of vintage it was for Zinfandel. I'm not a fan of the category Paso is always trying to push, Paso Cabs, but how to put that gently?

Well, I dropped the ball. I never made a demand, so I ended up with four mini categories, none with enough wines for its own story.

I got 41 wines total with an average price of $35. The highest price was $75; the lowest $14.99. And I got them in four categories: White Rhone varieties (8), Red Rhone varieties (10), Zinfandel (7), and Bordeaux Varieties (16).

Here are the best wines, not quite in order of preference, but I do start with my favorite. I have only published the wines I considered worth 90 points or more: 12 out of 41. That's good considering how unstructured my request for samples was. This isn't much of a story, but these are good wines.

The prices listed are Suggested Retail. Most of the links lead to bottle prices that are significantly cheaper: your reward for reading this.

Vina Robles White 4 Paso Robles 2014 ($16) 14.9% alcohol Buy it here
It's almost too good to be true: this is the second-cheapest wine in the tasting, yet it was my favorite. It's complex and interesting, with apple fruit and tangy, savory notes, and enough acid to keep it refreshing. I wanted to take it home to spend the evening with. An unusual blend of 54% Viognier (hence the apple) with 22% Vermentino, 15% Verdelho and 9% Sauvignon Blanc. 93 points

Peachy Canyon "Clevenger" Willow Creek District Zinfandel 2014 ($38) 15.1%
My favorite red wine from the tasting has welcome restraint, with brambly blackberry fruit, savory notes and good structure. Lively and lovable; a reminder of the way Zin used to be. 93 points Buy the 2013 here

Peachy Canyon "Bailey" Adelaida District Paso Robles Zinfandel 2014 ($38) 14.8%
It's easy to forget how well Zinfandel tells the tale of terroir because so many are so ripe. This is another restrained wine, very different from the Clevenger, with blackberry fruit and an appealing saltiness. That spiciness would make it good with barbecue. 90 points

San Antonio Winery San Simeon "Stormwatch" Paso Robles
($70) 2013 14.5%
A surprising wine from a 99-year-old urban winery in Los Angeles. The bottle is so heavy that you could use it as an exercise weight, which makes it surprising that the wine has finesse. It's ripe but well balanced, with cherry fruit, good freshness and an underlying dark slate note. A blend of all five main Bordeaux grapes led by 47% Cabernet Sauvignon. It seems pricey, but not if you consider Napa as the competition. 92 points

Pomar Junction "The Crossing GSM" Paso Robles 2013 ($48) 14.4%
This friendly, juicy wine will please people on both sides of the wine ripeness divide. Good balance, structure and length make it a bit more serious than it seems on first taste, but there's no need to ask for more than juicy pleasure. A blend of 43% Syrah with 33% Mourvedre and 24% Grenache. 91 points

Pomar Junction "Train Wreck" Paso Robles 2013 ($48) 15%
You wouldn't expect the word "subtle" to be used for a 15% alcohol wine, but this would be easy to miss in a big tasting. It took me a few sips to really grasp it. There's nice blueberry fruit with some savory notes, and it tastes like the various components might grow more interesting as you get deeper into the bottle. A kitchen sink blend of six varieties, including Merlot (23%), Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Mourvedre. 91 points. Buy the 2012 here

Eberle Paso Robles Viognier 2015 ($26) 14.9% Buy it here
A nicely balanced wine with mild apple flavor, good freshness and a minerally finish. A blend of grapes from two vineyards, and I wonder if that accounts for the two notes -- fruit and savoriness -- that play well in harmony. 90 points

J. Lohr "Gesture" Paso Robles Viogner 2015 ($30) 14.5% Buy it here
The pretty floral notes are so strong that it reminds me of Muscat, and might appeal to the many fans of that grape. Viognier's characteristic apple fruit comes in on the finish. It would be nice to pour for friends with appetizers. Unusually, this spent six months in acacia wood. 90 points.

Robert Hall Cuvée de Robles Paso Robles 2014 ($22.50) 14.5% Buy it here
A big body, dark fruit, and good complexity: the archetypal Paso red Rhone blend. There are just enough tannins on the finish to keep it from being too soft. A blend of Grenache (43%) with Cinsault, Syrah and Petite Sirah. One of the lowest priced wines in the tasting (the link has bottles under $15), so it's good value. 90 points.

J. Lohr Tower Road Paso Robles Petite Sirah 2013 ($35) 14.9% Buy it here
I didn't know what this was when tasting it; I just knew it was a "Rhone red." In fact, 27 different grapes are allowed in different parts of the Rhone, but Petite Sirah is not one. The Rhone Rangers organization in California allows it, but it's not like other Rhone grapes you know. Thus I was puzzled when the wine was black like motor oil, but still had enough freshness and tannin to carry the rich, soft, dark berry flavor. Mystery solved by the reveal. It's another wine that's much cheaper online than the SRP. 90 points

San Antonio Winery "Opaque Darkness" Paso Robles Red Wine 2013 ($30) 14.9%
I liked this wine a lot when I first tasted it: nice blueberry fruit and some minerality on the finish. It's very big and rich, and a glass would go a long way. It's based on Zinfandel blended with five other grapes (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah). Given the packaging, it probably has RS, but didn't taste sweet to me. 90 points.

Vina Robles Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($24) 14.6% Buy it here
This is excellent value in an estate Cabernet. After a parade of Bordeaux blends that tasted like roasted fruit ice cream, this tasted a little austere, though not on the world scale. It has balance and structure and its somewhat tight tannins would be fine with a nice juicy steak. 90 points

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


guren said...

Chef Gray, the pasta main was indeed tasty. I appreciate your reviews, especially when they include affordable wines that earn high scores.

You mentioned that the Peachy Canyon "Clevenger" zinfandel is "a reminder of the way Zin used to be". I assume that recent zinfandels are characterized by overripeness and heat from high alcohol. What are the most significant ways that zinfandel has changed over the years? Are there notable wineries besides Peachy Canyon that still make zins in the old style? Ridge perhaps?

Bob Henry said...


I attended this trade tasting in Los Angeles a few months back:

The Hendry bottlings were "classic" in style: ripe, rich, aromatically pleasing . . . without the stewed fruit/pruney character, and none of the "heat" from excessive levels of alcohol.

~~ Bob

guren said...

Bob, thank you for the information. I just ordered a few bottles of the Hendry Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel and am looking forward to trying it.

Blake, I found your 2005 SF Chronicle article on old vine zinfandels. It seems that the most common descriptions used in the tasting notes back then were graphite, raspberry, pepper, licorice, plum, spice/spicy, currant, and blackberry. Is that still the case with more recent zins?

W. Blake Gray said...

Guren, wow, that article is a Golden Oldie! I only find the non-fruit flavors on that list of descriptors in old vine Zins made in a restrained style, and I'll be honest, I haven't been drinking as much Zinfandel over the last few years because my expectations were lowered. Also, California Pinot Noir has come a long, long way since 2005 and now takes up a large enough percentage of my dinner wines to have taken away some Zin opportunities.

But I have had enough good Zins to know they're still out there.

Some of the same names from that Chronicle article would still be appealing to me. The most recent Zinfandel blind-tasting article I did was last year for Le Pan:

Maybe I need to do another big Zin tasting article. For this one, the bollixed nature of it meant I didn't actually taste very many.