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Focus on Paso Robles

In the spirit of California month, I attended the Paso Robles Grand Tasting Tour’s Chicago stop last night. Twenty four wineries were represented, presenting wines from this growing AVA, situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Wines styles from the area generally have a focus mostly on Rhone grape varieties from petit sirah, to Rhone-style blends (both red and white) to stranger non-traditional kitchen sink blends, and a little bit of zinfandel. They come across as new-world in nature, showing lots of velvety fruit, vanilla, cocoa and baking spice without the overwhelming tannin and gamy qualities of their old-world counterparts.


I have always felt that Paso Robles wines offer a good value, so my first stop was the Under $20 table. The blends stood out the Clayhouse Adobe Red grabbed my attention with deep raspberry fruit and agood, balanced finish. Also the Schoolhouse Recess Red, showing similarly but a little lighter and with a little more earth. Both of these are worth checking out at the $15 price tag.
What was a bit disappointing were the varietal reds – J Lohr, Liberty School, Clayhouse – some seemed a bit light, approaching varietal inaccuracy. Still a value, I might recommend these more youthful wines as a beginner’s step into the world of wine, but maybe not to a customer more interested in complexity.
The inexpensive whites showed mellow, spicy, woody qualities with fruit-cocktail and melon. Not overly complex, but easy and pleasant. Unfortunately, most of these aren’t available to us.

A lot of the Rhone blends – Adelaida Version, Tablas Creek Cotede Tablas and Esprit de Beaucastel, and some others unavailable in Chicago – balance fresh, bright berry fruit with spice and earth. The Four Vines Peasant GSM also followed these lines, with a little more depth, richness, and intensity. Some of these fall into the lower $20’s, representing great values. I found, as a general rule, that bigger price tags don’t always suggest proportionately higher quality.
The Treana Red is always a stand out – this blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah offers heavier fruit with a sense of burnt bacon, or maybe dark-roasted coffee. Also immediately capturing my attention were the two wines by L’Aventure – the Optimus and the Estate Cuvee, both blends of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and petit verdot. Both showed deep, rich cocoa and heavy fruit, balance dwith solid tannin. While it shows a bit more heft, the Estate Cuvee costs an extra $35. At under $50 each, both the Treana and the Optimus are values compared to some higher-priced Napa Cabs, with the interesting twist that blends can offer. These wines are ready to drink in their youth, modern-styled with balanced tannins and fruit showing right now.


As for whites wines spicy, mellow Rhone styles dominate in Paso Robles. The viognier, rousanne and marsanne blends tend to be more honeyed or oily than vibrant or acidic, with mellow fruits like melon or pear. They have a quality of vanilla and baking spice, often aged in neutral oak or stainless steel.
The Treana White caught my attention – good with lots of melon, Adelaida’s Version White was rich with spice (nutmeg?) and the white wines from Tablas Creek suggested dried fruits and orange peeland honey, both are excellent.

All said, I do think these are interesting wines at reasonable prices, especially those in the $15-$30 range. The producers seem to be mindful of the fact that for a little more money, customers can get Rhone-styled wines that actually are from the Rhone, and are working within the formula to achieve something new. They’re drinking wonderfully right now, so if you’re as bad as I am at delaying gratification, give some wines from Paso Robles a try. And let us know what you think.

5 thoughts on “Focus on Paso Robles

  1. Something about the red wines from Paso Robels that I don’t like. Too earthy or heavy. Is there one of these that I should try?

  2. Newbie, the Paso Tour came to Binny’s South Loop Wednesday night with six wineries participating in a seminar/tasting, including winemaker Austin Hope from Treana. Although all the wines showed well, for me the leaders in this sampling were L’Aventure and Tablas Creek.L’Aventure Optimus is a Cabernet/Syrah blend by winemaker Stephen Asseo who came to California from France in 1996. He was looking for a place with the terrior and pioneering spirit that would allow him to experiment with various blends. (Bordeaux has strict laws on what grapes may be included in their wines.) The rich, complex flavors of Optimus show that Asseo’s vision paid off.Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel is a new world joint venture between the Perrin Family of Chateau Beaucastel and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands. They settled on West Paso Robles because of the Rhone like climate and limestone soil reminiscent of that at Beaucastel. Using a nursery from actual vines brought from their Chateau in France, Tablas Creek has developed an intense, French style red that will age for a decade.While too many Paso wines are over ripe and better choices need to be made in some vineyards, these two wineries show a glimpse of the quality that may lie ahead for Paso Robles.

  3. Earlier this month I had the fortunate privilege to visit both Justin and Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. After tasting wines at both facilities, I can say without a doubt that both of these wineries are committed to extremely high quality wines. Justin’s Cab Sauv has notes of rich plum fruit and hints of cassis with a wonderfully smooth finish. The Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel has dark berry fruit lushness, sweet tannins, and a great finish (makes your mouth water for more!) Definitely both worth trying!

  4. Pingback: Paso Robles & More | Binny's Blog

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