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.