Friday, March 4, 2011


Paso Robles at Vibiana

Paso Robles is a great wine producing region, vastly underrated by many.  Winemakers in the California Central Coast AVA have great fruit and terroir to work with, and they make the most of it.

A group of Paso Robles winemakers brought their wares to Los Angeles on March 2, 2011.  The tasting event was held in Vibiana, a downtown church turned event venue.  Tasting heavenly wines in a former church seemed appropriate, I confess.  I prayed for a great wine tasting experience and, Lo! - one was delivered.  The miracle of turning grapes into wine was displayed at table after table.

Grape Geeks

Ken VolkWhen there's a big roomful of winemakers present, you're going to hear a lot about grapes.   You're going to hear very deep discussions about grapes.  You're going to find out how much you don't know about grapes.  I had the chance to listen to Ken Volk talk about grapes at length with someone who appeared to be trying to dislodge Volk as the biggest grape geek in the room.  Note to others: that's a game you won't win.  Volk gave an impromptu botany lesson, ranging from DNA to grape origins to the genetic offspring of Muscat Alexandria.  I was transfixed until the pourer looked at me and cocked his head toward Volk, saying "He can get geeky."  2010 was Volk's 34th vintage, so he has earned the right to be as geeky he wants to be.


When tasting wines at events like this one, I often ask about the alcohol content of the wine I'm tasting.  Most of the time the responses are not too unusual, but with nothing but Paso Robles wine in the room, I kept getting answers in the 15 to 16% range.  That's a fairly high alcohol reading, but I was told why that seems to be the norm for wines from Paso.

"It's the weather," explained Eric Ogorsolka of Zenaida Cellars.  He went on to extol the virtues of the climate in Paso Robles: the warm days, cool nights and 40-50 degree temperature swings between night and day during the growing season.  The area's grape growers can typically wait longer to harvest than anywhere in California, thus giving winemakers fruit that's as ripe as can be.

Vibiana interiorOgorsolka boasted that his wines nearly all fall between 15 and 16% abv.  Truly, that big bold wine is one of Paso's calling cards - and big, bold wines are okay in my book.  Many people feel that such high alcohol levels are not food friendly.  Some complain that wines like Pinot Noir simply aren't varietally correct in that rarefied air.  There are also voices out there who maintain that high alcohol wine is flawed wine.

I can certainly appreciate a fine and delicate offering that fails to hit 13%, but I can also appreciate aroma and flavor that's as big as America, even if it means the wine is creeping close to Port-level alcohol.  There's room in this big world for everyone to have it their way.   This is how they roll in Paso Robles.

Favorite Tastes

Ancient Peaks Winery 
Sauvignon Blanc 2010:  Grassy and fresh, with great acid on the finish. $12
Oyster Ridge 2007:  Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah/Merlot/Petit Verdot blend is brambly with flavors of blackberry and meat.  $50

Eberle Winery
Mill Road Vineyard Viognier 2009:  Huge floral play with great acidity.  $21
Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah 2008:  Earthy and dirty, very old world.  $20

Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Pomar Junction Vineyard Verdelho 2008:  Mix of flowers and citrus with great acidity.  $24
Pomar Junction Vineyard Aglianico 2007:  Dark, dusty fruit with a lasting finish.  $36

Kiamie Wine Cellars
R'Own 2006:  Rustic mix of Syrah/Grenache/Viognier with a splash of Zinfandel.  $38

Le Vigne Winery
Kiara Reserve Sangiovese 2007:  Bright cherry candy nose, earthy palate.  $20
Le Vigne di Domenico Cabernet Franc 2006:  Dark nose full of earth with mineral laden fruit.  $30

Lone Madrone
La Mezcla 2008:  Extremely refreshing white, with lime and other citrus and great minerality.  $22
Points West Red 2007:  Syrah/Mourvèdre blend displaying a big, juicy nose and a dark palate.  Grippy, big wine.  $28

Niner Wine Estates
Sangiovese 2007:  Beautiful, cherry nose.  Dark and dry.  $24
Twisted Spur Paso Robles Red 2007:  Big, rustic blend of Merlot/Cab Franc/Syrah/Petite Sirah.  $28

Ortman Family Vineyards
Sangiovese 2008:  From the O2 line.  Big, brawny take on the Italian grape.  $20
Wittstrom Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007:  Intense nose and palate with big tannins.  "Light" at just 14.2% abv.  $36

Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery
Estate Viognier 2009:  Nose of oranges and flowers, very fruity with great acidity.  $25
Espiritu Chardonnay 2009:  Very light touch of oaky vanilla with mouth-watering acidity.  $25

Roxo Port Cellars
Paso Melange 2007:  Extremely concentrated Cabernet Franc flavors from Port-style-only producer.  $44
Ruby Tradicional 2007:  Portuguese varieties, Paso-grown.  Coffee and chocolate notes.  $44

Terry Hoage Vineyards
The Gap 2009:  Invigorating white with nutty citrus.  Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc.  $38
The Pick 2008:  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise.  Dark cherry with tons of earth.  $48

Vina Robles
WHITE4 2009:  Vermentino, Verdelho, Viognier, Sauvigon Blanc.  Didn't remind me of Sardinia, but lots to like with citrus and minerality.  $16
RED4 2008:  Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre.  Earthy on nose and palate; brooding and peppery.  $16

Zenaida Cellars
Estate Zinfandel 2008:  Very fresh and vibrant.  A different slant on Zinfandel.  $27
Wanderlust 2008:  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre.  A brooding, old world style Rhone blend.

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