Uncorked Ventures Blog
Paso Robles is certainly a wine region gaining acceptance among casual wine drinkers, it’s also a region that many within the wine industry have looked at as an up and coming star and perhaps a future Worldwide Wine Capital for some time. It’s been called everything from “The Next Napa” to being equated with visiting Napa in the 70’s. That’s high praise that is well deserved.
One of the issues with visiting Paso when compared with Napa, Sonoma or even Santa Barbara is that there is a significantly smaller pool of information about the wineries available both in print and online, although that’s slowly changing.
Over the next few days, we’ll be featuring everything Paso Robles. First the wine, then food, places to stay and where to get more information online.
Since we know the wine is the star here, let’s start with the obvious first question that most people ask: Where should I go Wine Tasting in Paso Robles? A quick primer, Paso is home to Rhone varietals in large part, while you will see the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon made in Paso, the focus is largely on Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre and other Rhone varietals.
Alta Colina: We’ve talked about Alta Colina in this space before, but we truly do love their wines. Their small tasting room is located at Villicana Winery (it sits about 4) which is the experience that most people are really looking for when visiting wine country. The wines are dense and rich even by Rhone and Paso standards, but we enjoy a tasting trip here for two main reasons. First, the tasting room is often staffed by Maggie whose family owns the winery and she is willing to take consumers up to their vineyard for a quick look around. You’ll quickly see how passionate she is about her families winery and their vineyard, which is only a short drive from the tasting room. Secondly, Alta Colina offers an interesting mix of wines largely centered on Syrah. We find that being able to taste Syrah’s from the same vineyard, often just a few yards away from each other shows the grape off better than trying Syrah’s from different regions or wineries within the same region. You get to experience the affects of soil construction, wind and sunlight on wines grown in close proximity to each other. Many people are surprised at the differences in flavor profiles achieved by their 0900 Syrah (our favorite wine here) and the newly minted Block 2 Syrah.
Denner: So we’d admit that we love the Denner wines on their own, but part of the reason we include them here is because their winemaker Anthony Yount also has a small personal label called Kinero that you won’t be able to taste elsewhere. Yes, try for an appointment with the winemaker himself. In any case, a visit to Denner offers an interesting paradox in the wine industry. Robert Parker once called the James Berry Vineyard among the 5 Grand Cru vineyards in the state. That’s great for Paso and well deserved to be sure, but most people don’t realize that Denner’s estate vineyard is located literally on the other side of a gold cart path from the famed James Berry Vineyard. It’s a great way to be able to literally taste some of the best fruit in Paso, without paying the whole price for the experience. Yount’s personal label is also a joy for many consumers. A white label specifically, these are complex Rhone white’s crafted for people who don’t usually drink white wine. For most men that we know, that hits the spot fairly well and it’s also interesting to meet an up and coming winemaker who is still among the youngest in Paso.
Barrel 27: In Sonoma, warehouse wineries are all the rage. In Paso, we haven’t seen the same type of acceptance of that model, Barrel 27 being an exception. A dual project by winemakers Russell From and McPrice Myers, Barrel 27 offers some of the best value wines in Paso. The Rock and a Hard Place Grenache and the Head Honcho Syrah are among the best values at their respective price points ($18 and $28) found anywhere not only in Paso, but California wine. One of the joys of visiting Barrel 27 is seeing a tasting room which is far from the uptight stale experiences that we have so often in the wine industry. The last time we were there, we were greeted by a staff actually having a good time and Eric Clapton playing blaring on the stereo. Given that they have a dual winemakers working on site, who both produce a range of wines under their own labels (both at higher, but reasonable price points) there is an opportunity to taste close to 50 wines in a given trip, which does remind us that palate fatigue can kick in.
Pithy Wine Company: We originally visited Pithy at their previous location in downtown San Luis Obispo, their new downtown Paso spot is a better fit on a number of levels. We make a stop at Pithy for not only the wine, but their assortment of other high end food products as well. From olive oil and balsamic vinegar to their own root beer that is made a couple of times per year, there is truly something to keep you interested here for quite some time.
Terry Hoague Vineyards: If the Hoague name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the ex University of Georgia and NFL star who now headlines a winery of his own name. We always send clients to Terry Hoague Vineyards during a Paso trip because the wines are lighter and perhaps even more European in construction than many others in the area. Hoague’s football background comes through as well, from the names of the wine (the 46 is a favorite of ours, based on the defensive alignment all the rage during the 80’s) to some of the decorations around the tasting room. If you have a NFL fan in your party, this is a perfect stop on a number of levels.
There are, of course plenty of other great places to taste among Paso's 150+ wineries but these are some of our personal favorites.
We recently featured Dragonette Cellars again in our Special Selections Wine Club. With a tasting room in Los Olivos, we originally found Dragonette at Family Winemakers in San Diego and initially knew of them as a Pinot house. As we've found over time, their location in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley affords them access to some interesting Syrah as well and this is an interesting blend, largely Syrah that shows off their ability to craft denser and deeper wines.
About Dragonette: We’ve previously shipped a Dragonette Pinot Noir, which we continue to be impressed with, but any time a winery is willing to name a wine after their three significant others, we’re interested. The MJM represent the three first initials of their wives/girlfriend. This wine is considered their proprietory red wine blend, but in essence it’s Syrah for this vintage. Given their location in Santa Ynez Valley, that makes sense, especially with many of the grapes for this wine coming from Ballard Canyon, California’s most recently created AVA-and one of the few largely specializing in Syrah. More than anything else, though the critics LOVE Dragonette-so we wanted to share another of their wines. From the Wine Advocate itself to the California tasting panel at Wine Spectator, scores have been consistently coming in at 90 points and above for Dragonette-meaning these wines are becoming quickly in short supply.
Tasting Notes: 93pts Stehpen Tanzer
Opaque ruby. Black and blue fruits, incense and a touch of candied plum on the highly perfumed nose. Lush and powerful, offering sweet blackberry and boysenberry flavors and suave floral pastille andspicecake nuances. Bright acidity gives this fleshy wine lift, spine and focus. Closes with substantial but harmonious tannins and a jolt of exotic candied violet.
We’ve talked about the cumbersome and frankly annoying rules and regulations in relation to shipping wine from one state to another plenty of this blog already, but the topic came up again for us when we ran into another wine blog that we like quite a bit, Jason Cohen’s Convicted for Grape. Normally, we’d think about shipping Jason some of our favorite wines from the past few months to review-but given that isn’t a possibility, we decided to mention him in this space instead.
Based in Pennsylvania, we don’t run in the same wine ciricles. After all, we’re shipping smaller producers from the west coast and since he is in Pennsylvania, those are exactly the type of wineries which would destroy the fabric of society, according to the state at least.
In any case, we’ve found Jason’s blog to be an interesting and often eclectic mix of reviews, viewpoints and thoughts about the world of wine. We’ve enjoyed his thoughts on the state of Pennsylvania’s state owned liquor stores and his idea about what constitutes the golden age of wine writing. We do agree that the continued widening of writing about the world of wine is a good thing, more well known and respected blogs and bloggers is a good thing for the little guy, after all our PR department consists of well, me for about an hour or two per week.
Anyway, for our regular readers you’ll find a dramatically different set of wines reviewed on his blog than some of the others that we’ve mentioned already. When it comes to international wines, I’m sure you’ll find the blog to be a valuable and efficient resource (love the way the review search function is set up).
Sans Liege is the most recent project by winemaker Curt Schalchlin and we were so impressed with the winery and the price to quality ratio of the project that we decided to feature these wines in two of our wine clubs during May-more on the Grenache offering later, but for now, let’s focus on the Grenache Blanc.
Let’s start with why we were interested in featuring these wines in the first place. One of our favorite tasting trips since starting Uncorked Ventures was a trip to Paso Robles which included an early evening with Russel Fromm and McPrice Myers who make the wine together at Barrel 27 and each have their own personal label (McPrice Myers named it directly after himself, while Russell tried to confuse everyone by naming his Herman Story). We came away from those few hours with not only a good understanding of their wines, some greater understanding of palate fatigue having tasting close to 40 wines and of course with an appreciation for their winemaking styles as well as some of the tope vineyards on the Central Coast.
For some time we’ve been searching for another winemaker who fits squarely into their winemaking style and frankly their pricing, where I strongly believe they leave at least a few dollars on the table with each and every bottle they create.
Enter Curt and Sans Liege.
One of the things we’ve come to like quite a bit about the Central Coast, specifically Paso Robles and much of the Santa Ynez Valley is that the vineyards are relatively easy to keep straight. San Liege boasts a virtual who’s who of vineyard sources that we enjoy. Alta Colina, Bien Nacido, Alta Mesa, Larner and a few others (where’s the Tierra Alta inclusion though?). To us, as outside observes, it’s clear that there’s a serious effort at the highest quality wine here.
Ok, so enough about the background-what about the Grenache Blanc in your glass?
The wineries tasting notes read: Vibrant and cool, the 2012 Groundwork Grenache Blanc is like a English garden impossibly fully bloomed in winter. A fresh nose of tangerine, lemon grass, Bosch pear, white cherry and passion fruit leads to a brightly spiced, mineral laden palate of fresh thyme, star anise, orange blossom, wet flagstone and lemon oil, it finishes with pleasantly trill acidity much like nibbling a meyer lemon.
At our initial taste, we were impressed by the roundness of this Grenache Blanc. When we’ve tried to find other Grenache Blanc’s to ship, we’re often confronted with wines that have a level of acidity that many of our customers would find offputting. That acidity isn’t evident here, although you’re not going to confuse this wine with a class round Napa Valley Chardonnay either.
There is plenty of the traditional slightly spicy finish here as well, which makes Grenache Blanc one of the best pairings with roasted pork chops, or in my house-pork tenderloin
Overall we walked away thinking that this was simply a great summer wine and honestly, one our favorite Grenache Blanc’s that we’ve had in quite some time. We’ve seen quite a few quotes from Schalchlin talking about how he feels inspired by the Northern Rhone (who in Paso isn’t right?) but he goes the next step and creates a wine which the French would find familiar, it’s enjoyable with plenty of fruit but imminently in balance. We’d challenge anyone to find a comparable wine at this $16 price point.
Bottle Rock is the first annual concert, bringing 35,000 visitors and some top musical acts like Bay Area locals Train, the Kings of Leon and the Black Keys among others to Napa Valley.
As far as concerts go, the lineup impresses, but isn’t otherwise noteworthy if it were happening in say San Francisco, New York or LA though.
What makes the event unique though is that it is happening in Napa Valley. Bottle Rock is a different take on music in Napa on two different levels. First, it represents a sea change in the type of music most wineries think their guests might be interested in. To this point wineries have catered to what they believe to be their average customer, people over the age of 50. That means they’ve lined up jazz artists, more jazz artists, an easy listening set and then a couple more jazz artists.
It’s worked fairly well, but the Valley has become green with envy when vintners started seeing the type of unique events happening at urban wineries, which are bound to cut into their market share if they don’t adapt.
This is clearly a step in the right direction. The bands playing are as varied as the music we currently hear on the American Top 40 countdown. Country efforts from the Zack Brown Band, Train and hip hop socially conscious Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Other than the music though, bringing 35,000 people into Napa for a concert represents the culmination of over 40 years of infighting within Napa Valley. Since its inception Napa has been dominated by two groups, grape growers and the vintners who make the wine. For many years, that complex and symbiotic relationship has been largely governed by the Ag Preserve in Napa which not only sets out how much land must be kept for open space and agricultural space, but also set up a series of roadblocks to control and in many ways minimize the type of marketing that the average winery in Napa could do on a yearly basis.
Allowing a major concert to come to Napa along with the virtual shutdown of the Valley for 5 days (the concert site shows a Thursday-Sunday lineup, but Wednesday night was a charity based evening) shows the current thinking in the Valley. It’s time to compete again for consumer dollars
Personally, I hope the Ag Preserve continues to allow the history and agricultural base of the Valley to continue to shine through-but I also hope that events like this become the rule and not the exception.
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