Greetings and salutations! Thanks to a recent getaway with good friends, I have seen the future (and the past) of the wine industry in California, and it is found in neither Napa Valley nor Sonoma Valley, but rather 250 miles south of those well-known wine regions, in Paso Robles.
First, a few fun facts about Paso Robles before your wine brain rejects my hypothesis out of hand: (1) The town is pronounced “Pass-O Roe-Bulls” by the locals, and its name is derived from the Spanish phrase El Paso de Robles, meaning “the pass of the oaks;” (2) Paso boasts the oldest continuously operating winery in Central California, the York Mountain Wine Co., which dates back to 1882 (making it just slightly older than your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth) and is now owned and painstakingly operated by Bill and Liz Armstrong, the proprietors of Epoch; (3) Paso Robles can boast of the first (dating to 1983) official and the largest (614,000 total acres) American Viticultural Area (“AVA”), which has now been subdivided to 13 smaller AVA’s as of 2014; (4) Zinfandel is the region’s heritage varietal, dating to the early 1880’s, but the majority of Paso’s plantings are actually Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals; (5) A large volume of Paso’s grapes are actually blended and released under Napa Valley labels; and (6) Paso is the fastest growing AVA in California, with 32,000 vineyard acres and more than 270 bonded wineries (up from 75 just ten years ago!) ranging from nationally distributed, mid-size to boutique in size.
So what makes Paso Robles so special? Funny you should ask! For my money, going to Paso in 2015 is a bit like stepping back to Sonoma Valley in 1986, my first journey into wine country. The locals are laid back and friendly yet adventurous, and clearly there is a relaxed but proud fraternity among the Paso wineries and growers. Without exception, each of the several wineries we visited inquired where else our merry group was tasting, and many offered to call to make appointments for us (unlike Napa and Sonoma, most wineries cheerfully accept walk in tastings!). There is a refreshing “can do” attitude that permeates through Paso and the deceptively large wine industry there.
A handful of Paso Robles wineries are recognizable. Justin, located in the far northwest strip of the Paso Robles AVA, has been widely decorated for its Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux Blends, particularly its famed “Isosceles” blend. Our savvy group particularly enjoyed the Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, a load of which happily appeared courtesy of the UPS man last week. Fans of Zinfandel likely consider Turley a household name. For my money, one would be very hard pressed to find a better everyday red than the Turley Juvenile 2012, a blend of several Paso-area vineyards, particularly when its $21 suggested retail price is dialed into the equation. Epoch and its rock star winemaker Jordan Fiorentini are teaming to make some truly world-class Rhone varietals, as evidenced by the Epoch Estate Blend 2010, which was awarded the #25 spot of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013. Fans of value Cab Savs will recognize the J Lohr label for consistent quality at a good price, as will fans of high end Rhone blends will recognize Saxum, a recemt number one wine on the Wine Spectator Top 100. Perhaps the most picturesque winery in the Paso area is the gorgeous new Niner facility, which boasts of a world-class restaurant and the memorable Heart Hill that frames the winery, as well as terrific Cabs and Bordeaux varietals. Heart Hill graces this month’s Chapter, in case you haven’t had the opportunity to see its beauty. Clearly, these are not wines to be trifled with.
Just as exciting, however, are the newer wineries that fire up the Paso locals. Wineries like Linne Callado (try their Zinfandel blend called “Problem Child”), Brecon (a couple of delicious Syrah blends), Jack Creek and dozens of others make for a truly wonderful adventure.
There are a plethora of tasty restaurants in the area as well, befitting Paso’s long tradition as a California getaway town, complete with hot spas and mud baths.
All in all, consider this Wine Bargain Sleuth a new champion of this central California paradise. Oh, and for those that love the beach, you are less than a half an hour from the beautiful California coast and breathtaking US 1, arguably the most challenging and scenic road in these United States. All in all, you sleuths should make a point of checking out Paso Robles and its considerable charm!
And now, without further ado, it’s time for this Chapter’s Value Wines and Splurge Wines:
Value Wine No. 1: Feuerheerd’s Anchor Wine 2012
You have probably noticed the recent trend of wine reviewers spotlighting the wines of Portugal. Or stated differently, Portugal’s liquid imports are not just about Port dessert wines anymore. As an example, 3 of the top 4 wines in this year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 wines were Portuguese offerings. If you haven’t had the opportunity to travel to Portugal or otherwise familiarize yourself with the Portugal wines, your Wine Bargain Sleuth has an excellent opportunity for you as one of this Chapter’s Value Wines: Feuerheerd’s Anchor Wine 2012 from the Douro region. Retailing for $16 but available for perhaps $3 less on several internet sites, this delicious Duoro red wine has unusual balance and polish for a red wine at this price point. Lovely dark cherries punctuate the nose and initial sip of this Portuguese offering, with a delightfully elegant earthiness on the finish. If you are a fan of earthy Pinot Noir wines, then you will likely enjoy this Feuerheerd Anchor Wine 2012. The independent internet rating service Cellar Tracker has a 91 rating on this tasty value red wine. To boot, the Vihno Tinto wine comes in an attractive heavy paper wrapper that makes it stand out in your favorite wine store. Feel like something exotic with your Wed. night pizza? Look no further than the remarkable Feuerheerd’s Anchor Wine 2012 to add some old world flavor. Cheers!
Value Wine No. 2: Bodegas Burgo Viejo Crianza 2012
Those who follow this blog have likely discovered that your Wine Bargain Sleuth is becoming an increasing fan of Spanish red wines in general and those emanating from the Rioja region in particular. My experience is that a good Rioja red often delivers tremendous bang for your wine buck. This month’s Value Wine No. 2, Bodegas Burgo Viejo Crianza 2012 is definitely one of those Spaniards! Classic Rioja tones of dark cherry are on the nose, with hints of vanilla, dry toast and leather on the mid-palate, finishing with an elegant, lengthy minerality. Fresh tasting, with lots of acidity, the Bodegas Burgo Viejo red is a terrific pairing with pork dishes, grilled chicken or even a spicy and rich jambalaya. Retailing for a remarkable $13, this Rioja is every bit a value wine, and moreover it received a strong 90 rating from Wine Spectator. Hurry and stock up with this terrific value before other sleuths beat you to it!
Value Wine No. 3: Turley Juvenile Zinfandel 2013
As noted in this month’s Chapter, Turley knows Zinfandel, and its 2013 Juvenile blend from multiple Paso Robles vineyards represents a true bargain–a world class wine at a suggested retail of $21. This is a classic value wine–my palate indicates that I am drinking a wine that retails well over $50 per bottle rather than a fraction of that amount. When I think of the Turley Juvenile Zinfandel 2013, I think of elegance and balance, with a pleasant but not overpowering nose of cherry and strawberry, followed by a hint of spice and a touch of green pepper, followed by a lovely and lengthy smooth finish. The winemakers at Turley have the reputation of being one of California’s foremost Zinfandel experts, and this bottle should quickly convince a wine sleuth that they are not just whistling Dixie on their mass-production Zins. The Turley Juvenile 2012 vintage received 90+ ratings from multiple sources, and the 2013 manages to raise that bar considerably, earning a stout 94 rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. If you are looking for a new “House Red” that doesn’t set your wallet back, then I highly recommend that you pick up a case of the Turley Juvenile Zinfandel 2013. Cheers!
Worth a Splurge Wine: Epoch Veracity 2012
While we are on the topic of incredible Paso Robles wines, I had the recent opportunity to share a bottle of the Epoch Veracity 2012 red with 3 close friends after a spectacular if exhausting drive south on US 1 from Carmel to Paso. Before we retired for the evening, I decided to quiz my crew as to the varietal and year of the Veracity 2012 just for the fun of it (this vintage of the wine is constituted of 55% Grenache, 27% Mourvedre and 18% Syrah). Not only did each of the three guess incorrectly, but each then added “But I don’t like (the varietal)!” Well, folks, they sure liked the 3 varietals blended with the skill that Epoch stellar winemaker Jordan Fiorentini imparted to this remarkable and unique red. Many Grenache-based wines I have sampled in the past tend to be thin, a bit green vegetable in profile and generally not particularly desirable. Enter the 2012 Veracity to immediately erase my bias. This red blend is all at once complex, layered, surprising and plush, the latter particularly after 30 minutes or so of aeration. The Epoch website succinctly quotes its winemaker’s view that the unique 2012 Veracity is “reminiscent of the Southern Rhone wines that inspired its inception, yet so obviously born of west Paso….” Your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth simply believes that this Epoch offering is his new favorite blend. The Veracity 2012 would pair beautifully with a pork tenderloin or roasted lamb, as its balance and acidity will stand up to without overpowering the meats. This is truly a wine to be savored, as the lengthy finish will encourage you to do. And don’t believe me, perhaps you might be more persuaded by the likes of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (a healthy 94 rating), Wine Enthusiast (another great 94 rating) or Wine Spectator (91). Retailing for about $60, the Epoch Veracity 2012 red blend is a shining beacon of the great fruit and clever winemaking that has become Paso Robles.
Wine Thought of the Day: Wine Is For Sharing
The past several months have brought unexpected sadness and loss to your Wine Bargain Sleuth. As a fifty-something, the lesson that life can and will change in a moment is never far away. Never forget that much of the joy that is wine is in the sharing a glass with people you love. A wine collection is a wonderful avocation, but let us never forget that it pales in comparison with surprising a friend with a delicious new varietal or terrior expression of your favorite grape. Enjoy, my friends!
Until next month– Cheers!
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