Paso Robles: Beyond Bordeaux & Rhone Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-07-2017

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Derby Vineyard – Paso Robles

Paso Robles built its reputation on big, juicy red wines made from Rhone or Bordeaux varieties. That reputation is well-earned, as there are thrilling Cabs, Syrahs, Mourvedres, and all sorts of blends, coming out of Paso. But, after spending a few days exploring the wine scene in this Central Coast wine region, I came away impressed with wines made from grapes that might surprise you. And a lot of them are really, really good.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape in Paso Robles, and Bordeaux varieties make up 55% of the region’s vineyard acreage, according to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. And there are Rhone grapes (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Petite Sirah), all over the place. Add in Zinfandel, and you’ve got most of Paso’s wine covered.

But to focus solely on those wines (as good as they are) would be to miss out on some really cool stuff. I found several white Rhones that were salty, brisk and delicious (Grenache Blanc, usually blended, seems to do exceedingly well here.) Ditto for Viognier. More producers are releasing rosé, both from Rhone and other grapes, so there are plenty of lively, spicy pinks out in Paso. Then there are wines made from Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian grapes. Chris and Adrienne Ferrara, the husband-wife team behind the winery Clesi, seem intent on proving that they can make exceptional Southern Italian style wines in Paso — I’m convinced.

Paso’s varied soils and microclimates allow conscientious winegrowers to explore all sorts of grapes for all sorts of wine styles. More than 40 grape varieties are grown in Paso Robles, and there is likely room for growth in that department.

These wines were tasted in Paso Robles, sighted, usually with the winemaker. 

vPwPER1gGXq1o5_z-khEdhk4sAdou9oS6GZYtDf1N60pX92IB2016 Brecon Estate Viognier-Grenache Blanc- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles, Adelaida District
$34
The aromas on this white blend pop like crazy with white peaches, green melons, lime zest, floral perfume. Plump and peachy with guava nectar, honey, slight oily note, but also fresh and lively. Medium acid from the Grenache Blanc, juicy honeyed fruit from the Viognier, this is a fun blend with a good combo of oily-honey aspects with crisp, salty aspects. (50/50 Viognier and Grenache Blanc) (89 points)

2015 Brecon Estate Albariño
$30
Bright but tropical nose with white peaches, pineapple, and some almond, sea salt notes. Crisp but nice weight on the palate (a stirred lees character is evident, and adds complexity). Peaches and green melon, orange zest and honey, but a bright salty streak throughout, this is a very pretty and quite complex Albarino. There are a bunch of producers in Paso taking this grape seriously, and it shows. (90 points)

2016 Vino Vargas Albariño Aha!
$24
The nose shows peaches and bright oranges, along with flowers and sea breeze. Zesty and bright on the palate with a dry, mouthwatering feel despite the solid depth of peach and apricot fruit. Flowers and sea salt, drizzled with lime, that’s the finish. Lovely. I’m stoked a bunch of Paso winemakers are taking Albarino seriously, because it can work really well. (90 points)

2010 Denner Viognier- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
$ n/a
Oily and rich on the nose with almond and lemon curd. Creamy but shows vibrancy. Lemon, quince, almond, hay, candle wax. Oily but not heavy and surprisingly fresh at this age. A great example of how Paso wines (and not just reds), can age very nicely. From winemaker Anthony Yount’s first year as winemaker, this is an excellent effort, an eye-opening one for me.  (91 point)

2015 Denner Viognier- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
$48
Aromatics show peaches and lemon curd with brighter floral tones and notes of almond and candle wax. Richness and creaminess is helped by moderate acidity. Peaches and lemon curd blend with spiced tea, honey and almond. Very nice stuff, and an interesting comparison back-to-back with the 2010. (90 points)

2013 Le Cuvíer Viognier- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
$59
Bold golden color (this is made with significant skin contact). Awesome aromatic blend of honey, almond, olive oil, dried mango, circus peanuts. On the palate this is plush and waxy but actually shows some acidity to balance it out. Plump apricot, mango slices, orange marmalade, I also get flavors of warm honey and tea, almond skin, clove, green tea leaves. Whoa, this is unique, crazy, wild, delicious stuff. It’s made like a red wine and aged 42 months in old oak and served at cellar temperature. Very cool. I could see lots of people disliking this, but I find it fascinating and delicious. (91 points)

2012 Derby Wine Estates Project España
$32
Nose shows fresh red fruits and bright roses. Medium tannins, vibrant acidity, crisp red fruit, this is a spicy, pepper, herb-tinged homage to Spanish Tempranillo-based blends, and it pulls it off well. But it still has this saucy fruit/fresh mineral combo that is uniquely Paso. Really fun stuff. Tempranillo with Graciano, Grenache and Carignan. (89 points)

2015 Wild Horse Blaufränkisch Reserve
$30
The nose is spicy and awesome, with red and blue fruit, laced with cinnamon and dark spiced tea. Plush and juicy on the palate with solid tannic bite and medium/fresh acidity. Lots of spice cake, cinnamon, herbal tea. Seriously deep and fresh. (91 points)

2015 Pasoport Wine Co. Chenin Blanc Per Caso
$27
I was stoked to finally taste a Chenin on this trip, and I was shocked by how good this one was. Nose is super zippy with lemon pith, lime, sea salt, chalk dust. Full of acidity and salinity on the palate but pretty texture and weight as well. Lemon/lime and pineapple blend with crushed shells and rocks, sea spray and almond shell. Really cool stuff. (90 points)

2012 Pasoport Wine Co. Per Caso Iberian Blend
$45
Aromas gush with red and black cherries, blueberries, rolled together with coffee and incense sticks. Great concentration on the palate, sturdy but refreshing, with black cherry and currant compote-style fruit, along with complex elements of clove, spiced coffee, pepper, mint and earth. Long finish, long time ahead, I’m really enjoying this blend of Portuguese grapes. 63% Touriga Nacional, 29% Tinto Cão, 8% Souzão. (91 points)

2013 Pasoport Wine Co. Touriga Nacional Per Caso
$49
Bursting aromas of raspberry jam and red currants, along with spicy clove, sweet herbs and red licorice. Juicy on the palate but nice grip to the tannins, gushing red fruits mix with pepper, charcoal, black tea, cocoa and coffee notes. Per Caso’s Glenrose Vineyard wines are making me think I need to see more Paso wines made from Portuguese grapes, because these wines are firing. 100% Touriga Nacional. (91 points)

lK9XFy6kGOvvsmR62m6yUD7y1qNUICRPZgHq3xdkG5spX92IB2013 Seashell Cellars Balboa Reserve
$25
Love the charred herbs on the nose, and some black cherries, raspberry jam and cocoa powder. Silky, velvety, beautiful texture and nice balance, with lots of crushed blueberries and plums. Notes of mocha, charcoal, herbs, tobacco, and anise. Grippy and forward but delicious and complex, too. Tempranillo-based blend. (91 points)

2016 Clesi Malvasia Bianca San Bernabe
$24
Punchy nose with apricots, mango, floral extract. Floral and bright on the palate with so, so much lychee, and some peach and honey. Dry, super tropical and a bit heavily floral but it stays fresh and goes down easy. (87 points)

2014 Clesi Dolcetto Nevarez Vineyard
$28
Aromas of sweet black cherries, red flowers, cola and tar. On the palate it shows dusty tannins, zesty acid, lots of black cherry and currant compote. Smoky herbal tones meet sweet violets. Delicious, well-balanced example of this grape – very impressive. (89 points)

2014 Clesi Sangiovese
$36
Pretty red currants, violets and roses on the nose, with some spiced berry tea. Pretty, so pretty on the palate with silky tannins, fresh acidity, spicy red currants. Notes of violets, cola, tobacco and rosemary add complexity. Nice stuff. (89 points)

2014 Clesi Convivio
$34
Aromas of red currants and cherries, along with evocative waves of fruit and spice, violets and black tea. Silky, fleshy red fruit with spicy earth, tar and clove flavors on a medium-bodied, sturdy but fresh frame. This producer’s only blended wine, it’s 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese. (90 points)

2012 Clesi Aglianico
$36
Wow, the nose is super spicy and awesome with cherries, red currants, pepper, bay leaf, tar. Structured with bold tannins and medium acidity. Grippy but vibrant, delicious but complex with currants, iodine, tar, pepper and leather – lots going on here, and lots to show over the next five years. (90 points)

2013 Clesi Aglianico
$36
Fresher than the 2012, with more juicy cherries, some delicious leather, pepper and sage. Grippy but silky, vibrant acidity. Black cherries and red currants mix with sage, pepper, tar and mocha. Another awesome interpretation of this killer grape. Chris knows his stuff! (90 points)

2013 Clesi Aglianico Amphora
$36
Wow, this is fascinating to taste this next to the one aged in barrel. The amphora adds this airy, floral delicacy to a wine that can be dense and powerful. Spicy floral, lifted aromatics, tarter red fruits. On the palate this has great grip but such freshness and vibrancy. Pretty red fruits and spices – bold flavors but also airy and elegant. (91 points)

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