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Baja Wine Country with Steve Dryden - Paso Robles Wine Moves to theTop
Serious wine lovers might want to explore the dynamic wines coming out of the Paso Robles region before the rest of the world discovers the phenomenal quality and value coming from this small California wine producing area. Actually, this “distinct” wine region does have a total area of 600,000 acres, but is currently planted with about 30,000 vineyard acres of forty different varietals. The Paso wine country is the fastest growing wine region in California with over 200 wineries to date. The earliest plantings of Spanish varietals took place in 1797, then expanded with Italian plantings (Zinfandel-Primitivo) before moving into Bordeaux and most recently Rhone varietals. Today, Paso Robles wines are catching the attention of world’s keenly focused and informed wine connoisseurs, particularly due to the amazing quality of the 2007 vintage.

In February we filmed for our wine and food adventure show, The Grapevine, at the Paso Robles Grand Tasting Tour in San Diego. Our crew and show hosts experienced an informative and educational seminar hosted by Stacie Jacob of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. In addition, we participated in a discussion with two professional winemakers and a General Manager: Jason Haas of Tablas Creek, Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines and Stephen Asseo of L’ Aventure. The wine related conversations among this gang of “free spirited” wineries clearly showed that these dynamic individuals are serious at their craft of creating world class wines. Despite the convincing dialog, it was the samples of wines featured in a vertical tasting that proved their point.

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek presented a refreshing sample of 2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, 44% Roussanne, 22% Viognier, 18% Grenache Blanc and 16% Marisanne. This was followed with the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc and 10% Picpoul. I loved the rich, spicy fruit with hints of butterscotch in the 2001 and found the 2007 to be a little richer, sweeter, with a pinch of white pepper, and of excellent quality. We sampled a 1999 Reserve Cuvee of 40% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 23% Syrah, and 10% Counoise which was followed by the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel, 44% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 21% Syrah, and 6% Counoise. The 1999 is dynamic, deep tannins upfront, defined chalkiness, followed by ripe fruit flavors of cherries and blueberries, anise, with hints of coffee and mocha. The 2007 is remarkable, rich, ripe cherries, Mission fig, notes of cocoa, with a delightful long finish. Tablas Creek winery is setting the standards for the emerging Rhone varietal wines coming out of Paso Robles. One thing that stands out is their total commitment to the environment and their consumers, with organic farming, no toxic chemicals and an abundance of respect for nature. Personally, I’d drink their wine just because of their philosophy, despite the fact that all they produce are “world class” wines.

Austin Hope, winemaker for Hope Family poured a 2000 Treana Red, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, and 10% Merlot that was followed by his 2007 Treana Red, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Syrah. Both wines are exceptional, but I really enjoyed the excellent 2007 with blackberries, fig, mocha, wonderful finish ending with soft tannins. Austin Hope is a member of the new generation of winemakers that is moving this region to the “top of the charts” with the creation of exceptional wines. In addition, he is a dynamic person with strong leadership and communication skills, thus securing the future for the Paso Robles revolution.

Stephen Asseo, winemaker for L’ Aventure presented his 2001 Estate Cuvee followed with his 2007 Estate Cuvee. His 2001 Cuvee is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot and 20% Syrah. His 2007 Cuvee is a completely different blend of 49% Syrah, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 14% Petit Verdot. The 2001 has 20% Syrah while the 2007 is predominately 49% Syrah. Both wines are exceptional, the 2001 has about 16% alcohol, fruit forward with hints of anise, coffee and red licorice. The 2007 has ripe black cherry fruit, mocha, toast, complex and well balanced, a superb wine of exceptional quality. L’ Aventure wines are a reflection of their vines and the talent of Stephen Asseo. He was trained as an Enologist in Burgundy, France and moved to Paso Robles driven by his “spirit of adventure” to handcraft wines of distinct character.

Our film crew created our own “adventure” as we moved into the Grand Tasting room to expose our palates to the wines and talent of the winemakers from Paso. Terry Hoage poured three amazing wines of the 2007 vintage made from various combinations of Grenache, Syrah and Mouverdre. One of our favorites was from Four Vines, a stunning 2007 Petite Sirah, Paso Robles Heretic. It is one of the most elegant Petite Sirahs I’ve experienced so far, amazing bouquet on the nose, with rich ripe plum and boysenberry flavors. Edward Sellers presented an awesome GSM blend, 2007 Le Thief, which validates the “theory” that Paso can produce “world class” Rhone varietal wines. Another impressive winery is Eberle. They poured a diverse portfolio of Rhone blends, a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignons, and a Muscat Canelli. I was taken aback by their 2007 Steinbeck and Wine Bush Vineyard Zinfandel with rich boysenberry fruit, with a hint of herbs and pinch of white pepper. This winery is the one who brought early attention to Paso with the creation of “world class” Cabernet Sauvignon. And, of course everyone loves Halter Ranch wines, but they are under-priced for the quality, particularly with their 2006 Estate Grown Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We discovered that Paso Robles vintners have “quietly” moved to the “top of the charts” with the 2005 and 2007 vintages. Our dedicated team of wine educators did our best to taste all the wines presented, and despite much effort, we didn’t find a wine that wasn’t exceptional. The next time someone tells me that they make better wine than California, I’ll ask then when they last tasted a Paso Robles wine. It all started with remarkable Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignon, and now Rhone varietal blends. Paso Robles has emerged and evolved into the newest “Shinning Star” in California, I wonder when folks will see it? Hopefully, it won’t take three wise men on camels (with a decanter) to show wine lovers the way to the promise land.....

Steve Dryden is a wine, food and travel writer living in Mexico’s premier wine country where he guides individual and small group wine tours. He can be reached at: sbdryden@hotmail.com
Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2010 6:58 AM by Herb Kinsey

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