Nestled just about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco is the wine growing region of Paso Robles. When the AVA was established nearly 35 years ago, only a small handful of producers existed. For a time, Paso was mostly known for Zinfandel and other big, juicy reds, but over the years, as Paso Robles has grown in the number of producers (more than 200) and planted acres, their diversity has increased exponentially.
Today, there are vineyards planted to varieties indigenous to the Rhone, Bordeaux and Burgundy, not to mention parts of Italy and Spain. This wide cross-section of grapes can and does thrive there due to the diversity in soils, weather and more. The styles of wine being produced vary even more. Zinfandel, of course, still plays a noteworthy role, but there is oh-so-much-more joining it. Towards that end, the larger Paso Robles AVA has been split into sub-AVAs that do far better justice to the myriad of conditions encompassing Paso.
As the wine industry has grown, so too has the town. Restaurants, hotels and general infrastructure in Paso have been on an uptick. When you visit, you’ll find lots of small, family-owned boutique wineries and a representative number of large production wineries. The key, whether you’re headed to Paso Robles or drinking their wines at home, is exploration. They haven’t stuck to an old script – they’ve rewritten it for the better, so use that as your inspiration to discover the breadth of their bounty. Here’s a look at half a dozen wines that do a fine job demonstrating part of that abundance, all at very reasonable prices.
Ancient Peaks Winery 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($17)
This is composed of entirely Sauvignon Blanc from the Margarita Vineyard. Aging took place over five months in stainless steel. A combination of tropical and stone fruit aromas dominate the nose along with bits of white pepper. Papaya, Anjou Pear, white peach and citrus notes are all evident through the palate. The finish shows off continued bits of citrus as well as hints of limestone and graphite. Firm acid keeps things crisp. This textbook Sauvignon Blanc will pair well with light foods.
Peachy Canyon 2014 Westside Zinfandel ($22)
In addition to Zinfandel (77%), some Petite Sirah (11%), Alicante (7%), Tannat (3%) and Syrah (2%) are also blended in. Aging took place over 16 months in barrel, 30% of which were new. This widely available Zinfandel is one of the standard bearers from Paso. The nose is stuffed with dark berry, spice and hints of dusty dark chocolate. The palate is a treasure trove of cherry, blackberry, plum and a continuing avalanche of spices. Chocolate, subtle earth and spice notes are all evident on the long finish. This classic example of Zinfandel is bold and fruity while never over the top. Pair it with nearly anything from your grill or smoker.
Tablas Creek Vineyard 2016 Patelin de Tablas Rosé ($25)
This Rosé is composed of Grenache (73%), Cunoise (17%), Mourvedre (6%) and Syrah (4%), all traditional varieties in the Rhone. Ripe, wild strawberry aromas are evident on the nose along with bits of orange zest and spice. Cherry, raspberry, and nectarine flavors are evident through the palate, along with hints of vanilla and nutmeg. Citrus, limestone and a tiny hint of crème fraiche are all in play on the long finish. This crisp, refreshing wine will pair well with a wide array of light- to medium-bodied foods.
Halter Ranch Vineyard 2015 Grenache Blanc ($28)
This Rhone-style white is a blend of Greanche Blanc (80%), Picpoul Blanc (14%), Roussanne (4%) and Viognier (2%). Aging took place Sur lie over five months in a combination of new Hungarian Oak Puncheons and neutral French oak. Exuberant aromas of apricot and pear dot the nose. The palate shows off yellow melon, peach and bits of vanilla. Sour yellow fruits and spice notes dot the finish. This Grenache Blanc will work well as a welcome wine and/or paired with delicate foods.
J. Lohr Vineyards 2014 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), some Petit Verdot (6%) and Cabernet Franc (4%) were blended in. Aging took place over 18 months in French oak (60% new). J. Lohr has a wide portfolio of wines across several price and style tiers; most are widely available around the country. Black raspberry and cherry aromas fill the nose along with bits of dusty earth. Black cherry, blackberry, pepper and bits of espresso fill the palate. Baker’s chocolate and red cherry notes are in play on the finish. Firm acid and tannins provide structure. This is a classic example of Cabernet Sauvignon, and it will pair well with red meats, mushroom-dominant dishes and the like.
Austin Hope 2014 Syrah ($55)
This is entirely Syrah (four clones) from the Hope Family Vineyard, which is in the Templeton Gap District section of Paso Robles. Aging took place over two years in a combination of new and used French oak. The aromatics here are big, bold and boisterous with black and purple fruits galore. Blackberry, plum and boysenberry are all present. The palate is loaded with a combination of juicy fruit flavors, savory herbs and spice notes. Thyme, black plum, raspberry and clove notes are all present. Crushed black cherry, spices and bits of chocolate sauce are all evident on the above-average and focused finish. This Syrah will pair well with hearty stews, grilled meats and strong cheeses.