Wine review of Clayhouse Estate Cuvee Blanc, Clayhouse Tannant, Clayhouse Petite Sirah

Clayhouse Estate wines offers a window into Pablo Rosa diversity

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Paso Robles, which is located half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is one of the most exciting wine regions in California today. The variety of grapes being grown there and the number of new producers popping up means there is always something new to taste from this growing region. I recently tasted through a number of current releases from Clayhouse Estate, which were a microcosm of the diversity at play in Paso. This time out, I’ll take a look at three of my favorites from that producer.

The Clayhouse Estate 2010 Cuvée Blanc was produced from fruit grown at the winery’s Red Cedar Vineyard on the eastern end of Paso Robles. This offering is a blend of Grenache Blanc (50 percent) and Viognier (50 percent). The fruit for this wine was hand harvested. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel, with select yeasts. The blending of the varietals took place after fermentation. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23.

One of the things that set Paso apart within California is the fact that Rhone varietals flourish there. The reds seems to get a bit more play, but the white Rhones can be every bit as impressive. This Cuvée is a shining example of that. Aromas of citrus, almond and a mélange of tropical fruits fill the nose of this wine. White peach, lychee fruit, apricot, nectarine and mango flavors are all prevalent throughout the palate, which is both gentle and layered with complexity. White pepper, lemon zest and continued stone and tropical fruit flavors are on display through the palate, which has excellent length. This wine is beautiful on its own -- it doesn’t need food to shine -- but it will pair well with lighter foods, if that’s your preference.

The Clayhouse Estate 2009 Tannat was produced from fruit sourced in vineyard blocks with varying soil types. Tannat is a grape best known for plantings in Southern France. It’s still fairly rare in California but has begun to pop up of late. This offering is a blend of Tannat (92 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (8 percent). After the fruit was picked, different lots were fermented separately in stainless steel using select yeasts. Barrel aging took place over 18 months in French oak. This offering has a suggested retail price of $35.

This 2009 Tannat has a deeply perfumed nose that practically explodes from the glass when you pour. Toast, plums, blackberries, violets and hints of vanilla bean are all present and accounted for. The palate is dominated by a combination of black and purple fruits. The flavors are firm, textured and chewy, with blackberries, blueberries and black raspberries leading the way. A core of spices lead by black pepper plays along as well. This wine has a velvety finish, and shows off crushed black cherries and earth characteristics in abundance. Firm tannins and solid, racy acidity provide a great backbone and structure for this offering. This wine is simultaneously lovely and rugged. It’s tasty on its own, but really screams to be paired with a meal. It will work equally well with something casual, as it will with an elegant presentation. I enjoyed it immensely alongside gnocchi with wild boar ragu.

The Clayhouse Estate 2007 Petite Sirah was produced using fruit grown at the Red Cedar Estate Vineyard. In addition to Petite Sirah (98 percent) this wine also contains a splash of Syrah (2 percent). The fruit was picked by hand and sorted manually before being sent to the winery. Fermentation was accomplished with select yeasts. Barrel aging took place over 18 months in a combination of French, Russian, American and Romanian oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $35.

Petite Sirah is one my favorite varietals. It’s one of the very few things I will never -- under any circumstances -- turn down a taste of. That said, I’m obviously always excited to sample one I haven’t had previously. Violets, blueberries and plum aromas are joined by a touch of toast on the dark and brooding nose of this 2007 Petite Sirah. Dark, eager, intense fruit flavors fill the palate; black raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are of particular note. Plum pudding spice flavors play a strong role, as well as lots of white and black pepper. Hints of sour cherry, cranberry and blackberry emerge on the finish along with earth, espresso, dusty dark chocolate and a little bit of thyme. This wine has a persistent and prodigious close that reverberates on your taste buds long after the last sip is swallowed. This Petite Sirah wants to be paired with something equally bold and substantial. A burger topped with bacon, blue cheese and caramelized onions would do the trick. As delicious as it is now, I think this wine will benefit from some aging. If you have the opportunity to lay this beauty down and revisit it in about 8 years you’ll be justly rewarded.

This trio of wines from Clayhouse Estate showcases a tiny piece of the diversity of Paso Robles. These are terrific wines that all represent really nice values for their price points. They are well worth the extra effort needed to hunt down if they’re not on your local shelf.

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