Paso Robles

The Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010, Paso Robles, isn’t just a well-made rendition of a southern Rhone Valley white wine; it’s better than about 75 percent of the examples from the region. A blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes, 33 percent viognier, 10 percent roussanne and 7 percent marsanne and made all in stainless steel, Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010 is a pale straw-gold color; provocative aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel, dried thyme, ginger and quince are highlighted by a winsome note of honeysuckle. Flavors of lemon and spiced baked grapefruit generously open to hints of crystallized pear and Bit o’ Honey, though the wine is as bone dry as bright acidity and a burgeoning limestone element can make it; the complete effect is spare, supple, almost sinewy and yet juicy and savory, sleek and stylish. I bought this bottle at a local store, and we drank the wine last night with Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas, a fantastic match; it would be great for serving as an aperitif through the Spring and Summer and with grilled fish or chicken. 13.5 percent alcohol. Tablas Creek is a collaboration between the Perrin family of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, owner of their American importer Vineyard Brands. Executive winemaker is Neil Collins; winemaker is Ryan Hebert. Excellent. About $20 (though I paid $22).

Sunday is the Big Day, and millions of Americans will gather in their caves around open fires, er, I mean, in their dens, media rooms and home theaters around the hypnotic glow of large-screen televisions to watch Super Bowl XLVI and devour billions of chicken wings, pigs-in-blankets and cheesy barbecue nachos. Many will drink beer, of course, yet there are wines perfectly suited to the hearty, fat-and-calorie-laden snacks that will be crammed into mouths, er, I mean, politely nibbled during the hours when the Giants and Patriots are pummeling each other in Indianapolis. Here, then, are 10 deep, dark, spicy, wild and/or brooding wines that call out to your bowl of chile, your platter of grilled sausages.

As is the case with these “Friday Wine Sips,” I go straight to the brief review and offer no technical, historical of geographical data. What you see is what you get. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review. Image from
Alamos Red Blend 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 40% malbec, 18% tempranillo, 14% bonarda, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 7% syrah. Very tasty; robust, hearty, deep, dark and spicy; ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by briers and brambles, dense and chewy tannins and sifted mineral elements, all bolstered by vibrant acidity. Not a blockbuster, but definitely a bruiser. Very Good. About $13.
Zanthos Zweigelt 2009, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Black as the night that covers me from pole to pole, this one radiates tarry, earthy spicy black currant, boysenberry and plum fruit edged with leather, graphite and wild mulberry jam. These boots were made for drinking. Very Good+. About $14 and Worth a Search.
Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. Miles better than most cabs at the price; loads of character and integrity; weaves the requisite strands of vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of forest. Delicious intensity and simple purity. It’ll ring yer bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Real Bargain.
Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Rio Tinto 2009, Alta Mesa, Lodi. 13.4% alc. Made from Port grapes: tinta roriz 34%, touriga nacional 28%, alvarelbo 19%, touriga francesa 19%. Blackish ruby-purple color; spicy oak, spicy black currant, black raspberry and blackberry fruit; did I say spicy yet? Deep and dark, yet placid, smooth, despite grainy tannins and elements of underbrush and earthy graphite; then, a whiff of violets. Manly but not muscle-bound. 400 cases. Very Good+. About $16.
Lenore Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Corvidae Wine Co., by Owen Roe) 14.4% alc. Big, shaggy, juicy; black currants, blueberries and blackberry jam infused with Port; smoke, ash, roasted plums, furry tannins set amid earthy, glittering iron filings-like minerality. A fountain of fortitude. Very Good+. I paid $16, but you see it around the country as low as $12.
Modern Wine Project Malbec 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Sleight of Hand Cellars) 14.5% alc. 100% malbec. A Rough Rider of a red wine, robust and rustic, a bit shaggy in the tannin arena, but bursting with dark, smoky and spicy black currant, blueberry and black plum flavors — a little fleshy, a little meaty — framed by polished oak and dusty graphite. Neither bashful nor apologetic. Very Good+. Prices all over the map, but look for $19 to $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anka 2008, Maipo Valley, Chile. (Vina Pargua) 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 57%, merlot 16%, cabernet franc 15%, carmemère 7%, syrah 4%, petit verdot 1%. Wildly floral and berryish; black and red currants, mulberries; licorice and lilac; smooth but dense, chewy texture, full-bodied, sleek and sculpted yet vibrant, something untamed here, woolly and roguish. Luaus and late dates. Very Good+. About $20.
Maquis Carmemère 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dry, dusty and earthy; blatantly spicy, earthy and mineral-laced; very intense and concentrated; the blackest and bluest of fruit, spiced and macerated, a little roasted and fleshy; lots of stones and bones, bastions of fine-grained tannins. Needs a bowl of chili to unleash its testosterone. Very Good+. About $20.
Vale do Bofim Reserva 2009, Douro, Portugal. (Symington Family Estates) 13.5% alc. Mainly touriga nacional grapes. Fresh, spicy, another wild, uninhibited wine; penetrating and poignant aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currants and plums with clear tones of blueberry and mulberry, etched with floral elements and leather, vivid acidity and polished tannins; dry, dense, chewy. Excellent. About $23.
Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 14.1% alc. If deep purple had a smell and taste, this would be it. Rich, warm, spicy, enticing bouquet; black currants, black raspberries and blueberries; deeply imbued with leather, underbrush and forest floor; hints of wet dog and damp moss; ripe, fleshy, meaty; dusty granite and a touch of rhubarb and boysenberry. Cries out for barbecue brisket, ribs, osso buco. “Ex Umbris” means “from the shadows.” Excellent. About $24. (I paid $30.)

Clayhouse Vineyard, owned by Middleton Family Wines, specializes in Rhone-style wines at several grades of production, the Estate level at the top, next the Vineyard level, which adds zinfandel and sauvignon blanc, and, third, the Adobe label, for inexpensive blended red and white wines. The wines offered under the Estate label are produced in very limited quantities, unfortunately, but they are impeccably made and definitely Worth a Search. The two wines under consideration today evoke the plenitude and generosity of the southern Rhone Valley, and they’re versatile wines, suitable for a variety of foods and cuisines. Winemaker is Blake Kuhn.

These were samples for review.

The Clayhouse Estate Cuvée Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, is a blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes and 50 percent viognier, made all in stainless steel. The wine is sleek, spare, elegant, a lovely melange of pear and roasted lemon with a touch of peach, a bit of dried thyme and, after a few minutes in the glass, hints of lemongrass and crystallized ginger; there’s a brisk, slightly astringent floral element in the bouquet, like some shy little white flower that does not give up its perfume easily. The texture is lithe, winsome, crisp, and the finish brings in spicy qualities and a penetrating limestone motif. 13 percent alcohol. Very attractive. Drink through 2013. Production was 142 six-pack cases. Very Good+. About $23. We consumed this wine with a simple dinner of seared wild sockeye salmon, steamed bok choy and grated sweet potatoes sauteed with shallots.

As might be expected, the Clayhouse Grenache Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, packs a little more heft and displays more presence than its cousin mentioned above. Not that the wine is ponderous or obvious, far from it; it’s still deftly balanced, almost balletic in its lift and appeal, but the grenache blanc grape simply embodies rather more character than viognier, so by itself, and aided by brief aging in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels, it provides more depth and texture. That texture is transparent, supple, almost sinewy, yet poised between moderate lushness and crisp, resonant acidity. This is all spiced and softly poached stone fruit — and an intriguing high bell-tone of red currant — given the rigor of scintillating shale and limestone; there are back-notes of dusty thyme and sage and an earthy aspect that does not keep the wine earthbound. Quite a performance. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Production was 140 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $23. We had this with one of our favorite dishes from November through March, the cod and chorizo stew with leeks and potatoes.

A white wine and a red wine from California, both reasonably priced, and we’ll begin with white.

The Morgan R & D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands (in Monterey County), ages two months in stainless steel and two months in neutral — several times used — French oak barrels. The result is a bright, spicy and appealing wine with an entrancing bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, jasmine and camellia and after-thoughts of lavender, quince and candied fennel. Crisp acidity and a penetrating limestone element give the wine a vibrant structure, while a lissome, moderately lush texture encompasses flavors of ripe tangerine, peach and lemon, with just a hint of dried thyme and tarragon and an elusive sheen of slightly spicy wood. The wine is quite dry, with a touch of mineral austerity on the finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink into 2012 with smoked shrimp or mussels, octopus or squid salad or ceviche. Consistently one of the best pinot gris wines made in California. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Excellent. About $18.
A sample for review.

The Liberty School label was created in 1975 by Caymus Vineyards to absorb surplus cabernet sauvignon grapes. In 1987, after the brand became popular, the Hope family, which owned vineyards in Paso Robles, began selling cabernet grapes to Caymus. By 1995, production of Liberty School had moved to Paso Robles, and within four years, a Central Coast chardonnay and syrah had been introduced. Liberty School is now a label under the umbrella of Hope Family Wines, which includes Treana, Austin Hope and Candor.

We drank the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, a few nights ago with a homemade pizza topped with grilled artichoke hearts, Roma tomatoes, bell pepper and spring onions; shards of speck; basil, rosemary and oregano; mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan cheeses. The pizza was great and the wine — robust, spicy and flavorful — was perfect with it. Liberty School Cab 08 isn’t complicated or thought-provoking and heaven forbid that it would be. Instead, you get vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak — from 12 months aging in French and American barrels, 10 percent new — and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all of this spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of foresty character. Delicious intensity and simple purity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the rest of the year into 2012 with burgers, carne asada, barbecue ribs and, of course, pizza. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.
A sample for review.

Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.

I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:

*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.

Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.

Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.

I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.

No, I’m not writing about baked goods; rather, I’m writing about three red wines I tasted recently from Villa San-Juliette, located in Paso Robles. The name sounds Italian, the label is decorous and attractive, but the wines are New World to the hilt: opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe, thoroughly oaked, and with alcohol as high as an elephant’s eye. Who drinks these wines? Turns out that the owners of the 168-acre vineyard in Pleasant Valley north of Paso Robles are Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, producers of American Idol. Well, o.k., that fits, over-the-top wines from the producers of the country’s number one over-the-top television program. The prices, however, are not extreme at all, though to make them worth the money you have to love an exaggerated, if not parodistic style. Winemaker is Adam LaZarre, a well-known figure in California for two decades and former head winemaker for Hahn Estate Winery.

These wines were samples from a local wholesale distributor.
The Villa San-Juliette Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French barrels, a process that resulted in a wine dense with creamy, spicy oak and sumptuous with rich cassis, plum and black cherry scents and flavors. This is a blend of 90 percent cabernet grapes, 4 percent each “shiraz” and tempranillo, 2 percent merlot. Give it a few moments and the wine dredges up notes of blueberry tart and boysenberry, the whole effect pretty damned luscious and jammy, and at this point I’m thinking that the VS-J Cab 08 is channeling a big-hearted, two-fisted Paso Robles zinfandel; touches of mint and cedar, lavender and licorice reinforce the notion. Layers of dense, thick, chewy, dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality provide structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. 3,900 cases. To my palate, this wine is a travesty of cabernet sauvignon. Rating is Good+, for those who don’t really want their cabernets to be anything at all like cabernet. About $17.
The Villa San-Juliette Petite Sirah 2008, Paso Robles, includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent syrah and 3 percent mourvèdre; it ages 14 months in new and neutral French barrels. The wine is sweet with oak, sweet with its 15 percent alcohol content, sweet with super-ripe, viscous black and blue fruit flavors permeated by blueberry tart and blackberry jam, smoke and ash, potpourri and dusty velvet and (paradoxically) almost iron-like minerality. Opulent and overwhelming. 3,900 cases. Good+. About $17.
LaZarre describes this wine, on the back label, as “blueberry motor oil,” and at first I thought he was apologizing, as in, “Gosh, I’m so sorry that the Petitie Sirah 2008 turned out like blueberry motor oil. I promise to do better next time,” but, no, the term was meant as high praise appropriate to the wine. I guess I’m just so fucking naive.
O.K., on to the Villa San-Juliette Chorum 2007, Paso Robles, a wine intended as the flagship for the estate. This is blend of 68 percent “shiraz” — fer gawd’s sake, just say syrah! — and 32 percent cabernet sauvignon, and perhaps using the Australian term “shiraz” indicates the wine’s affinity with Australian wines of the same ilk. It ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French oak, and it’s a huge, formidable, flamboyant, ripe and fleshy and meaty performance, a close to Baroque rendition of the companion grapes. Fie, it out-Australians the Australians! 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 510 cases. Good only. About $23.
I tasted those three red wines together day before yesterday, but I have a glass of the Villa San-Juliette Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles, next to me as I type these words. While I find this bright straw-yellow colored wine the most reasonably proportioned of the VS-J wines I tried, it’s still far from the spare, reticent manner I prefer. Notes of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd distinguish a bouquet that also yields hints of tangerine, pear and melon, with after-thoughts of dusty, dried herbs and the waxiness of little white flowers that take it into Rhone Valley-marsanne/roussanne territory. Not that the wine is not extremely attractive, but it is a bit extreme. It ages 4 months in neutral French barrels, and one feels that oaken subtlety in the wine’s suppleness and smoothness; flavors lean toward stone fruit and mango and baked pear, with a burst of lime and grapefruit (in nose and mouth) that delivers crispness and liveliness to the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,060 cases. Of this quartet, the VS-J Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is the one I recommend, for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

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