There are few wine regions the world over that offer more diversity of style than Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast.
With more than 40 different grape varietals grown over 40,000-plus vineyard acres by more than 200 wineries, it would be folly on my part to think I could capture the essence of the 11 distinct wine producing districts, or AVAs, established within the single Paso Robles AVA back in 2014.
For years, a debate ensued over the establishment of a West Paso Robles and an East Paso Robles winemaking designation. The thinking was, in very broad terms, that the western part of the region was cooler and wetter thanks to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
Because of those and other differences, it was argued that the two areas grew different grapes varieties and produced vastly different types of wine and therefore should be separated into two grape-growing regions. As the 2014 decision proved, that debate only scratched the surface of Paso’s climate, soil, grape and wine diversity.
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The following is from Jason Haas of Tablas Creek winery, which is located a short distance from the Pacific in West Paso:
“The Paso Robles AVA stretches roughly 42 miles east to west and 32 miles north to south. Average rainfall varies from more than 30 inches a year in extreme western sections to less than 10 inches in areas farther east.
“Elevations range from 700 feet to more than 2400 feet. Soils differ dramatically in different parts of the AVA, from the highly calcareous hills out near us to sand, loam and alluvial soils in the Estrella River basin. The warmest parts of the AVA accumulate roughly 20 percent more heat,” Haas wrote in a 2015 blog.
Haas says approval of the new AVAs is “a concrete data point that the region is maturing.”
I wondered what those changes meant to the consumer? Christopher Taranto, Communications Director for The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, told me not very much — yet.
“For the most part, consumers don’t really know. The use of the 11 districts is mostly for trade and media who are looking to better understand the AVA,” Taranto said.
So, what of the wine coming from Paso these days? Well, this much I can say, wine from Paso Robles has never been better across the board. I’ve enjoyed the area’s full-bodied cabernet sauvignon, cab blends, and zinfandels along with the region’s less extracted, more layered offerings at places like Tablas Creek for years. Let me start there.
I love the wines at Tablas Creek — white, red, blends, and single varieties. Particular favorites of mine for both value and flavor are the Cotes de Tablas bottlings — Cotes-du-Rhone-style blendings, both white and red, that are a joy to drink on their own and a pleasure to match with a wide array of cuisine.
Justin is another Paso stalwart, producing a classic Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon and an outstanding Bordeaux-style blend called Isosceles, among other wines. Justin is a label worth seeking out. and if you love full-bodied, pedal-to-the-metal wines, check out Eberle’s Estate cabernet sauvignon.
Made with 100 percent Cab, Eberle’s bottling is a Cab-lover’s dream.
Hoyt, Vina Robles, Burbank Ranch, and Zenaida Cellars were all new wineries to me. Hoyt, featuring actress turned winemaker Carol Hoyt, makes a very good cabernet sauvignon, and her Tempranillo, a grape gaining traction in the U.S., is a wine to keep your eye on. Vina Robles’ RED4, a Rhone-inspired blend of four grapes from five vineyards is an affordable joy.
Burbank Ranch’s Fortunate Sun Cabernet was a great discovery. Complex and balanced, only 600 cases of this wine were produced. The Zenaida Cellars Fire Sign Cuvee is another Paso blend with surprising complexity. Featuring Caberenet Sauvignon, syrah, and zinfandel, the Fire Sign is no shrinking violet and another wine suited to lovers of big, bold red wine.
Lastly, let me put in a good word for Peachy Canyon, whose Paso wines I have enjoyed for 25 years, and Napa Valley-based Beringer, which now bottles a Paso Robles red blend called The Waymaker. I think of Peachy Canyon as a Zinfandel specialist (their Westside Zin is a particular favorite), but the winery offers many other red wine blends along with a limited production 100 percent syrah!
As for The Waymaker, this blend of seven red varieties dominated by Syrah, is big, rich, and ripe, perfect for steaks or burgers on the grill!
Like those who argued for an East and West Paso wine designation, I realize I’ve only scratched the surface of the depth and breadth of Paso Robles wine, but it’s certainly a tasty start.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.