I have visited Paso Robles in California’s central coast on numerous occasions over the past decade or so, and each time I leave more impressed with the region, its producers and its wines.
Paso produces many excellent bottlings in a range of price points, but what strikes me most about this physically attractive region is its diversity.
Rarely, in this country or others, will you find more different grape varietals cultivated or more styles of wines made than you will find in Paso Robles.
It’s a characteristic of the region that is simultaneously impressive and frustrating. It’s impressive for the sheer numbers of grapes being grown and vinified in the Paso AVA, and it’s frustrating because it’s a region that’s tough to get a handle on.
When I first visited and tasted in Paso, it seemed there was a pretty clear distinction. The western part of the area, closer to the Pacific and therefore cooler, grew more grapes originating in France’s Rhone Valley — Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and others — and produced wines based more on finesse and structure and less on power.
The eastern sections of the Paso AVA, meantime, were much hotter and home to Bordeaux grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with plenty of Zinfandel — old vine and not-so-old-vine. The east side wines were more powerful, higher in alcohol and fuller-bodied.
The trouble is, while that assessment still holds true in a larger sense, when you put the vines, wines and producers under the microscope, Paso is more complex. With more than 200 wineries and some 32,00 acres under vine, how can it not be?
I will leave the dissection of the Paso Robles AVA to brighter wine minds and keener wine pallets than mine and instead focus on a few of my favorite producers, their story of passion and commitment to Paso Robles and some of the delightful wines they create.
I’ve mentioned Tablas Creek, one of my favorite wine producers the world over, several times in the past. Tablas Creek was founded jointly by the Perrin family of the famed Chateau Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas family, which imports their wines and many others.
They produce wines from Rhone Valley grape varieties from vines they brought over from France and propagated themselves. They are some of the best expressions of these grapes perhaps outside the Rhone and I would encourage you to seek them out — red, white and rose.
While on the subject of favorites, let me also send a little love in the direction of long-time Paso Robles producer, J. Lohr. J. Lohr (the J. standing for Jerry) is the consummate family business. All three of Jerry Lohr’s children are working with him at the winery and have been for more than a decade.
Aside from an portfolio of well-made, fairly priced wines, J. Lohr is also at the forefront of sustainability in Paso Robles with the largest solar array of any winery in the U.S. As for a particular bottle, I would recommend checking out the J. Lohr Gesture Grenache Rose. At for less than $20 retail, this is a terrific dry rose, much like the great roses of Bandol and Tavel in southern France.
On the higher end of the spectrum, may I suggest the J. Lohr Cuvee Pom — a red wine blend crafted in the style of the Grand Crus wines of Pomerol in the Right Bank of Bordeaux. Made primarily with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the wines of the right bank have always featured elegance and grace, though Lohr’s Pom is no shrinking violet, able to stand up to the best steak off the grill, yet graceful enough to dance a flamenco with a Spanish paella.
A third shout-out goes to another perennially popular producer in Paso, Justin, founded by Justin Baldwin, an investment banker whose dream was to bring world-class Bordeaux-style blends to California’s central coast.
The realization of that dream is Isosceles, the winery’s signature Cabernet-based red wine and long one of the finest wine expressions, red or white, out of not just Paso Robles, but the entirety of California’s central coast.
Big, bold, but balanced, the Isosceles is a delicious wine, brimming with dark red fruit with hints of cedar and chocolate. I also tasted the Justin Sauvignon Blanc, which was a pleasant and nice expression of that type of wine. The Sauvignon Blanc served as the appetizer, and the Isosceles as the entree. Believe me, we did not go hungry that night.
Next time, I’ll be back with more information on the wines and vines of Paso Robles, including some thoughts on producers and wines I’d not encountered before. Spoiler alert, they were quite good.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.