Located in the heart of the Central Coast, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles is highly reputed for its red blend wines, and is well regarded as California's "Rhone zone."
The name Paso Robles comes from El Paso de Robles "The Pass of the Oaks" – so named because of the local oak trees. The name was recorded as far back as 1828, as a rancho where the padres of San Miguel sowed wheat.
The Paso Robles wine region is in Northern San Luis Obispo County. Full-bodied red wines are definitely Paso Robles' forte given its warm dry climate. (Note: the region does produce many superb whites as well). The enormous diurnal difference (day/night temperature swings) during the growing season is very important, enabling the grapes to develop great depth of flavor and ripeness.
The proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the numerous valleys and varying elevations mean that many different varieties thrive in the region making for a great diversity of wine offerings.
For me the wines of Paso Robles are big, full-bodied, and lush with smooth ripe tannins and great intensity of fruit. They tend to be fairly high in alcohol, but also very balanced so you don't feel the heat. A style that I particularly like is the "Rhône Blend" – Syrah or Grenache based wines blended with varying proportions of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut.
Even though Paso Robles is one of California's largest wine regions (180 wineries and 26,000 acres of vineyard), you don't see the wines labeled as such as often as Napa or Sonoma. That is because a lot of the grape harvest is sold and blended in with grapes from other regions to make wines carrying the more generic California designation.
Paso Robles is also a great region to visit. It is very picturesque, full of history and most wineries have very welcoming tasting rooms.
Some of my favorite Paso Robles producers are:
These wineries produce exquisite high-end reserve and single vineyard wines as well as more affordable high quality wines. Here are some great value wines that I love.
• 2006 Justin "The Orphan" $16 – A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Smooth, velvet across the palate. Packed with ripe cherry, plum, raspberry and blueberry flavors with hints of fig and prune and sweet spice. Excellent value.
• 2006 Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles, $20 – One of the original Paso Rhone blends made from Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and a dash of Viognier. Layers of ripe fruit intertwined with gamey, spicy, earthy flavors. A superb food wine for robust meat dishes.
• 2007 J.Lohr Estates Old Vine Zinfandel, $15 – I love this wine, easy drinking and full of jammy fruit and spice notes. Smooth tannins and rich texture across the palate. Warm but not heavy. Perfect for a week night pasta or pizza supper.
And here are two that I love – for a special occasion.
• 2006 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge $40 – From one of my longtime favorite Paso producers, this Rhone style is a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise. Delicious and packed with ripe plummy, cherry aromas and flavors with layers of sweet spice, pepper and earthy notes.
• 2005 L'Aventure Optimus, Paso Robles, $45 – A bit on the expensive end but worth it for a special occasion or gift. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Incredible intensity of aroma and flavor – black and red fruits, heady spices, vanilla, toast, roasted meats. A wine to savor slowly.
If you are not familiar withe wine of Paso Robles, now may be the time to seek them out - in honor of California Wine Month.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Grapes and countryside images courtesy of Ron Bez Photography; bottle shots courtesy of producers.)