Smack dab between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles (and its surrounding wine country) made our 2014 Imbibe 75 list of destinations to check out, and thanks to its growing number of winemakers and grape growers, the wines there are better than ever. Here are 10 small-production bottles we’re currently uncorking.
AmByth Priscus 2011
Cow horns and gopher water? Just don’t call it hocus-pocus—this biodynamic estate is worth the hype. Producing boundary-pushing wines like the Pricus—a Rhone-inspired mix of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier—this white wine co-ferments in large clay amphorae for rich, round notes of almonds and dried apricots, met by a acid-forward freshness.
Jada Vineyards & Winery XCV 2012
Founded in 1999, owners Jack and Robyn Messina planted close to two-thirds of their 90 acres with Rhone- and Bordeaux-style varietals, and today produce 3,000 cases of entirely estate-grown wine. This unfiltered white blend of Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier benefits big from a dramatic diurnal swing—hot daytime temperatures met by cool, coastal breezes at night—that, combined with partial malolactic fermentation and six months in barrel, result in a richly concentrated wine with notes of baked apple, honeysuckle and steely minerality.
Aaron Wines Petit Sirah 2010
Of the 650 cases Paso Robles vintner Aaron Jackson produces, most are reserved for his Petite Sirah production, a longtime blending grape, which Jackson proves can stand on its own two feet. Combining fruit from seven different sites in western Paso Robles, Jackson’s flagship red is at once rustic and refined with notes of brambled berries, cracked pepper and tannins aplenty.
Edmond August Indelible Red 2009
Coming from a family of Prohibition-era bootleggers, Paso native Edmond August Sauret has spent nearly his entire adult life working with wine in one form or another. His Indelible Red combines Syrah grapes from three sites around Paso with Grenache and Mourvedre and ages it in a mix of new and neutral oak for nearly two years before bottling. It’s as dry and dusty and the local Paso soil, with dark fruit, licorice and dried herbs on the finish.
Law Estate Wines Intrepid 2010
Four wines all from estate-grown fruit mark the inaugural release for Law Estate Wines, including this 100% Syrah, which continues to unfold with layers upon layers of nuance the more time you give it in the glass. Expect flavors of ripe plums and blueberries, as well as ample cocoa, tobacco and savory dried herbs. If this is how winemaker Scott Hawley kicks things off we can’t wait to taste what’s next.
Minassian-Young Vineyards Estate Zinfandel 2010
Zinfandel is the heritage grape of Paso, and the husband and wife duo behind Minassian-Young have dedicated one of their two estate vineyards entirely to the ancestral grape. This single-vineyard, estate-grown and dry-farmed Zinfandel exudes pure Paso terroir through and through with dusty tannins, ripe red berries and loads of peppery spice.
Nicora GSM 2011
A self-proclaimed “garagiste,” Nicholas Elliot produces a mere 400 cases of wine in space rented from friends. Sourcing grapes from vineyards sites throughout Paso’s west side, Elliot pushes the boundaries of conventional winemaking, utilizing natural yeasts, concrete fermenters and manual punchdowns. His GSM (which stands for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) is a standout among others produced in the area, with a full-bodied freshness and underlying rusticity that combines into flavors of plump dark berries, licorice root and savory herbs.
Rangeland Wines Syrah/Mourvedre 2010
Spanning 1500+ acres along the far western corner of the Paso Robles appellation, Rangeland is a full-on working ranch, with cattle, sheep, honey bees and, of course, grapevines. This estate-grown blend of Syrah and Mourvedre spent 18 months in a mix of new and used French oak barrels before bottling, lending fresh cherry and blueberry flavors up front met by sultry notes of cloves, leather and smoke on the finish.
Still Waters Vineyards Clone 3 Cuvée
Picturesque as Paso can be, the Still Waters estate encompasses 60 sprawling acres planted with 14 different varietals—think everything from Malbec and Cabernet Franc to Viognier and Chardonnay—which ferment into micro-bottlings between 50 and 350 cases. The Clone 3 Cuveé offers a nod to wines of Bordeaux’s Right Bank with a blend of mostly Merlot met with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc at Petite Sirah. Entirely estate-grown and hand-harvested, this wine is sophisticated and sultry, with notes of cassis, cacao and fresh garden mint.
Zenaida Cellars Wanderlust 2010
Another stellar GSM from another great Paso producer, the Wanderlust from owner and winemaker Eric Ogorsolka combines 50% Grenache with 35% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre. Whole-cluster fermentation and an extended 18 months in barrel add to the depth of the blend, which in the glass opens up to flavors of bright berries, rhubarb and spice.
BONUS: Good Grocery Store Finds
Heading to the grocery store for a bottle of Paso vino? Try one of these easy-to-find wines with coast-to-coast distribution:
J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot
An early pioneer of the Paso Robles wine region, Jerry Lohr planted his first vines in the area in 1986. Decades later, the wines of J. Lohr are some of the most recognized (and wallet-friendly) to come out of the area. Los Osos combines mostly Merlot with Malbec and Petit Verdot for easy-drinking flavors of black plums, raspberries and just a hint of cocoa powder.
Wildhorse Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2009
Another long-standing winery of the region, Wildhorse purchased their first vineyard in 1981. Winemaker Chrissy Whittmann keeps the alcohol in-check (it comes in at 13.9%—definitely low for the region!), which helps keep fruit flavors tasting fresh and inviting—think black cherries, red currants and a touch of vanilla and wood tannin. If you’re in the area stop by the tasting room in person—unofficial estate mascot, Floyd the Llama is just as charming and approachable as the wines, themselves.