Drinks Atlas: Paso Robles, California - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Drinks Atlas: Paso Robles, California

On California’s Central Coast, smack-dab between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Paso Robles wine region is a convergence of Old World styles and new world experimentation. “A lot of French winemakers moved here because you’re allowed to blend and experiment and make nontraditional styles,” says Ali Rush Carscaden, sommelier and owner of 15c Wine Shop and Bar in Templeton. “It’s still a bit of a test kitchen in a sense. Winemakers that come from Old World backgrounds get to play around here. There are no rules.”

Growing predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, along with heritage Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and classic Rhône varietals like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier, the region’s 200-plus wineries likewise span the spectrum. Pioneering Tablas Creek was co-founded in 1989 by the family behind southern Rhône’s Château de Beaucastel, while upstart labels like Lone Madrone (from Tablas Creek winemaker Neil Collins), and Desparada by Vailia From, illustrate the region’s adventurous side.

Reflecting Paso Robles’ varied landscape, from coastal mountains to river valleys, the vast appellation was divided into 11 sub-AVAs in 2014. But the biggest influence comes in the form of temperature. With proximity to the ocean—less than 6 miles away in places—areas of the region experience cool ocean breezes that are pulled through the Templeton Gap in the Santa Lucia Mountains, while the region as a whole can experience huge diurnal swings of up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit from day to night. “What that does is provide great daytime ripening temperatures. Then at night, it shuts down and gets cold enough that the grapes stop producing sugar, so they retain their acidity,” says Carscaden. “We can produce everything from crisp, cool-climate whites to the huge, blown-out, fruit-bomby Zins. There’s really no other region that has the diversity
and capability to do that.”

Fast Facts Established in 1983 and expanded twice, Paso Robles is the largest appellation in California, encompassing more than 600,000 acres—almost three times the size of Napa Valley.

“Our fruit is extremely sought-after,” says Carscaden. “About half of the fruit we grow here in the Paso Robles AVA is sold out of the area, due to the fact that we produce both very good quality fruit, and because we’re so much more value driven than a place like Napa Valley.”

Franciscan friars first introduced grape growing and winemaking to the region at the end of the 18th century on the lands of the Santa Margarita Ranch, where they also raised cattle and built the still-standing Asistencia mission.

Bottles to Try Tablas Creek, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2017 This signature white from Tablas Creek is the essence of the southern Rhône by way of California, with a base of Roussanne, complemented by varietals like Grenache Blanc and Picpoul, creating a rich, spicy, mineral-driven blend. $45, tablascreek.com

Austin Hope Chardonnay, 2019 The multi-generational Hope Family Wines produces five separate labels, and this Chardonnay is the first under the Austin Hope label. Classic California in style, the wine is rich yet structured, with notes of honey and toast. $47, hopefamilywines.com

Alta Colina GSM, 2017 Alta Colina is known for their Rhône blends, and their GSM is a juicy mix of Grenache, Mourvédre, and Syrah, highlighted by flavors of young fruit and dried cranberry. $42.99, winesneak.com

J Dusi, Paper Street Zinfandel, 2017 The Dusi Vineyard was one of the first to introduce Zinfandel to the Central Coast in the early 1900s, and winemaker Janell Dusi upholds tradition with this spicy and complex 100-percent Zinfandel harvested from the Paper Street Vineyard. $68, jdusiwines.com

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