The Value Of California’s Paso Robles

A rich Merlot with a velvety texture and satisfying flavors PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

A rich Merlot with a velvety texture and satisfying flavors

If you were to ask me what is one of California’s top emerging wine regions, I quickly would reply Paso Robles. It is a hotbed for top-flight red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, Zinfandel as well as Syrah.

Not only does Paso Robles excel in these categories, but I would venture to say that it is one of California’s best areas to mine extra-special values.

Paso Robles certainly did not just come to the forefront out of nowhere. Like many regions, there is a complex patchwork of terroir to be found within the area. Without naming the dozen different American Viticultural Areas, each one has its specialty, unique exposure and terroir.

Justin Vineyards’ Isosceles is a perennial all-star for Bordeaux blends from the area. Justin Baldwin set out to make great Bordeaux blends. Now in its 25th year, Justin Vineyards continues to make wines that challenge Napa Valley in richness and generosity. The 2011 Justin Isosceles ($79) is decadent, exhibiting sweet vanillin and oak bolstered by perfectly ripe black and red berries. It is full-bodied and takes no prisoners with an ample and long aftertaste. With all that has been written about the difficulties of the 2011 vintage in California, if you were to taste this wine you would think there was nothing to complain about.

When you think about Rhone varieties, where do you go for the top expression in California? I’ll bet most would say Sonoma Coast or maybe Santa Barbara.

But it would be hard to argue with the wines of Justin Smith at Saxum. Many consider Justin the high priest of Rhone wines in Paso Robles, and I would agree. Saxum’s Bone Rock Syrah is a stunning example of how good Syrah can get in the new world, and the Broken Stones Syrah blend is perhaps my favorite of this bunch, with a dollop of Grenache and Mourvedre added to it.

The worst part of the Saxum wines is actually finding them. It is as close to a cult wine as you will find in the region and is mostly sold to the finest restaurants in America.

When it comes to Zinfandel, some of the top wineries around California produce wines from vineyards that are within Paso Robles. Turley, Ridge and Rosenblum are just a few from outside. And within the area there are some fabulous Zinfandels being produced by Cypher, l’Aventure and Peachy Canyon. At one point, some thought that Zinfandel was going to be Paso Robles’ flagship grape — and it is, but it isn’t the only one.

Mind you, these are only examples of the crème de la crème from Paso Robles. Tablas Creek, DAOU Vineyards, Epoch Winery and Villa Creek also are standouts.

But I want to turn your attention to some of the greatest values in Paso Robles, as well. These next three wines are from wineries that you would do well to remember.

2011 Ancient Peaks Merlot ($14) is a revelation. This is rich with notes of mocha, plum, toast, vanilla and spices, but its greatest impression is on the palate with a velvety texture and satisfying flavors. I can’t find anything from Napa Valley this good at this price at all.

2012 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) is bursting with almost jammy black fruit. It touches all of the right spots on the palate, with terrific intensity and depth for such a reasonably priced bottle. This is the best-value Cabernet I have tasted this year so far.

2012 Three Ball Zinfandel ($14) is a poster child for Zin lovers: jammy blueberry, mulberry and blackberry laced with baking spices and sleekly polished structure on the palate.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher