HomeSonomaNapa ValleyBay AreaPaso RoblesThe Grapevine

 

 

Paso Robles

So we packed up the Jeeps and headed south this time to spend four days in the Paso Robles area.  We made the Paso Robles Inn our home base and ventured out into the 100 degree weather in search of good wine.  We weren't disappointed. At a couple of places, I was surprised because I knew some of their wines that were widely distributed but found that the winery was tasting and selling reserve, small lot, and other wines that were quite different from what I expected.  

Not knowing of a better way to start, I'll just go alphabetically.

Adelaida

Mac (the wife lady) fell in love with this one right off the bat, adding it to our club memberships.  We were hosted by Brianne and Brandon who proved themselves to be both friendly and knowledgeable.  My first note on Adelaida is that balance is king. They prove that you can have big wines if you keep it all balanced and in perspective.  Their wines are priced from $15 to $60, with most of them in the $25-$35 range.  

Vin Gris de Pinot Noir, HMR Estate, 2007 ($15.00).  This is a 100% Pinot Noir done in a lighter style. It was not as light as most Rose de Pinot Noir that we have had, as it has more substance and is fairly dry.  We are not big rose drinkers, but found this one to be very pleasant and drinkable.

Nebbiolo, Glenrose Vineyard, 2004 ($35.00). This is a classic 100% Nebbiolo with substantial fruit and moderate tannins. It started off a little astringent, but setted down into its classic style with a very nice finish.  This is a substantial wine, and although already 4 years old, I think it will get better yet for a few years.

Version [Rhone Style Red], Glenrose Vineyard, 2005 ($26.00).  This wine starts off with by delivering a bright and rich fruit taste that stayed on the dryer side. You could spend the day trying to sort out the cacophony of flavors layered in this very complex wine.  It is a combination of 40% Mourvedre, 27% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 5% Counoise, and 3% Cinsault.  It took a Double Gold at the SF Chronicle International Wine Competition and Gold Metals at the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition and at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. I was hoping somebody would toss me a piece of meat and leave me alone with this wine.

Zinfandel, New Bailey and Shelley Vineyards, 2005 ($26.00).  All Zin, and it hit me as what we call a "rockpile" style. It is quite substantial but not at all jammy. It has strong fruit and a bit of the earthy taste that I attribute to the rockpile Zins.  Zins seem to be getting better and better, and this is a very nice example of a big one that holds its own without relying on too much sweetness.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Viking Estate, Halter Ranch, and Chelle Mountain Vineyards, 2005 ($30.00).  This Cab S is moderate in flavor. I called it "nice, stable" and decided that it is one that everyone will like but nobody will consider too simple.  It is drinkable now and without being too big, it is big enough to enjoy with a nice steak.  In a world in which a lot of wineries seem compelled to make a statement by more of something to punch up the taste, this wine stands well on its own as just darned nice.

Syrah, Glenrose Vineyard Reserve, 2004 ($60.00). Okay, so the price might have led us to expect a lot, and we did.  This was Adelaida's "Decanter Special of the Month," and special it was.  My wife started making "baaing" noises, looking for some lamb to enjoy with this great big Syrah. There were oinking noises too and discussions about seasoning a pork loin to stand up to this wine.  This is a big, rich, wonderful Syrah.

Chardonay, Chamisal Vineyard, 2003 ($32.00) This was their "Library Wine of the Month." It seemed to be more creamy than buttery, but it's tough to really separate those two. My notes said "Magnificent! Read Below." Below was written "Rediscovered from a dark corner of the pristine, temperature controlled Adelaida cellar, this classic Chardonnay from cool climate Edna Valley is wine caught in a stylistic time warp between expressions of baked spiced pears, fresh croissants, and lime curd. Not your grandmother's over-oaked chardonnay but gaining a biscuity complexity from the yeast autolysis of lees stirring and secondary flavors of 4 years in a bottle. A rare treat, 2003 was the end of a 3 year run of Chamisal sourced grapes. A blast from the past."

School House Crush, 2006 ($15.00). This wine is 50% Viognier, 38% Rousanne, and 12% Muscat. It started off a little sweet on the tip of the tongue and then demonstrated a fairly rich palate of citrus flavors. Very interesting and enjoyable.

Adelaida is at 5805 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 800-676-1232, www.adelaida.com

Bella Luna Estate Winery

One of the smaller wineries that we visited, Bella Luna turned out to be a real treat.  One of the owners is a retired fighter pilot, and there are some really nice pictures of aircraft on the walls of the tasting room.  
Estate Riserva VI, Super Tuscan Blend, 2006 ($40.00). This wine is 65% Sangiovese and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a lot of fruit up front which leads to a good structure and a very clean finish. It is bright, spicy, and full flavored. They describe it as having hints of spice and black cherry with rhubarb on the mid-palate.  It is wonderfully smooth for such a big wine.

Lot One, Barbera, 2006 ($38.00). Big fruit, then a full rich taste followed again by a very clean and smooth finish. We decided it will benefit from a year or two in the bottle to loosen up a bit. When we open it, we'll find out if we were right.

Estate Sangiovese, 2006 ($35.00).  They describe it as having the aromas of raspberry, strawberry, and brambleberry coupled with hints of allspice. Since I can't tell a brambleberry from a bumbleberry, I'll have to describe it as having great fruit, a wonderful flaveor with spice and enough acid to balance it well.  This is a great example of a clean and full Sangiovese.

Tempestuous Tempranillo, 2006, ($33.00). They blend a little Sangiovese to balance this wine out, and they got it right.  This Tempranillo is super clean with good fruit and no bite. It is smooth and full flavored from start to finish. Find a nice steak or roast and enjoy it.

Fighter Pilot Red, Zinfandel, Bailey Family Vineyards, 2005 ($32.00).  Okay, we didn't need any more Zins, but had to buy this one. It is not intense, but has an almost gentle fruit forward beginning that gets to be a real mouthful and demonstrates a full flavor all of the way through. This Zin is not a fighter, it's a lover.

Bella Luna is at 1850 Templeton Road, Templeton, CA 93465, Phone 805-434-5477, www.bellalunawine.com

Bianchi Winery

A beautiful facility with a lake and friendly staff made this a nice stop on our tour of the Paso Robles area.  The wines on their list were priced from $14 to $34, with most of them at $21-$27.  We tasted 8 of them and found quite a variety.

Pinot Noir, Garey Vineyards-Santa Maria Valley, 2005 ($30.00). This is what I'd consider to be a middle-light Pinot Noir. It has good balance but not a lot of weight to it.

Refosco, San Juan Vineyard-Paso Robles, 2005, ($28.00). This Refosco starts off with just a touch of sweetness, then hits like a hammer in the middle of the tongue and proceeds to quietly dissolve into the finish. They describe it as a cinnamon-plum flavor.

Zinfandel, Biachi Zen Ranch-Paso Robles, 2005 ($26.00). A very pleasant Zin with a little pepper spice and moderate raspberry flavors.

Zinfandel Reserve, Bianchi Zen Ranch-Paso Robles, 2005 ($34.00). It was nice to taste this just after its vineyard-mate from the same year. This Zin has a little more oak, which gives it quite a bit more depth than their regular Zin.

Petite Sirah, Rancho Tierra Rejada-Paso Robles, 2005 ($26.00). This Petite Sirah is a gorgeous dark red, but not inky. It is a very nice wine that exhibits the character of the varietal without the heavy depth of some of the monsters. It has a very nice mouthfeel and stops just short of being chewy. It was my favorite at Bianchi.

Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County, 2007 ($21.00). With a nice floral nose, this light style Pinot Grigio will serve well on a hot afternoon. It's quite pleasant.

Chardonnay, Edna Ranch, 2006 ($22.00).  A lighter Chardonnay with pretty nice fruit and structure. Not a lot of weight to it, but still, like the Pinot Grigio, quite pleasant.

Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County [I think-I forgot to write it down], 2006, [didn't get the price either]. If I had found this wine before I really enjoyed wine, it would have been one of the first I did enjoy. It is a simple and fresh wine that I think would be particularly attractive to younger folk starting off on wines. I called it "Pinot Grigio with training wheels."  

Bianchi Winery is at 3380 Branch Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-226-9922, www.bianchiwine.com

Cass Vineyard and Winery

Over the river, through the woods, wiave as you go by Granma's house, and finally arrive at Cass. It is worth the trip.  We sat outside and they brought us wines to taste as we were ready.  It was nice to sit and be served instead of leaning on our elbows at the bar. Wines range in price from $28.00-$42.00 with a split of Viognier at $15.00.

Viognier, 2006, ($15.00 for a 375ml). They blend this Viognier with a little Roussanne to round it out with a little mineral flavor. It is a wonderfully nice rich and buttery Viognier. It is full without being heavy; a real winner in our book.

Grenache, 2006 ($28.00). They added a little Mourvedre to this Grenache and came out with a nice fruity wine that is a bit on the dryer side. It reminded me of a good Alicante Bouschet. Think of substituting this for a Barbera or Sangiovese in pairing with a nice red sauce pasta.

Mourvedre, 2006 ($34.00). Not blended with anything, because it doesn't need to be. It has a great black cherry/raspberry fruit taste up front, and a wonderful pepper spice undertone all wrapped up in a buttery concoction with superb balance and a lingering finish.  Okay, I love Mourvedre already and this one is really good.

Syrah, 2005, ($36.00). With a splash of Petite Sirah to beef it up a touch, this is a very nice solid Syrah. It is fairly dry while retaining a nice fruit fullness.

Rockin One, 2005 ($42.00). A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache, this wine is also pretty dry while still flashing some pretty decent fruit to it. It has some tannins to it that lead me to think it will smooth out and become more complex in a couple of more years.

Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 ($42.00). Three of the four kings, Cabernet Sauvignon 80%, Cabernet Franc 10%, and Merlot 10%, blend very well into this young but very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon. It has very good fruit for a Cab S, and is smooth and quite nice.

Cabernet Franc, 2004 ($42.00). This is the real deal, a classic Cab Franc that is dry, astringent, and has great structure centered around tannins that are evident without being so pushy as to cause a pucker. Find a nice rib eye, season it however strongly you want, and this wine will compliment it well.

Late Harvest Cabernet Franc, 2004 ($18.00 for a 375ml). My notes say simply, "Fun", "Sweet with a dry finish", and "We like it." That probably says all you need to know about this interesting dessert wine.

Cass Vineyard and Winery is located at 7350 Linne Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-239-1730. www.casswines.com

 

Caparone Okay, I forgot how to alphabetize

This was our first stop on the trip, and it proved to be one of my personal favorites. Caparone was started by a family of the same name in 1979 and produces wines that are unfiltered and unfined.  Their production methods are about as natural as I can imagine, and they don't seem to be in a great hurry to bring their wines to market, as they are convinced that time is a central element in the process. We were met by one of the principals, Marc Caparone who shares his time between his family, the winery and his music. He said the entire family are all musicians, so it wasn't surprising to find that Caparone is to wine what jazz is to music.

We tasted six wines, three of which were common California varietals, and three of which are Italian varietals.

The "common" varietals were Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  All three wines were 2003 vintage, and all three wines were $14.00, a price point that may cause some of the snobs (but never us hacks) to turn up our nose and expect very little. The snobs would not find what they expect with these wines as they all exhibit very nice fruit and balance. These are food wines, and they are all ready to enjoy with a meal now, but will undoubtedly gain even more balance and structure as they age another year or two. These are all very nice wines, and I think they are worth well more than the price, but then there were the Italians.

The Italian varietals, which were Sangiovese, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo were all 2004 vintage, and they all share the $14.00 price tag.  They also all followed me home, in spite of my desire to shrink my current inventory.  All three of these wines have a high "wow" factor.  They are not jammy or chewy, but they have strong fruit up front and linger on the palate until you're ready for your next sip.

Sangiovese, Paso Robles, 2004 ($14.00). This Sangiovese is a nice spicy medium-weight wine that will match very well with red sauced Italian dishes, sausage, and many other dishes. The wine is bright and fruity and I found it to be very pleasant by itself, but salivating for some sausage bread buried in a nice marina sauce.  I'm probably going to sit on this one for a year or two, not because I think it needs it, but more because I'm sure the wine will hold up well, and it will be interesting to see how it further matures in the bottle. Caparone claims the first Sangiovese in in the United States, with their first vintage in 1986. Their experience shows.

Aglianico, Paso Robles, 2004 ($14.00). The Aglianico is a very nice, classic Aglianico (can I say that?....I might get away with it because so few people know what a classic Aglianico tastes like). I wouldn't call it an Italian syrah, but it is darker and less bright than the Sangiovese, while still maintaining that fruity hit up front that seems to characterize all of these Italian varietals.  The structure is a little firmer, and I'd think of pairing this wine with more substantial dishes that are not so spicy but heavier than with the Sangiovese.  Lamb and pork would top my list of foods to eat with this wine, and the subtle flavors in the finish are worth tasting enough to back away from aggressive spices or rubs on the meat.  Like their Sangiovese, Caparone also lays claim to the first American vintage of Agilianico in 1992.

Nebbiolo, Paso Robles, 2004 ($14.00). The Nebbiolo is huge.  I'd be surprised if I could tell it from some big Cabernet Francs, Petite Sirahs, or Spanish Tempranillos in a blind tasting (but let's face it, I'm pretty blind even when I see the label.)  This is a wonderfully complex wine with superb structure. It retains a lot of fruit up front, but is what I'd call a deeper and darker wine from start to finish..When we were in Italy, we didn't eat a lot of beef, but this Nebbiolo will certainly stand up to a nice juicy steak.

Something that surprised me about all of the Caparone wines were how big and fruity they are without having the monster alcohol content that I'm seeing in so many other big and fruity wines. I pride myself on guessing alcohol content within a 1/2% or so, and I'd have guessed that most of these wines were over 14%, and a couple of them at least 15%. They all range from 13.2% to 13.6%, so you get the punchy flavor with a very moderate alcohol level. I'm still learning, so I'll attribute this to the solids not being filtered out, as they must add to the substantial flavor and mouth feel of these wines. I will apologize for not taking better notes on the Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but the truth is that I fell in love with their Sangiovese, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo.  These wines will compel me to visit again.

Caparone is at 2280 San Marcos Road in Paso Robles, about 3 miles off 101. Hours are 11-5 daily. (805) 467-3827. www.caparone.com

EOS Estate Winery

Hmm, somebody didn't write diddly about the winery, but there is a receipt and lots of wine notes, so here I go...

Novella Pinot Grigio, 2006 ($14.00). A great start to our tasting at EOS. This Pinot Grigio is bright, sunny, and very refreshing. The taste of Macintosh Apples is wonderful.

Lost Angel Petite Sirah, 2006 ($16.00). A lighter cherry fruit Petite Sirah. Pretty light but still showing some tannins.

Lost Angel Mischief Blend, 2006 ($16.00). A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese. It still has some tannins and an almost leathery taste.

EOS Petite Sirah, 2005 ($18.00). Very nice currant fruit up front evolves into a mocha finish. This isn't a big inky but has plenty of flavor to win the Double Gold that it did.

EOS Estate Reserve Chardonnay, 2006 ($20.00). Certainly one of the more complex chardonnays we've tasted. It has a very nice tropical fruit with an underlying taste of vanilla. Very smooth and one of the best anywhere near this price point.

EOS Estate Cupa Grandis Chardonnay, 2006 ($45.00). Complexity abounds. A big Chardonnay with fruit that starts to get bright, and then the butterscotch kicks in and smooths everything out to a wonderful creamy finish.

EOS Estate Reserve Torre Del Gobb, 2005 ($40.00). This is a Super Tuscan blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah. It is like biting into a piece of cherry and black currant pie. It is ready now or you can wait a couple of years, during which it will probably become even more complex, only it would be difficult to develop a clean finish than it already has.

EOS Estate Reserve Malbec, 2005 ($40.00). More currants with blackberries in a very fruit-forward Malbec. It has a particularly long oak and smoke finish.

EOS Estate French Connection, 2005 ($35.00). This is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  Nice cherry fruit and chocolate undertones support a very complex, yet smooth blend. It is a little jammy and all yummy.

EOS Estate Reserve Petite Sirah, 2006 ($25.00). This Petite Sirah is quite a mouthful, very well rounded and moderately complex.  I was looking for some chocolate to enjoy with it.

EOS Estate Cupa Grandis Petite Sirah 2004 ($75.00). This Petite Sirah is their flagship It has a long, long, long finish, great complexity, and superb balance. All that being said, I think it will be better in another three years.  

EOS Estate Winery is located at 5625 Highway 46 East, Paso Robles, CA 93446,Phone 805-239-2562. www.eosvintage.com

Fratelli Perata

We came here looking for olive oil, and instead found some very nice wines made in an Italian style. The daughter of one of the proprietors was there and let us taste a variety of wines. I didn't take notes, but remember that their Malfada ($34.00) and Refosco (not in stock) wines were very substantial with good fruit and a nice chewy mouthfeel that will stand up to the most robust red sauce pasta dishes and spicy meats.

Fratelli Perata is located at 1595 Arbor Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-238-2809 www.fratelliperata.com

Four Vines

We had a lot of fun at Four Vines. We were talking with our hostess, a lovely and intelligent lady sporting a "Zinbitch" tatoo.  In speaking with her, we found out that she is a teacher during the school year, and I had a little trouble figuring out how the tatoo fit in with her occupation. It turned out to be a stick-on tatoo, and she gave us a couple to take home.  This winery blends a certain irreverance with a number of very nice wines. Priced between $14.00 and $40.00, they are worth every dime.

"NAKED" Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, 2007 ($14.00).  This Chardonnay is made in pure steel with no oak. It is fresh and fruity with a grassy taste that I enjoyed a good deal.

"Maverick" Zinfandel, Amador County, 2006 ($25.00). All of the things that I like about Zins from Amador County come together in this wine, which reminds me of Karly's Zinfandel, a big earthy Zin. This Zin is dark and rich, but very dry. It is spicy and smokey and has a very nice and long finish. It's a dry boomer.

"Sophisticate" Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 2006 ($25.00).  Okay, so I'm not a big fan of sophistication in wines, but this one is pretty good. It is a lighter wine than the other Zins at Four Vines.  It is still petty dry with moderate fruit and depth.

"Biker" Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2006 ($25.00). If you don't fall in love with one of the other two, this one should do the trick. It is more fruity up front than the Sophisticate and not quite as dry as the Maverick, but still not sweet or jammy. It has very good depth of flavor and complexity.

"Anarchy", Paso Robles, 2006 ($40.00) This is what they call an "unconventional Rhone blend," which is Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Syrah. It is a very complex blend of flavor with very good depth and richness. Underneath all of the fruit, it is still relatively dry.  Send meat.

"Heretic", Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, 2006 ($40.00). This is still a very young Petite Sirah and I think it will improve a great deal in three or more years. It is almost chewy, pretty dark but not inky, dry but still fruity, and I think it is going to smooth out and be a superb Petite Sirah.

Four Vines is located at 3750 Highway 46 West, Templeton, CA 93465, Phone 805-237-0055. www.fourvines.com

L'Aventure

"Where Bordeaux Meets the Rhone" is their tag line. We had a wonderful time tasting, including one of the most informative tours I've ever taken with barrel tasting compliments of Jacob. I don't know that I've ever met anyone who was better able to explain the differences between the toasting of the barrels, the wood used, the time held in various processes, and even the care taken in the vineyard to produce some wines that can only be called superb across the board. Prices range from a low of $20.00 to $85.00, and even at the top end, they are very reasonable for their invincible quality.  

Estate Roussanne, Paso Robles, 2007 ($35.00). They blend 85% Roussanne with 15% Viognier to produce a very full and rich Viognier. This wine is so full that it could be called heavy, but it is not at all sweet. The Viognier lends a complexity and a very nice finish.

Cuvee Des Potes Rose, 2007 ($20.00). I don't normally enjoy "pink" wines, but this one is different. It is a blend of 68% Syrah, 17% Petit Verdot, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't what I got.  It has a beautiful strawberry fruit taste up front that lingers with only a mild sweetness and amazingly finished off with a finish of pink grapefruit.  I don't usually post my grades that I stick in my notes, but let's suffice it to say that I have never given anything pink an A- before.

Optimus, 2005 ($45.00).  Optimus is the classical-styled wine that they feel truly embodies their saying, "L'Aventure...Where Bordeaux Meets the Rhone." It is a blend of 51% Syrah, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot. This is a nice dry blend that I think is dominated by the Syrah but smoothed and enrichened by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. I found it to be a little tight, so a couple of more years in the bottle should take off the edge and smooth it out.

Estate Cote a Cote, Paso Robles, 2006 ($85.00). A very rich and intense blend of 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, and 30% Syrah. They call it "unctuous" which to me means that I found this wine to be very deep and dark in flavor with a well developed structure that is tough to match. Still, I think it is a little young and tight, and I'm guessing that in 3 to 5 years, it will be a wonderfully complex boomer.

Estate Cuvee, Paso Robles, 2006 ($85.00). "This wine represents the best realization to date of my vision for great blended red wine in Paso Robles. In this wine you have the best representation of our Westside terroir!" The winemaker said it,and I agree that this wine is absolutely superb.  It has great structure and balances a very deep and complex richness that starts with very strong fruit all of the way through a strong and lingering finish. I'll put mine down for 3-5 years, but it is superb now.

L'Aventure is located at 2815 Live Oak Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-277-1588. www.aventurewine.com

Martin Weyrich

We found a number of wines that we really liked at Martin Weyrich, and found their prices between $12 and $22 to be really good bargains for some very nice wines. They also had a number of specials running, and we left with more wine than any of us really needed. The staff was friendly even during a very busy tasting day, and it proved to be a good stop during our journey.

Sauvignon Blanc, Edna Valley, 2006 ($16.00).  They picked these grapes by hand early to keep it a bit fresher and less sweet, and it worked. It still has a nice bright lemony fruit taste up front that doesn't push it over the edge into a sweetness.  Citrus abounds.

Pinot Grigio, 2006 ($15.00). This wine has a very nice fig taste (they say melon, fig, pears). It is a middle of the road Pinot Grigio that drinks very nicely.

Albrino, 2006 ($18.00). Okay, this was a new one on me too.  Albarino is a rich and full flavored white that is supposed to be more peach-apricot tasting, but I came away with a taste of citrus dominating a little bit of lingering sweetness. It is wonderfully smooth and should go great with any white fish.

Insieme, 2003 ($15.00). I believe Insieme means "all together".  This blend of 22% Petite Sirah, 21% Barbera, 19% Nebbiolo, 18% Petit Verdot, 11% Sangiovese, and [finally] 9% Zinfandel produces a nice big spicy red wine. There's an awful lot going on in this wine, but whatever it is, I'm ready to tackle it over a big platter full of spaghetti bolognese or anything bathed in a spicy marinara sauce.  

Flamenco II Vecchio, 2002 ($22.00). A blend of Spanish and Portuguese varietals, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Graciano, and Tinto Cao.  Those may have names I recognize as something else, but whatever they are expresses itself as a wine that I find to be strikingly similar to a Super Tuscan. We also tasted their 2005 Flamenco, and both were well crafted and nice spicy reds.

Martin Weyrich is located at 2610 Buena Vista Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446. Phone 805-238-2520.  www.martinweyrich.com

Meridian

I was surprised. I've seen Meridian at the supermarket and have never paid any attention to it. At the winery,however,is a different story. They only taste and sell wines at the winery that are exclusively tasted and sold at the winery.  We had a very nice tasting, and I won't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who has read far enough to get down to the M's in Paso Robles. Everything here is "Limited Release," so I won't type that five times. These are not your supermarket wines, and at $18-$24, they are attractively priced.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2005 ($18.00). This is a very nice light and refreshing wine with a creamy vanilla base supporting a citrus taste. The finish is crisp and clean.

Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, 2006 ($24.00). I picked up a little grassy start with vanilla and a little apple sweetness on the tip of the tongue. It is complex enough to make me taste it a few times before I could put my impression together, other than knowing that it was very nice to drink.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2006 ($22.00).  Okay snobs, it's a $22.00 bottle so you probably would pass it by even if you visited the winery. That would be a mistake. This Pinot Noir is a lighter style that is dry and smooth with a very nice toasty oak taste.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2004 ($24.00).  It is solid right down the middle of the classic Cabernet Sauvignon spectrum with absolutely no bite. It's young but ready to drink now.

Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, 2004 ($24.00). This Petite Sirah has a big dark berry taste with just a touch of astringency. It is not an inky monster; pretty much down the middle of the PS road with a little leather feel to it.

Syrah, Paso Robles, 2006 ($22.00). This is a bigger fruit meat wine with some tannins. It is still young and will benefit from a couple of years in the bottle to loosen it up some. Still very good now and it's big enough to put down for a while.

Meridian is located at 7000 Highway 46 East, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-237-6000. www.meridianvineyards.com

Minassian-Young

This winery produces both some unique blends and some straight-forward varietals. Priced from $12 to $22, they represent a pretty good value and you can have fun with some of them.

White "Rhoneceros", 2007 ($16.00).  A blend of 47% Viognier, 46% Roussanne, and 7% Marsanne. This wine was sweet, but not syrupy.  It seemed to me to resemble a light Muscato di Canelli with its honey/apple flavors.

GSMV, 2006 ($22.00). I'd have called it MGSV to keep in order the blend of 57% Mourvedre, 23% Grenache, 17% Syrah, and 3% Viognier, but I'm not a winemaker and who knows what acronym MGSV might mean to somebody else.  Strawberry dominates the palate with this wine. The fruit hits the top of the palate and stays there until it just disappears.

Syrah, 2005 ($20.00).  I wish I knew what fennel tasted like, because I see it in a lot of descriptions. I can understand the dark plums, cocoa, and minerals, but "fennel pollen" is new to me. This is a pretty fruity Syrah that seems simpler than most. It is moderately fruity up front.

Estate Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2006 ($22.00). Nice spice with a nice hint of pepper. The fruit isn't what I'd call bright, but is a deeper and richer taste.

Portly Port, 2004 ($12.00). Interesting in that it is made with 100% Pinot Noir and then fortifide. It is fairly sweet but again avoids that syrup taste that I don't like. It finishes like a big Zin.

Minassian-Young is located at 4045 Peachy Canyon Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-238-7571. www.minassianyoung.com

Opolo Vineyards

Opolo was a big place with 22 current wines for sale and a few listed as sold out. I don't know that I could survive tasting 22, so the six on their Summer 2008 tasting list plus one more that we talked them into seemed like just the right amount. Priced from $14-$45, with most of their wines in the $22-$26 range.

Viognier, 2005 ($22.00). This was a very interesting specimen of Viognier in that it was a lighter fruit than most and didn't have that somewhat musky taste that many of them do.  It has nice a nice fresh taste of pineapple, apricots, and touch of citrus and finishes off with a fine toasty taste.

Sangiovese, 2005 ($24.00). Not a biggy, but it has a nice spicy flavor and is very easy going for a young Sangiovese.

Tempranillo, 2005 ($24.00). This one has a very good fruit taste up front which they describe as raspberry, cranberry, and kiwi. I'm thinking more blackberry and currant. It is more spicy than most and finishes much more crisply than I though it would with the big fruit.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2005 ($30.00). This is a Double Gold Medal Winner. I liked it, but thought that it is way too early to enjoy it now versus what I think it will be in another two or three years. It seemed pretty tight, and the tannins were, in my opinion-but that's all you get here unless my wife tells me something else, dominant given the subtle fruit in this wine. When the tannins settle down, I think the fruit will come through and be a pretty good bottle of Cab S.

Rhapsody, 2004 ($45.00). This is their showpiece. They claimed a Best of Show, 4 Star Gold, Double Gold, and Gold wins.  It is a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot. It starts off with a little black currant or black cherry fruit up front, and the fruit grows in the middle and finishes quite strong. The acidity and tannins in this wine seem particularly well balanced with the fruit and mouth feel.

Mountain Zinfandel, 2006 ($26.00).  This is their big Zinfandel and it reaches well into the upper middle of the pack.  It doesn't have a big punch at first sip, but the middle and finish is well balanced and fairly rich. It is not jammy.

Petit Verdot, 2005 ($39.00).  On the day that we visited Opolo, there was something going on because there were a lot of people and there was food. In particular, there was a nice spicy sausage. Petit Verdot loves sausage and sausage loves Petit Verdot. The rich fruit flavor with the rich structure proved to be a perfect accompaniment to the sausage. It's a nice wine, and the chance to pair it with food was a real plus.

Opolo is located at 7110 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446 , Phone 805-238-9593. www.opolo.com

Tobin James Cellars

Did they really let me taste this many wines?  No wonder my notes are brief.  Tobin James is a must see tasting room because they have a lot of fun and there is a lot of memorabilia ala Jesse James and the old west. Prices range from $14 to $48, with most of the regular wines under $20 and the reserves from $25 to $55, not counting the "Blue Moon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons" at $150. We didn't taste those.

"Sundance" Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 ($14.00). I picked up kiwi and grapefruit flavors in this very crisp and fresh Sauvignon Blanc. It is a touch sweet, but still crisp.

"Radiance" Chardonnay, 2007 ($16.00). A very fruit forward Chardonnay, but not overly sweet. It's more a friends in the back yard than a compete for the fanciest Chardonnay type.

"James Gang Reserve" Chardonnay, 2006 ($25.00). This one is smoother and is creamy with hints of vanilla. They also say citrus, but I'll stick with the vanilla thing. Lobster or scallops would go very well with this one.

Chateau Le Cacheflo, 2005 ($11.50). At this price, they have to sell a bunch to make their cash flow, but it is quite a wine for the price. it is a well-balanced red with good fruti and no bite. It is ready to drink now.

"Primo" Sangiovese, 2005 ($18.00). A nice and spicy Sangiovese with good black cherry fruit.

"Rock n Roll" Syrah, 2005 ($18.00) This is a big fruit-forward Syrah that is still pretty dry and won't rain on your pork or beef roast.

"Notorious" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 ($18.00). This Cabernet Sauvignon puts its fruit forward and is pretty spicy for a Cab S. It is very young and I think it will balance out nicely in a couple of years.

"Charisma" Late Harvest Zinfandel, NV?, ($20.00).  Blended with a little late harvest Barbera, this makes a nice, moderately sweet dessert wine. It has been called better than their "Liquid Love" and comes in a 500ml blue bottle that is way cool.

"Ballistic" Zinfandel, 2006 ($18.00). A very dry Zinfandel that still shows good fruit. Very dry finish.

"Liquid Love" Late Harvest Zinfandel, NV, ($18.00). It has 5 1/2% residual sugar so is semi-sweet and not thick or syrupy. It is very pleasant to enjoy.

"Pinot Envy" Pinot Noir, 2005 ($32.00). It is a big Pinot Noir, almost crossing over to what I expect from a Mourvedre or a light Syrah.  Tasty.

"Silver Reserve" Zinfandel, 2005 ($48.00). Dry, peppery, not sweet. Enough fruit that I called it a "big boy."

"James Gang Reserve" Refosco, 2005, ($48.00). Really big, like a light Syrah with a very long finish. Only 6 acres were planted and it reminded me of a Lenoir, which is another wine I've got that few people know about so I can fake it by dropping that name in here.  Think Petit Verdot blended with Cabernet Franc.

"James Gang Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 ($28.00) Dryer than their other Cabernet Sauvignon with more complexity and nice structure. It seems more mature than its age.

"James Gang Reserve" Cabernet Franc, 2005 ($38.00). This is a classic Cabernet Franc. It is dry and spicy with a little astringency at the finish.

"Estate Private Stash" Meritage, 2005 ($38.00). A very nice blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Good balance and fruit.

"James Gang Reserve" Syrah, 2004 ($55.00) Quite nice fruit up front with just a touch of sweetness. It has great structure; complex with good mouth feel.

We were at Tobin James for quite a while to taste the 17 wines we tasted. They had another 12 on their two wines lists, but 17 seems to have been enough.

You can find Tobin James at 8950 Union Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, Phone 805-239-2204. www.tobinjames.com

We had quite a trip and enjoyed a great number of very nice wines in our four days.

 

HomeSonomaNapa ValleyBay AreaPaso RoblesThe Grapevine