6 Oct 2011

Do you know the Paso Robles? (California)

Driving up from SLO into the hills of Paso Robles is awesome. It's a little further back from the coast than reghions further south, and seems a little bit drier and warmer, but you also feel the difference in elevation. Great winding roads took me out to my first of two visits, where I passed deer and squirrels.

Tablas Creek vineyards
Tablas Creek was established back in the '80s in a joint venture between an American wine importer and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape house of Domaine Beuacastel. They took three years to find the right sight to plant cuttings from Beaucastel itself, attempting to get the right terroir in the right climate. A former cattle ranch, the site they selected was perfect to establish organic and biodynamic viticultural practices, and it shows. The top soil over a thick limestone shelf looks fantastic, and they encourage micro-organisms into the vineyard by planting olive trees.

Tablas Creek Tasting Room
The wines are the most French inspired I have seen thus far (makes sense), showing less overt fruit and more mouthfeel and texture. The savoury qualitities of these wines were exceptional, and the winemaking team clearly understand the benefits of blending varieties that have the same origin. It is interesting to look at blended wines and see which varieties have the strongest infleunce. I tried two vintages of their flagship Rhone blend, and in the 2008 vintage the grenache was the most dominant, even though it was the second highest proportion. In the 2009 vintage however, the mouvedre was really flexing its muscles, with roughly 40% of the blend.

Oak fermenters
Although Tablas Creek do have a focus on Rhone varieties, they also produce a few interesting wines from slightly more obscure grapes. Their Vermentino was very clean and light, not really much character to it, the Petit Manseng had a very interesting satsuma-like sweet and dy quality, and the Tannat was sufficiently robust in its tannin structure. They also grow chardonnay and pinot noir amongst others, which go back to when they operated a nursery growing stocks commercially, which has been sold off.

Justin Vineyards winery
Justin Vineyards not far, from Tablas Creek is a lovely sight and great for wine tourism. Their cellar door is the most charming I have seen so far. The business was recently acquired by the group that owns such companies as Fiji Water and Pom juice. In spite of the Rhone revolution in Paso Robles, this winery focuses on more classic french varieties, particularly Bordeaux varieties and blends. The wines are sufficiently fruit driven and oaky but not overly alcoholic, and remind me of a lot of Australian wine. The chardonnay showed very good restraint and acid, being the first non-malolacticly fermented chardonnay I have seen so far.

Justin Vineyards tasting room
In the evening I managed to put myself into a food coma by getting a clam chowder bread bowl from local icon, Splash Cafe. It's basically exactly what it sounds like; a hollowed out toasted loaf of bread is filled with chowder, and you use the middle to dip into the chowder. It's a local delicacy here on the Central Coast, and certainly filled me up.

Click here to see more photos from Paso Robles, California

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