Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes



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Central Coast (California) Wineries:


There are now so many wineries around the Central Coast that I try to visit new ones each time I pass through the area. In the past, most of the wineries created ripe young fruity wines, with an accessible ready-to-drink style. But now we can find astonishingly good wines from regions that range from Santa Maria and Santa Ynez in the south (like the huge syrahs of Clos Mimi) to the aromatic cool weather Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands between Big Sur and Salinas. We find classics like the Dante Dusi vineyard in Paso Robles, source of Ridge Dusi Zinfandel; some of the solid table wines of Castoro, Eberle, and Peachy Canyon; and even upper range bottlings by larger manufacturers like Meridian and J. Lohr. I am especially fond of some newer small wineries up in the Adelaida foothills of Santa Lucia Mountains west of Paso Robles. These winemakers have discovered patches of limestone and volcanic soil, with weather conducive to growing Rhone varietals like Syrah and Mourvedre. The wines are much more complex than many of those from the valley floor, with higher acidity but still with complete ripeness.

Note that a major earthquake in December 2003 damaged large amounts of inventory in several of these wineries, and might affect pricing in the subsequent releases.


Posted December 2006

"A Passion for Paso" tasting
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose CA.
August 24, 2006

A new year for this Paso Robles wine showcase. Some exceptionally good wines, as usual, among a few that seemed a bit too soft for my tastes. I'll focus on my favorites. The tasting began with a panel dicussion for trade and media, with owners from Peachy Canyon and Viña Robles among others. (See photo.) The panelists pointed out how the different soil types and weather conditions in the region lend themselves to a wide range of varietals. The main split occurs between east and west sides. The east side offers warmer conditions and flatter alluvial soils, helpful for acheiving full maturity in grape varietals that require higher heat and ripen slowly. The west side climbs up the Adelaida foothills and over the mountains that separate Paso Robles from cold coastal fogs. The west-side grapes have more acidity and benefit from chalky mineral soils.


Cass Winery 

2004 Cass Rockin’ One ($34)
Despite being slightly put off by the name and the relatively high price, I must say that this Rhone blend  of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah impressed me with its warm clean fruit profile of fresh cherries, licorice and mint. Excellent and well structured.

2005 Cass Roussanne ($24)
Fragrances of bubblegum and pineapple, with undertones of lemon and cream. Bright, floral and fresh. 

2005 Cass Roussanne Late Harvest ($29)
An unctuous wine with heavy notes of botrytis (the noble rot that sets the flavors for the great Sauternes and Rieslings, with its distinctive fragrances reminiscent of rubber bands.) Alongside the distinctive Botrytis smells, this sweet wine offers layers of strawberry and cooked pineapple, guava and apricot. A rich, sweet and delicious dessert wine.


In the past I have criticized some of Justin’s wines for a certain oversaturated “cooked” quality that I don’t care for, although I sometimes find that same quality in wines that have rated very high scores in the trade. However, at this tasting, Justin’s wines showed a much fresher profile: dark, ripe and saturated but not cooked (well, except for the Cabernet, which still had some of that soft overripe flavor…) If I seem to come down a bit hard on Justin, that’s because I feel their wines have very high potential, and I want to see this excellent vineyard make the best wines they can make.

2005 Justin Sauvignon Blanc ($14)
Chalky, creamy lemon custard fragrances with a bright clear lemony palate. Good acidity and ripe attractive flavors.

2005 Justin Chardonnay ($16)
Made in a crisp style, with just enough oak to give some complexity. Aromas of lemon grass and hazelnuts give way to light and rich flavors of baked apples, lemon-lime and butterscotch. Well-made and refreshing.

2004 Justin Syrah ($25)
Intense clean aromas of blueberry, rust, clay and mint, with flavors of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, dry leaves, and a leathery finish with clove spices. My notes show a smiley face next to this one.

2004 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($25)
The only wine of this group that showed the sort of cooked oxidized odors that I sometimes criticize Justin for, but otherwise full bodied, with a nose reminiscent of strawberry jam. Excellent flavors of red cherry fruit, black licorice, chocolate, coffee and dry leaves, with sweet tannins at the end resembling strawberry seeds. This wine shows very ripe warm qualities that make it quite inviting, although not exactly refreshing.

2004 Justin Tempranillo ($28)
Rather big profile for a Tempranillo, with fragrances of espresso bean and open ripe palate with minty qualities, dark earthy notes like black coffee and cocoa.

2005 Justin Obtuse ($26)
A late harvest dessert wine resembling port, with none of the oxidized qualities, and not overly sweet. Fragrances show raisins, grape seeds, mint and earthy soil, with balanced sweet flavors of figs, plums, berries, earth and black pepper, with sizeable tannins on the end. (18% alc., 7.5% sugar)


Making some of my favorite wines in all of California, it’s hard for me not to gush about L’Aventure. These big yet balanced ripe wines can get expensive, but they’re among the few wines around that seem to deliver the price all the way through from the bottle to the glass and onto the palate. I remain a fan.

2003 L’Aventure Optimus ($45)
An idiosyncratic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Verdot. Mineral nose with leather, elegant black earthy qualities meshed with blueberry fruit. Palate shows characteristic anise, chocolate, leather, blueberry, blackberry, with dry open cleansing tannins growing coffee-like without implying the cooked qualities that such ripe flavors might denote.

2004 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée ($75)
The flagship for L’Aventure, again with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Verdot. Aromas of black liquorice, coffee, blackberry, with rich mineral undertones. Huge chocolaty palate with cassis and espresso bean, black olive, with a beautifully dry, rich and mouth filling texture. A total drinker now, it tastes like it could also age well for several years… but it doesn’t require ageing to enjoy.

2005 L’Aventure Roussane ($25)
Aged 50% in stainless steel and 50% in water bent (un-toasted) oak, this fresh and complex white wine shows tropical mineral and floral notes, star jasmine and clover blossoms. Flavors of pear, peach, chalk and mint, with hints of sweat and cheese. (Very French!)


Seated on the coastal side of the same mountain as Tablas Creek and Justin Vineyards, Opolo is positioned in a perfect Rhone style growing location. I want to love this winery, but at this tasting I finally figured out why I have some reservations. Almost all of their wines seem to have trace amounts of residual sugar. This doesn’t pose a problem to most people, but I find that it makes their wines a bit heavy, and possibly not as well suited for pairing with food. Ironically, this trace of sugar (perhaps only a few tenths of a percent) can help win big scores at wine competitions while also rendering a wine less suitable for food pairing. These are well-made wines, so I recommend you try for yourself.

2005 Opolo Pinot Grigio ($22)
Nose shows lemon and juniper, peach pits, chalk and bubblegum. Pineapple fills the mouth in a residual spicy sweetness. (.5% residual sugar)

2005 Opolo Viognier ($22)
Chalky soils, lemon, bubblegum and ripe pit fruit (apricots, peaches) fill the nose and palate, with a lingering sweetness.  (.5 % residual sugar)

2004 Opolo Grenache ($24)
12% Syrah blended into this Grenache didn’t darken its light ruby translucence. Nose of blackberry, coffee, licorice, and spicy oak characters. The palate shows flavors deeper than the color: black pepper and sweet spices, black cherries, coffee and cinnamon. Very nice.

2004 Opolo Pinot Noir ($26)
The quiet dusty nose slowly builds into rich candied cinnamon and brown sugar oak sweetness. The sweet profile continues on the palate, with round rich fruit and oak spices, finishing in floral herbal anise flavors

2003 Opolo Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)
Rich and sweaty nose, with sweet aromas of cherry cider and black licorice. The flavors show light lingering fruit with soft tannins, not a huge structure, drink soon and enjoy the ripe fruit. (14.9% alc.)

2003 Opolo Zinfandel ($30)
Explosive fragrances of raspberry fruit, white pepper (alcohol heat) strawberry and plum. This profile seems like a prototype of big huge California Zin. Jammy flavors expose some residual sugar, with a big attack at the front of the palate and a receding finish (the flavors might be gettting dissipated by the alcohol, which is 16.6%.)

2003 Opolo Rhapsody ($45)
40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. A Bordeaux style blend, well constructed, showing characteristic deep and rich profile, an elegant complex nose with lightness and oak complexity, dark red fruit flavors with some crispness adding to a lightness in the palate. Although this may be my favorite Opolo of the rank, I feel it’s a bit expensive.


Orchid Hill
This winery is a new discovery for me. I liked what they were pouring and I look forward to becoming more familiar with these excellent wines.

2005 Orchid Hill Viognier ($21)
A rich and delicious wine, packed full of flavor. Fragrances of flowers, taffy, honey and chalk burst out of the glass, followed by a palate of ripe pit fruits, peaches and lemons, with a long lingering floral finish hinted with pine.

2004 Orchid Hill Pinot Noir ($27)
Deep dark fragrances of black olive, minerals, blueberry and rust. A surprisingly tannic texture in the mouth, hints of leather along with red cherries, with somewhat astringent finish.

2004 Orchid Hill Zinfandel ($24)
The fragrances start quietly, with dusty black pepper, raspberry, winter spices and gravelly minerals. The flavors beautifully express Zinfandel’s personality, with jammy strawberry, rich milk chocolate underpinnings, earthy spices, smooth and not overly tannic. Yummy.

2002 Orchid Hill Syrah ($25)
A well-made austere Syrah profile, with refreshing cool weather characteristics of dark fruit, brambles and crushed twigs, chocolate, rose petals, oceanic smells and a touch of sulfur compounds resembling smoked trout. The palate is generous, with chocolate mint, green olives, earthy and floral components, and a tough tannic finish.


Robert Hall
This winery has been growing and getting widely distributed. I have been fond of Robert Hall’s wines and they remain solid, if somewhat standardized.

2003 Robert Hall Meritage ($30)
Nose of milk chocolate, black cherry, licorice. Smooth round palate with black cherry, herbal grassy hints. Low tannin and easy to drink.

2004 Robert Hall Syrah ($14)
A good value, with smooth chocolate and dark berry nose, deep and hinting at sweet tones, a bit simple. The palate delivers drier flavors than the nose, minty and leafy.

2004 Robert Hall Merlot ($14)
Smells resemble Hershey’s syrup and blackberry brambles, dry leaves and sweet oregano. The mouth-feel is light but with excellent clear red fruit flavors.

2003 Robert Hall Port ($25)
A well made and fairly priced, with beautiful dry aromas of dusty chocolate and old book leather. Light raisin palate with chocolate and cherry tones, not too sweet. Very attractive.


Another new winery for me, priced quite fairly. The winemaker tends more to sweet wines than dry, and a few of Rotta’s dessert wines are excellent.

2004 Rotta Chardonnay ($14)
Rich fragrances of nutmeg, apple and pear.Palate is smooth, nutty and lingering with warm ripe fruit.

2005 Rotta Zinfandel Rosé ($10)
Not a serious wine, quite sweet with 4% residual sugar, nose of bubblegum and roses.

2004 Rotta Merlot ($16)
Soft but not cloying profile with brambly blackberry, coffee and wet road tar. Palate shows ripe black cherry, brambles, clay loam, chocolate and sweet coffee.

2003 Rotta Cabernet Franc ($22)
Bright complex nose of dusty rose, leather, red cherry and minerals. Light palate shows excellent warm weather earthiness, dry grass, bright red cherry and currants. Good winemaking here.

2003 Rotta Cabernet Sauvignon ($14)
Now here’s one of the better values of the whole tasting. Red cherry and cassis aromas with mint, iodine, cigar box and milk chocolate. The palate is somewhat simple, with smooth red cherry fruit like Red-vines licorice, with a firm minty-leathery tannic finish.

2003 Rotta Estate Zinfandel ($27)
This is an excellent full bodied Zin, which they tell me comes from a dry farmed vineyard with head pruned old vines that yield only 1.5 tons per acre. A prototypical nose, bright and deep, with earthy strawberry and black pepper. Flavors of chocolate and raspberry jam, mint, with a well structured dry finish. (15.5% alc.)

2005 Rotta Muscat Canelli ($10)
Floral sweet fragrances of peach pits and various pit fruits, gravel, oranges or even Tang powder. There’s a lot of sugar remaining in this wine, with ripe peach flavors, hints of strawberry.

2004 Rotta Zinfndel Port ($30)
Leafy soft aromas with black fruit and licorice, big in the mouth and very sweet, with dark tones and a raisiny finish. A bit overpriced. (19% alc.)

2002 Rotta Dessert Sherry ($20)
Wow. This intense dessert wine delivers huge flavors. It smells more like cognac than sherry, with immense nutty sweet oak perfumes, resembling candied walnuts. Flavors of orange oil, pecans, vanilla, toffee, lingering into a praline finish. Amazingly it isn’t overly sweet nor too heavy. Excellent.


Stacked Stone
I don't like to be harsh on any winery, especially when the people are so friendly. Yet, this year I found the same problems with Stacked Stone’s wines that I tasted last year. Many of their wines smell oxidized, cooked, overly soft. Last year I attributed the problem to the hot weather, but this year’s tasting was indoors. The Sauvignon Blanc is the only wine I can recommend below.

2003 Stacked Stone Sauvignon Blanc
Creamy fragrances including lemon and chalk. Smooth and balanced lemon custard flavors with hints of buttered popcorn (ML?). Round and attractive.

2003 Stacked Stone Chardonnay
Very oxidized. Not good.

2003 Stacked Stone Syrah
Blueberry and leather, also cooked smells.

2003 Stacked Stone Merlot
Brambly blackberry jam, soft, with cooked smells. Oxidized.


Treanna / Liberty School / Austin Hope
Austin Hope is the winemaker for Treanna and its budget second label, Liberty School. I’ll include Hope’s own label here as well, as they were poured side by side.

2004 Liberty School Chardonnay ($13)
Nose of cooked apples and pears, rather sweet and a bit oxidized. Soft simple warm palate resembling apple pie.  I prefer a more fresh crisp profile.

2004 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon ($14)
Slightly raisiny nose, with an almost Italian profile of loamy earth or worm castings, with cinnamon and cloves from the oak. Simple but very pleasant flavors, not too soft nor cooked tasting, well balanced for a budget Cabernet.

2004 Liberty School Syrah ($13)
A refreshingly light and clean style of Syrah, yet with the dark undertones one would expect. Fresh minty nose with dried rose petals and blueberry, with a balanced light blueberry palate and a dry but not tannic finish. A good value.

2003 Treanna White (Mersoleil) ($25)
Sourced from the exceptional Mersoleil vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands near Monterey, this blend of 66% Viognier and 34% Marsanne delivers one of the most satisfyingly floral white wines of the day. A bountiful fresh nose of ripe apricots and other pit fruits, clover honey and citrus jelly. Flavors echo apricots and lemon custard, nuts and taffy-like roundness, perhaps a hint of residual sugar leaves behind a soft roundness in the mouth, yet with good acidity.

2003 Treanna Red ($52)
An excellent full flavored dark red wine, offering a minty meaty nose with fresh notes hinting at clean acid balance. Chocolate, licorice, roasted coffee beans, blueberry fruit with bright cherry finish, balanced and smooth with very soft tannins at the end. A bit pricey.

2003 Austin Hope Westside White ($18)
50% Roussanne, 45% Viognier, 5% Grenache Blanc. At first, a hint of juniper jumps out of the nose (which shares some fragrance chemistry with honey and cat pee, oddly enough) then the perfumes resolve toward lichi and pineapple, with fresh tropical notes, crisp and bright. Palate shows some of the musty depth of a white wine aged in neutral oak, with rich nutmeg and apple juice flavors. 

2003 Austin Hope Roussanne ($37)
A very ripe and opulent white wine, with a whopping 15% alc. and .4% residual sugar. Warm buttery nose resembles pineapple upside down cake, vanilla, nutmeg, bubblegum. Rich tropical fruits and ample glycerin-like texture in the mouth. Supple. Pair with strong cheese for dessert, or perhaps with paté as an opening course.

2003 Austin Hope Westside Red ($18)
40% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache. Very soft raisiny nose with cinnamon and dark clay, licorice and coffee. Dry woody palate with cherry fruit, a hint of un-integrated tartaric acid on the finish.

2003 Austin Hope Syrah Family Vineyard ($47)
Beautiful nose of warm cinnamon and caramel, rose petals, chocolate mint and blueberries. A fair amount of oak makes the flavors a bit sweet and heavy, but this should resolve in a year or two to create a lush big dark spicy treat.


Tablas Creek
One of my personal favorites, and a flagship winery on the central coast. Tablas Creek continues to make clean refreshing wines, well structured but never over-stuffed.

2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
Creamy fragrances interlaced with chalky minerals, tropical hints of mango and lemon meringue pie along with grapefruit and nutmeg lingering in the dry finish.

2004 Rosé
Always among the most complex rosés around, this doesn't disappoint, with nose of strawberry and orange blossom, perhaps a hint of almonds. Smooth and round in the mouth, full and balanced with melon and strawberry notes, a viscous texture.

2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge
Bright red cherry, black peppercorns, black licorice, roses and violets. Open crisp lightly textured palate, soft peppery tannins. This wine typically improves with age, and it’s still quite young.


Vina Robles
 Last year, I criticized some of Vina Robles' wines because they seemed overly soft and a bit oxidized, as if they had suffered some storage problems; although they clearly showed the promise of something great. Well, this year Vina Robles shined as one of the best wineries, with good values, at the tasting.

2002 Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Estate ($19)
Perhaps one of the best value wines tasted today, with rich and deep fragrances of coffee, chocolate, licorice and ripe black cherries. The palate delivers inky black fruit, blueberries, finishing in minty but rounded big tannins and a tar-like blackness of flavors. The structure is elegant and open in the mouth yet showing deep earthy fruit. Excellent. 

2002 Vina Robles Syrah Huerhuero Vineyard, Pleasant Valley ($16)
Smokey nose offering the classic syrah overtones of wild game, bacon fat, charcoal and other brooding and slightly reductive qualities. A surprisingly light body with the feel of black coffee, flavors of smoke and leather on the finish with caramel oak. Austere in a good way, and very interesting.

2004 Vina Robles Signature (pre-release) ($29)
72% Petit Verdot, 28% Syrah. One of those atypical new-world blends of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, showing the unique ways that these fruits express themselves in the generous Paso Robles climate. Petit Verdot usually appears as a blending grape because of its normally gravelly rough tannins; a tiny bit can add backbone to otherwise unstructured blends. Here the grape expresses its softer side, ripe and smooth. At this young age, the wine has a quiet nose, with coffee, cherries and mint. The palate is smooth and round, growing into black licorice and tar, with lingering textured tannins. This is a big yet elegant, attractive wine.


August 2005
"A Passion for Paso" tasting,
Mountain Winery, Saratoga CA.

This promotional event for Paso Robles wineries showed an impressively high standard of quality. Although prices for the best Paso Robles wines are starting to climb, they still show better value than many of their California competitors. Rhone varietals seem to perform best in this area (Viognier, Syrah, Mourvedre, etc.) but several elegant red Bordeaux-Rhone blends also impressed me at the tasting. The weather created a bit of a challenge on the day of the event, with 95 F heat threatening to bake the wines as well as the tasters. We survived, as did most of the wines, and these are my shorthand impressions.



Adelaida Vinyeards

2002 Syrah Reserve Viking Estate
Black inky purple color, nose of blackberry and blueberry, rust and chocolate. Rounded but lingering tannins show dry cocoa in the end. Classic Paso Syrah.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)
Anise, chocolate, tar and mint on the nose with cherry/cassis fruit. Palate showing excellent layered flavors, with blackberry, cassis, orange juice and chocolate, finishing in mint-cocoa and tar, ending like it starts. A very good Cabernet.



740 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446
805-227-6813, www.anglimwinery.com

2002 Syrah Fralich Vineyard ($18)
A finessed and light bodied Syrah, more crisp and herbal, not dark and brooding nor fleshy and super-ripe. Dark berry fruit with tobacco and taffy oak with crisp acidity on the palate. Very well balanced.

2002 Syrah French Camp Vineyard ($30)
Rounder and richer than the Fralich Syrah, with jammy overtones, violets and chocolate, with a deep fruity darkness that finishes with good balance.

2003 Grenache Vista Creek Vineyard ($22)
Dominated by oak profile of cinammon and spice, with a ripe strawberry fruit hiding underneath.

2003 Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyard ($22)
An exquisitely rich almost unctuous Viognier, with high alcohol (15.5%) and a silky mouthfeel full of glycerin smoothness. Nose of creamy minerals, lemon custard and spice. Almost sweet palate with li chi tropical flavors, and a yeasty echo of sur-lie ageing. try pairing this with strong soft cheeses, mussels or clams.

2004 Roussanne Fralich Vineyard ($22)
Brighter than the Viognier, with lemony crispness, followed by warm hints of nutmeg, apples and buttery sur-lie yeasts.

2004 Syrah Rosé ($15)
A very light and green-tasting rosé, tart palate with a bit of that funky sulphorous Syrah nose.



Austin Hope

Private label for the winemaker who works for Treanna and Liberty School. Among these three labels, he's constistently making wine at the top tier.

2003 Roussane Mer Soleil Vineyard ($30)
Rich buttery color, with sweet smells of pinneapple upside down cake. Lemon and pineapple on the palate, with extracted fruit leaving a lingering sense of residual sugars. Expensive but yummy.

2002 Westside Red ($18)
Blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache. Balanced bright cherry nose with a bright tannic palate, lingering grainy tannins.

2002 Syrah ($42)
A big black beast, with nose of blueberry, tar and black olives, dusty oak leaves and tobacco. Brooding palate shows dark earthy fruit and rounded tannic structure. Excellent expression of Syrah.



Castoro Cellars

Reliably good wine at reliable value prices, these guys are also friends of mine, and I learned much from associate winemaker Mikel Olsten. My wife and I served their '97 Cabernet at our wedding after blind-tasting it with 6 other more expensive wines (and I sometimes buy their grapes for making my own wine.) So, I'm not neutral, and I tend to lean positively towards Castoro. Good thing their wines are consistently well made. Castoro also does custom crush and winemaking for other labels. I just learned that they make the $3.99 Trader Joe's Cabernet from their bulk juice, which I expect could be a good value.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
Smooth and centered, easy drinking wine, with medium tannin and rounded red cherry fruit, a hint of liquorice.

2001 Syrah Reserve ($18)
An excellent value, with blueberry-blackberry fruit and slight metallic overtones, light and clear palate growing into a chalky finish.


Chateau Margene
4385 La Panza Road
Creston, CA 93432
805-238-2321, www.ChateauMargene.com

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($36)
Deep and tarry nose, with blueberry and tobacco in a centered and dark matrix of mature fruit. Rich in the palate, with an oily lingering finish and well-camouflaged tannins.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($52)
The nose shows more herbal complexity than the second tier offering, with more pepper and graphite but still with rich dark tarry fruit. Still young and sleeping, should wake up in a few years and age gracefully for even longer, with more intense tannic structure.

2002 Syrah ($30)
Big black fruit with a slightly minty edge, showing some vegetal character in the nose, with sweet caramel oak.


Clautiere Vineyard
1340 Penman Springs Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
805-237-3789, www.clautiere.com

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24)
A rich and approachable Cabernet with medium complexity and dense flavors. Aromas of graphite, tobacco and a hint of green pepper augment the black cherry fruit. A lingering oily texture coats the mouth and adds to the long finish with minty tannins.

2002 Mon Rouge ($25)
Mostly Syrah (54%) and Mourvedre (37%) with a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon (9%), this Rhonish blend shows good acidity with deep fruit profile and low tannins. A bundle of anise in the nose with aditional hints of tar, musk and chocolate with crisp blueberry fruit. Rich and smooth on the palate, but not hugely dense. Well made and ready to drink.

2004 Viognier ($23)
Bright clean nose of meyer lemon and grapefruit with a dusting of limestone. Dry but very fruity on the palate with a lingering sense of sweetness among citrus and blossoms. Quite nice.


Dunning Vineyard
1953 Niderer Road
Paso Robles CA 93446
805-238-4763, www.dunningvineyards.com

2002 Merlot Estate ($22)
Nose offers rich aromas of chocolate and orange liquer, a waft of barnyard, tar, tobacco and mint. Bright tannins finish on the palate.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24)
Well structured and leathery, with a slightly austere "masculine" profile: a nose of tobacco and leather, a medium density palate of coffee and red cherry lingering into a long leathery dry finish.

2003 Syrah Estate ($28)
A light profile with rose petal and violet overtones, an open texture on the palate, a bit minty, then finishing in a massive granular sheet of tannins. Return to this in about four years.

2003 Zinfandel Estate Reserve ($32)
Spicy, ripe and full, with classic Zin aromas of strawberries and black pepper. Chocolate and peach nectar overtones fill the mouth, with a spicy finish and rounded cocoa tannins. Very well made. 14.9% alc.

2004 Vin De Casa Estate ($16)
A good value dark red blend offering a generous nose of anise and chocolate liquer supporting plummy blackberry fruits. Rich and creamy mouth feel with chocolate, coffee, tobacco notes. Very satisfying. Enjoy it while it's still youthful. 14.2% alc.




2001 Petite Sirah
Graphite, blueberry, chocolate, with a pruney raisined finish that belies over-ripe fruit.



Grey Wolf Cellars

2003 Soulmate Red Rhone Blend ($18)
Classic blend of Syrah (50%) Grenache (25%) Mourvedre (13%) and Cinsault (12%) in a light and food-friendly style, with a fresh herbal nose showing anise, mint and dry grasses. The open soft cherry palate exhibits a trace of bitterness, with low tannin and a slightly grassy finish with warm oak tones.

2003 Zinfandel Barton Family Reserve
Nose shows chocolate and fresh cut lawn (green grassiness) with black pepper and dusty chalk. Ripe strawberry fruit fills the palate, with the smooth round richness of good milk chocolate, with well integrated and subtle tannins in the finish. Yummy.

2004 Awakening White Rhone Blend ($12)
Marsanne (40%) Roussane (40%) and Viognier (20%) in a value priced and delicious fruity exposition. A sweet nose of peach nectar and spring blossoms, with flavors of peach, apricot, passion fruit, smokey musk and green grass. Aging in 3 year old oak lends a richness that complements the fruit.



J. Lohr

Producing over a half million cases of wine, J. Lohr remains one of the biggest wineries in the Central Coast, but maintains a surprisingly high standard despite the quantity. However, next to some of the exceptional small winemakers at this tasting, their offerings seemed adequate but not exceptional.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop
Lighter and less well structured than the excellent '99 Hilltop, showing graphite and some green pepper in the nose, with summer herbs and green fennel. Light on the palate with a balanced clean finish.

2003 Syrah
Smokey nose with grassy herbs, fresh meat, tin, a salty breeze and a hint of sulphur. Rounded ripe blackberry fruit on the palate, with a long rich fruity finish.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Oaks
A value-priced Cabernet, one of the best selling in the Lohr lineup, but not stunning. Some cooked vegetables in the nose, cherries, graphite, green pepper, coffee. In the mouth it feels quite tannic and hard, lacking the supple generous character one comes to expect from Paso Robles.




2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
The nose shows some of the vegetal character that sometimes reduces my enjoyment of Justin's wines, but underneath the scent of baked zucchini hides a lovely deep oaky intense Cabernet, with rich blueberry and cassis fruit, coffee, leather, some graphite, and a centered finish with medium soft tannins. I would be willing to blame the hot weather for the vegetal smells, except I also noted them in Justin's tasting room on previous visits.

2003 Syrah
A clean and spicy Syrah (not vegetal at all) with classic varietal blueberry, mint, rusty red meat and sweet vanilla oak. Saturated dark fruit on the palate, bright with good acid profile, and slightly pinched youthful tannins.



Stefan Asseo came into Paso Robles from Bordeaux looking for a place to break the rules imposed by the AOC, wanting to make big structured wines without shackles or limiting expectations. Among the second generation of Paso Robles wineries, starting in the mid-1990s, who have raised the standards up to those of world-class wine, I watch for the developments led by such winemakers.

2003 Optimus ($45)
An Bordeaux-Rhone blend of Syrah, Cabernet, and Petit Verdot. Complex and ripe, both generous and multilayered. Big round black fruit offers aromas of anise, blueberry, graphite and smoke, with integrated tannin on the finish, and well balanced acidity hiding under the full bodied fruit.

2002 Syrah ($40)
Both deep and bright, with overtones of blueberry, tin, rust, meat, mint and leather, with some serious chewy tannins.

2002 Estate Cuvée ($70)
Big nose of graphite, anise and chocolate. Drinks amazingly well right now but seems to have a structure that should age gracefully while supporting generous fruit. A rich leathery finish balances tobacco with warm spices. Sumptuous.


Midnight Cellars

2002 Gemini ($32)
An unlikely 50/50 blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. A nose showing both deep and light overtones, with blueberry, leather, mint and dusty minerals. The palate is similar - clean, with both light and deep personalities, smooth blueberry, tobacco, with a minty medium-tannin finish.

2002 Zinfandel ($26)
Bright ripe strawberries, with some chalky components typical in a zin of this style. Not too peppery, with good acidity and generous crisp fruit.


Opolo Vineyard

High in the coastal Adelaida mountians, not far from Tablas Creek and Justin, Opolo makes a wide range of bottlings with consistent good quality. These mountains offer a rare climate for wine growing, lifting the vineyards slightly above the Big Sur coastal fog, allowing for periods of serious hot sun in the summer, yet benefitting from the cool ocean breeze at night. I need to spend more time tasting through the Opolo offerings; but this brief introduction impressed me.

2002 Pinot Noir ($24)
Chocolate richness, with black cherry fruit and minty overtones. Some big tannic extraction kicks in on the palate, a bit surprising for a Pinot, but finishing with the long lingering oily mouth feel one expexts from a good Pinot Noir. Well done.

2003 Grenache ($24)
Nose with dark berry fruit, hints of cigar box and smooth rich chocolate, palate has a ripe velvety quality with a long lingering round finish.

2002 Syrah ($24)
A lovely and approachable Syrah, with soft vanilla oak, black liquorice, coffee and leather surrounding ripe dark plummy fruit. Gentle integrated tannins lead to a fruity finish that leaves the mouth wishing for more.

2002 Rhapsody ($45)
A lush, deep chocolate profile with fragrances of anise, coffee, dark ripe blueberry and creme de cassis. Rich and spicy in the mouth with a fruity roundness that lingers into Chambord blackberry liquer and milk chocolate. The word "opulent" wouldn't be a pun in this case.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose hints at grasses and earth, with blueberry, mint and tar. Bright and clean on the palate, warming into chocolate, tobacco and coffee. Delicious.

2003 Sangiovese
Nose shows some Bretty barnyard character, which integrates nicely with black cherry fruit, liquorice and leather. These qualities carry through into the open light mouth feel, with a light clean finish ending in a dusting of anise and chocolate.


Robert Hall

2004 Rosé de Robles
A well made dry rosé, with fresh fragrances of grapefuit and rose petals, clean in the mouth, a bit simple with a quick finish.

2004 Sauvignon Blanc
Chalky aromas with pineapple and grass, bright open structure with cleansing acidic backbone.

2003 Rhone de Robles
Perfumed nose, a bit grassy, with roses and bright red cherries. Complex deep flavors, dark and smooth, with overtones of coffee and tobacco, a rich lingering finish. Excellent.


Stephen's Cellars

2001 Pinot Noir
A huge extracted wine that resembles some of the technically manipulated Pinots coming out of Southern Oregon recently. With a profile more like Petite Sirah than Pinot Noir, this one's unique. Intense nose with black liquorice, black asphalt and a hint of shoe polish. Round dark fruit in the mouth, with lingering sweet oils and low tannin.


Tablas Creek

2003 Cotes de Tablas Blanc ($22)
A generous white Rhone blend with creamy notes of peaches, limestone and honey, with a smooth viscous mouth feel and long finish hinting at pineapple.

2004 Grenache Blanc ($27)
Mint and musk, with grapefruit undertones. Brighter than the Cotes de Tablas.

2004 Rosé
Every year Tablas Creek makes one of my favorite rosés in California. Musky spices, nutmeg, rose petals, peach pits and more linger on the palate of this deceptively complex Mourvedre-centered pink blend.

2003 Syrah
Very young still, with a smokey nose showing mint, rose petals, dry cocoa. This should be drinking very well in a couple years, with finesse and balance.

2002 Cotes de Tablas
Lighter than the 2001 Cotes de Tablas red blend, with more predominance of oily cherries and some grassy herbaceous qualities (from the Grenache?), less of the dusty cocoa qualities that are more present this year in the pure Syrah.


Treanna & Liberty School

Liberty School is the second label for Treanna with the same winemaker, Austin Hope - a serious talent. Liberty School has some great value for the quality, and Treanna makes some of the top wines in the Paso Robles area.

2001 Treanna White ($25)
From the same Mer Soleil vineyard in Santa Lucia that Austin Hope's Roussane comes from, not surprising considering that Austin Hope is the winemaker for Treanna - a very good one, too. This blend of 61% Viognier and 39% Marsanne has a warming nose of pineapple, honey, nutmeg and orange oil, with a smooth rounded mouth feel that shows the hint of smokey bitterness in the finish from viognier, lingering into mint and citrus.

2002 Treanna White ($25)
Showing more of the smokey viognier character than 2001, lighter than 2001, with less pineapple and slightly more oily texture on the palate.

2001 Treanna Red ($52)
A blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot, a big dark wine with smokey nose, palate showing serious body with the meaty profile of blueberry and rust. Rich generous fruit and excellent structure in the long lasting finish. Almost brooding in its blackness.

2003 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon ($13)
An excellent value, one of the better local Cabernets I have tasted at this price point. Dark inky aromas with chocolate and liquorice notes in an envelope of ripe but austere fruit. Blueberry and rust notes fill the mouth, somewhat simple but with good acidity and balanced oak.

2003 Liberty School Chardonnay
Un-oaked bright style, green apple and dry grasses, a smooth mouthfeel with citrus and a minty finish. Clean and open.



2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
Fragrances resemble a shoe shop, with leather, graphite, some dusty minerality and low fruit profile. Seeming low acid on the palate, quirky.


Vina Robles
P.O. Box 699
Paso Robles, CA 93447
805-227-4812, www.vinarobles.com

I quickly became friendly with the representatives for Vina Robles, but I was worried about some of the cooked smells in their red wines. The hot weather during this tasting gave an explanation for some of these faults, but I didn't want to assume a profile from these conditions. Returning to these wines later, I came to feel that several of the red wines show vegetal flaws, yet the whites are clean and quite lovely. Hopefully this friendly new winery will find the solution to some of those cooked smells, and gain respect from their excellent white wines.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate ($19)
Rich nose of anise and chocolate, with a long minty finish. Also, cooked and vegetal. This one may have been feeling some damage from the hot weather, developing some oxidized fragrances (but it may have been the wine), so more detailed notes will have to wait for another occasion.

2001 Syrah Huerhuero Vineyard ($24)
A fat stinky Syrah in the best Rhone tradition, embracing the grape's more intense qualities: barnyard, blueberries, rust, anise and chocolate, with rounded cocao tannins in the finish, inky black, full of fruit but not jammy. A generous yet intense and uncomprimising wine. (Showed better than the others in the hot weather.)

2001 Syrah Estate ($17.50)
Tasted a new bottle several weeks after the event, when trying to determine the extent of heat damage. Sadly, this wine is flawed by serious vegetal characteristics. The nose shows leafy mulchy character, wet tobacco, and overripe blueberries. Palate also tastes somewhat cooked, soft with meaty echoes. Not a succesful wine to my tastes. 13.5% alc.

2002 Petite Sirah Jardine Vineyard ($26)
Quite unique in its deep earthy character, although feeling some damage from the hot sun on the day of tasting - or perhaps vegetal by nature. A meaty nose with loamy qualities, blueberry and plum with added layers of tobacco, clove and blueberries. The palate reminds me of some Italian Brunellos, earthy with a lingering hint of cigar tobacco in the finish. age. 14.3% alc.

2002 Viognier Huerhuero Vineyard ($16)
Fragrances start with chalky minerals atop sweet lemon custard, tart pineapple and a tropical waft of passion fruit. Bright, open and fruity on the palate, and as it breathes it develops a richer fruit profile. Flavors begin tart and lemony spreading out into a creamy rich mid-palate, slightly nutty with a long balanced finish hinting of clover blossoms and smoke. Excellent. 14.5% alc.

2002 Chardonnay Edna Ranch ($17)
An elegant example of the renewed style of unoaked Chardonnay, showing the fruit rather than the winemaker's manipulation. This offers fragrances of bubblegum, pineapple, lemon and green grass, light and fruity but not sweet, with a hint of musky French perfume. Open and smooth on the palate, with a creamy mouth feel and a rich buttery finish with hints of almomd oil and tropical fruit. 14.5% alc.

2003 Signature ($29)
A Rhone-Bordeaux blend using a high percentage of Petit Verdot (59%) with Syrah (22%) and Petite Sirah (19%). Rich smokey nose of coffee and cream, bacon fat, blueberries and blackberries, summer grasses, anise, tar, cigar box and coriander. Soft on the palate, with smooth tannins. Deep and concentrated yet ripe and fruity; probably not for extended cellaring, but pleasant at this young age. 14.3% alc.



Santa Maria

Laetitia Winery
on Highway 101 about 10 miles Norh of Santa Maria
Tasted January 2003

Non-vintage Brut Cuvée ($16)
Sweet nose with a touch of yeast. Very dry crisp flavors, a touch of bitter grapefruit and green apple.

1999 Chardonnay Reserve ($14)
Nose is slightly dominated by oak profile, with butter, vanilla and wood. Very smooth buttery mouth feel with a hint of sweetness, flavors of lemon peel, pears, hazelnuts and nutmeg.

2000 Pinot Noir Estate ($25)
Light ruby color, with a bright spicy and herbaceous nose. The tannin is subdued and not deeply developed, but structure supported by oak tones of cedar (pencil shavings) and cloves, almost reminiscent of a Spanish Rioja.

2000 Barnwood Zinfandel ($12)
A light style zin, more woody than jammy, with cedary oak profile similar to the pinot noir. Flavors on the bright side, high acidity, low tannin, signs of cool weather growth. Lingering dry woody flavors.

2000 Barnwood Syrah ($20)
Perfume nose with oak and rose petals. Palate a bit soapy, very dry with lingering tannins.

2000 Barnwood Cabernet Sauvignon ($22)
Medium ripeness, high acidity, nose with cinamon, fireplace, cedar pencil. Palate cedary, brambly, again a bit like a Rioja from the wood.

2001 Barnwood Orange Muscat ($9)
Very sweet nose, but with a big dose of terpentine. Flavors of pineapple, lemon, apple, spices, with bright acidity. The terpine nose is a bit of a turn-off.



Paso Robles

Eberle Winery

This winery produces consistently high quality big wines, with lots of fruit, good balance, and food-friendly freshness. Many of the tasting notes here represnt quick impressions while tasting in 2002 at the winery. They aren't complete notes, nor do they convey the overall lushness of these wines.

Full Boar Red (NV) ($10)
Simple big fruit, not for aging, raspberries, American oak. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Barbera. The Zinfandel seems to show forward with its fruit. Good value.

*2000 Zinfandel, Steinbeck Vineyard ($16)
Beautiful fruit, coffee, chocolate, nutmeg, black cherries and oak (12 months American). This has many of the qualities that keep Zinfandel among my favorite wines, and it represents Paso Robles' style well.

2000 Zinfandel, Suaret Vineyard ($20)
Despite the fact that my friend Mikel Olsten makes his best Zinfandel from the Suaret vineyard, Eberle's Suaret may be a bit too simple for my tastes. Very gentle nose, soft, smooth and fruity, yet the palate has a surprisingly tannic finish. A lush and fruity wine, but perhaps a bit overpriced.

2000 Barbera ($18)
A bright and somewhat simple wine, with crisp acidity, hints of spice.

2000 Syrah, Steinbeck Vineyard ($20)
Vanilla taffy nose (perhaps from American oak?), with quite a bit of mineral complexity, quite sweet on the palate. The fruit wins over the oak profile, as it should be.

2000 Syrah Reid Vineyard ($20)
Nose resembling cognac (lots of oak, but nutty qualities), hints of oxidation. The palate shows beautiful syrah "blueberry/plum/cherry" fruit flavors and lingering tannins.

*2000 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah ($24)
Massive fruit nose, delicate and seductive, floral and sweet. The palate shows dry lingering tanins with a Christmas-spice oak finish that seems French in its spice quality. Luscious.

1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)
Lush typical varietal character. Bright at the front, tannic in the middle of the toungue, and opening to chocolate in the finish. Complex and excellent.


Hunt Cellars

David Hunt likes his oak, and most of his wines show a notable warm oak profile of cloves, cinnamon toast and toffee. In general, despite using more oak than most Paso wineries, Hunt's wines have sufficiently structured fruit to adapt well to the oak and maintain their balance. These are very good wines. (The tasting notes from 4/04 took place during a large industry tasting and don't have much detail.)

*1997 Petite Syrah (tasted 10/03)
Sweet fruit and a leathery nose, with hints of dusty tarmac, oak vanillins and clove spice. Palate of rounded oily fruit, not multilayered but big and mouth-coating. Dry spicy finish of cloves and peppercorn, the characteristic barrel profile for Hunt. (Re-tasted 4/04) getting a hint of clamshells and ocean smells, with a mouthfull of tarry black fruit and some herbaceous (fennel) character.

2000 Sangiovese (tasted 4/04)
Oaky nose of sweet taffy, caramel, honey; grapey fragrances show a hint of fish pond and dark fruit. Soft in the mouth with caramel oak finish. Not Hunt's best year for Sangiovese, which in 1999 was among their most interesting wines.

*2001 Syrah (tasted 4/04)
Nose of cinnamon and Christmas spices, bright blueberry and pomegranate fruit, slightly sweet and floral in the mouth with big lingering tannins. Excellent.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Bon Vivant (tasted 4/04)
Good acidity with typical Paso Robles Cabernet profile of low tannins and red cherry fruit, but lacking the common clay-dust smells common in Paso wines. Not for long repose, but pleasant now.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Ovation (tasted 4/04)
Cinnamon oak with darker cherry fruit, bigger tannic structure than Bon Vivant, with a longer future ahead of it. Generous mouth-filling body with lingering oak.

1999 Meritage Rhapsody (tasted 4/04)
Dark and complex nose of plums and cassis, violets, caramel and some Cabernet brambles and graphite. Ripe cherries and plums in the mouth, generous fruit with balanced smooth acidity and relatively low tannin for a Bordeaux-style blend.

2001 Zinfandel Outlaw Ridge (tasted 4/04)
Classic zinfandel fruit profile showing dark berries (raspberry, blackberry and strawberry,) chocolate, fennel and liquorice, sweet taffy and cinnamon oak. Big and warm in the mouth, a generous ripe wine with enough earthy structure to give it some weight.



J. Lohr
1000 Lenzen Ave., San Jose, CA 95126
408-288-5057 Tasted December 2002 unless otherwise noted
(Moved from "South Bay Wineries" 5/04 to reflect the Paso Robles grapes used in most J.Lohr wines. They have wineries and tasting rooms in both San Jose and Paso Robles.)

2001 Sauvignon Blanc Carol's Vineyard ($18)
Round, fruity. Light mineral, touch of malolactic (bubblegum),
pineapple, grapefruit, spice.

2001 Chardonnay Estates Riverstone ($14)
Light nose, a bit reticent. Big buttery palate, fatty finish, musty vanillins.

*2000 Chardonnay Arroyo Vista Vineyard ($25)
Generous spicy nose, smell of new oak, light tropical fruit. Full visous mouth feel, buttered popcorn.

2001 White Riesling Estates Bay Mist (7.50)
A bit toasty, light, woody, not too sweet. Slight minerals. High Acidity.

2000 Merlot Cypress($10)
Nose full of vanilla, taffy (American oak?). Front of palate hints of cedar (pencil shavings), woody, somewhat austere like some French merlots. Good value considering the complexity.

*2000 Merlot Los Osos ($15)
Smells hint at tobacco and cedar, vanillins and big ripe fruit. Very big and toasty, low tannins keep the finish full and juicy.

2000 Zinfandel Cypress ($10)
Hints of mineral nose, a bit thin with candy components. Palate of sweet fruit. Lingering vanilla oak finish.

1999 Zinfandel Old Vines Bramblewood Lodi ($15)
Predictable zin nose of strawberry and raspberry. Palate with bright tannins, oak vanillins. The fruit darkens on the palate. The strawberry does not dominate. Balanced finish.

*2000 Syrah Estates South Ridge ($15)
Nose of anise, orange, cassis, dark red fruit. Toasty charcoal from French oak. Rounded lingering mid-palate, with a center of liquorice/olive-like polymerized tannins. Very nice.

2000 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($15) (tasted 3/04)
Nose full of fruit, dusty clay and toasted oak, cherries and tobacco, vanilla and chocolate taffy, hints of fish pond, eucalyptus. Palate is soft, ripe and simple, with Paso Robles sweet cherry flavors, some eucalyptus sticking to the tongue, finishing into oak and light soft tannins.

*1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop ($32)
A surprisingly generous nose of cedar, tobacco, chocolate, dark cherries, a touch of mineral, cinamon toast. On the palate, the ripe fruit tastes well balanced with structured acids and velvety soft tannins. 24 months on new French oak did not overpower these grapes. This wine compares well to much more expensive boutique wines.

*1998 Cuvée POM ($75)
59% Merlot, 29.8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11.2% Cabernet Franc
Brighter and more tannic than the Hilltop Cab. The fruit projects more forward, a bit riper tasting (more fruit), less austere at the beginning, more tannic at the finish with a hint of strawberries. A good amount of movement in the flavors. Time will help center and pull together the details, I would guess 5-10 years maximum. The Hilltop seems like a better price-performance ratio, but this is more complex.



Justin Vineyards
11680 Chimney Rock Rd.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-4150, orders (800) 726-0049

A good quality vineyard, but many of the wines fell short of expectation. I detected vegetal smells on several wines, and I felt that prices generally seemed a touch high considering these faults. The faults may have been amplified by tasting room errors (bottles open too long.) I loved the Mourvedre and Syrah, however, and the two whites tasted beautiful.

2001 Chardonnay Paso Robles ($18.50)
Sur lie aged, no malolactic, yet the wine still exudes a slight buttery softness with hints of spice. On the palate, detecting a minute hint of paint or terpentine from the perfumes, tropical fruit, smooth and ripe pineapple and lemons. 14.5% alc.

2001 Chardonnay Reserve Paso Robles ($22.50)
The nose shows more grapfruit and more oak than the first. Higher acidity, crisp fruit, coconut on the back of palate. 14.5% alc.

2000 Cal Ital ($22.50)
74% Nebbiolo, 26% Sangiovese. Jammy nose, a touch oxidized, tar and blueberry. A quirky palate, with liquorice, vanilla, blueberry, mushroom earthiness. 13.5% alc.

2000 Rioja Reserve ($22.50)
Nose has vegetal overtones, blueberry, cassis, very ripe fruit. Cedary palate, pencil shavings, orange oil, but velvety soft low tannin, soft acidity. 13.5% alc.

2000 Zinfandel ($22.50)
Nose gives off slight fragrances of cooked vegetables and red meat, almost overripe. The palate shows ripe strawberry, hints of chocolate and white pepper. 13.9% alc.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($22.50)
Again giving off vegetal smells, making me wonder how long the bottles in the tasting room have been open. Notes of dark spice, but not particularly deep or complex. Palate shows typical Cabernet cherry-liquorice tannins, but it's a bit one-dimensional. 13.5% alc.

*2000 Syrah Estate Paso Robles ($22.50)
This one is worth the price, at last. A beautiful floral nose with chocolate and lavender, black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, and traces of metallic minerals. Not vegetal. Palate of spicy pepper, bittersweet chocolate, and hints of lingering sweetness. 14% alc.

*2000 Mourvedre ($24)
Another winner, with fragrances of vanilla, ripe cherry fruit, sweet chocolate, cinnamon, deep and dark. Spicy palate, high acidity, complex, with a touch of salty limestone mineral. Only 10 cases were remaining of this small run, and I was very tempted to buy some. Maybe next year. 14% alc.

2001 Obtuse ($22.50)
A port-like sweet fortified Cabernet Sauvignon. Nose slightly vegetal. Flavors very sweet and saturated, ripe blackberries, lingering pepper.



Stephan Vineyard
2815 Live Oak Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 227-1588

Stephan Asseo is unquestionably making some of the best wines on the Central Coast. He moved here in 1997 from St. Emillion in Bordeaux, where he made wine for 17 years at his family estate, Domaine de Courteillac. He wanted to escape the binding rules of the French AOC, and since then he has been adapting his sensibilities to California weather and soil.

The resulting wines show the best of California ripeness and large full-bodied flavor with the mineral and woody austerity of the Bordelais. These are masculin wines, fully extracted, with dry earthy tobacco and toasted flavors. I loved everything that I tasted here. If I were to search for any criticism, I would venture to say that L'Aventure's strong new French oak treatment might tend to mask the fruit a bit. Yet, most of what I tasted here were barrel samples, and I expect that the oak will integrate more holistically in a few years.

*2001 Optimus (barrel tasting, $45)
The color is opaque, almost black. Restrained nose of mineral, toast, tobacco, dust, dark chocolate, dry leaves like an oak forest in Autumn. Spicy tannic mouth feel, ripe, toasted, new oak. Deep extraction, lingering flavors of dry tobacco leaves, cinnamon smells in the glass. Strong and burly. 15.5% alc.

*2001 Zinfandel (barrel tasting, $25)
30 brix when picked (PH was 3.6). Stephan actually removed some of the alcohol by reverse osmosis during fermentation, to prevent the yeast from sticking and therefore to allow the wine to go to full dryness. Nose is deep and dusty with dark spices (clove, allspice, black pepper), tobacco, black cherries, chocolate. Palate has high clean acidity, clove spice, deep ripe blackberries. Flavors finish with lingering brambly acids, ripe fruit and tobacco. Rustic and muscular. 15.6% alc.

*2001 Estate Cuvée (barrel tasting, $75)
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Verdot, 20% Syrah. Nose has hints of violets and rose petals (from the Syrah), deep cinnamon, earth, chocolate, anise and lavender. Palate full of seductive fruit, intensely concentrated, surrounded by well polymerized tannins, becoming soft and smooth as it lingers. Tobacco and toast surround the fruit at the center of the palate. The flavors slowly fade into a violet perfume finish, similar to the fragrance note at the beginning. This wine has a slightly more "feminine" profile than the others. A whopping 16% alcohol, but doesn't smell "hot".

*2000 Optimus ($45)
50% Cabernet, 40% Syrah, some Zinfandel and others blended. Nose with a touch of bramble, vanilla, tobacco, cherries, dusty dried rose petals, with a tiny hint of acetaldehyde. Mouth full of big tannins, toasted tobacco, peppery spice, huge but delicate.




You can find Meridian's low end bottlings of Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel at many grocery stores around the state, typically for around $10. These wines are usually soft and grapey, showing some of the more generic characteristics of Central Coast wines. I have tasted some of their smaller batches and reserve wines at the winery, and I was quite impressed with their high end releases, although the prices no longer seemed attractive. At the moment I have notes for only one of these, tasted long after release and holding up well:

1998 Meridian Zinfandel Dusi Vineyard (tasted 7/05)
Dante Dusi's vineyard shows a slightly less jammy profile than Benito Dusi's vineyard, which only Ridge and Peachy Canyon use; yet this bottle has aged into an excellent complex wine, still youthful after 6 years. Nose shows intense dusty clay and roadside tar, dried anise, balsam, ripe red raspberries and Chambord liquer, with a hint of caraway seeds and Persian spices. The palate is quite minty, with some bitterness hiding around the edges of leathery red berry fruit and a light tart finish lingering with a bit of chalk. (13.5% alc.)



Peachy Canyon
1480 N. Bethel Rd.
Templeton, CA 93465
Tasting room off Highway 46 west of Paso Robles

Peachy Canyon is a very good winery with a brighter style than one would expect from Paso Robles. Overall high acidity and black pepper spices give good structure to their better big reds, but I find their pricing has climbed a touch high relative to the flavors, at least at the winery. Look for them at Trader Joe's for a good discount.

2001 Incredible Red Zinfandel Bin 112 ($12)
An easy fruit forward wine, more simple than their others. Forward raspberry jam, sweetness on palate, smooth finish.

2000 Westside Zinfandel ($19)
A slightly reticent nose of minerals and strawberry. Dry toasty palate with spicy cloves and cinamon, subdued fruit, high acidity, hints of cedar and medium-heavy toasted oak. 15.5% alc.

2000 Benito Dusi Zinfandel ($26)
From the older of the two Dusi vineyards, the same grapes used in the Ridge Paso Robles. The 2000 Dusi vintage has developed into some huge ripe chocolatey zins, among my favorite of that vintage. Peachy Canyon's has a nose of dark cherry fruit, black pepper and cinamon. Palate shows a lot of acid and tannin, with brambly flavors that hint at partial whole cluster fermentation. A big rustic ripe zin, 15% alc.

2000 Old Schoolhouse Zinfandel ($26)
Nose gives hints of black pepper and cherry pie, bitter chocolate and cinamon. Soft tannins with a supple mouth feel, good structure and lingering tannins. 14.5% alc.

2000 Mustang Springs Ranch Zinfandel ($26)
Light and dry compared to the others, peppery nose, slightly herbal or minty, hints of brambles and pepper on the palate with good complexity. 14% alc.

*1999 Estate Bottled Zinfandel ($20, sold only by case)
Vanilla and floral nose with hints of terpine, perfumey almost like Cabernet Franc. Ripe extracted flavors with high acidity, soft oak profile, a hint of cinamon or Christmas spices at the finish, but not overpowering. Dry and complex, with less black pepper tones than their other zins. 15.5% alc.

2000 Syrah ($18)
Caramalized vanilla nose, cherries, sweet floral overtones. Palate is peppery, with cherries, chocolate,liquorice, and finishes with subtle French oak profiles. 13.3% alc.

*1999 Merlot ($23)
A surprizingly complex wine, with Bordeaux-like mineral tones and ageworthy qualities. Nose is ripe and jammy with notes of musk or sweat. Spicy mineral-earth flavors with strong tannins and dry extracted finish. Excellent. 14.5% alc.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25)
Nose dominated by vanillins, with ripe tones of cassis and cherry liquorice, tobacco, cloves, brambly crushed leaves, high acidity and lingering developed tannins. Shows good varietal characteristics.

1999 Para Siempre ($38)
A blend of 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. The nose does not show the typical floral tones of the Cab Franc, with more cedar and cinamon character from the oak. The palate is very fruity and ripe, with currant and berry flavors. Excellent but overpriced.

1998 Port ($25, 375 ml)
Nose is slightly vegetal, with orange oil notes. Palate sweet and chocolatey, caramel taffy and prunes. Full flavor but not exceptionally complex. 18.3% alc.



Robert Hall
Highway 46 just east of Paso Robles

A newer winery with an infusion of private funds from the namesake, a succesful developer in the central coast. Robert Hall dug a huge cave under the hillside, the size of a parking garage. The winemaker gave me a tour with barrel tastings of the 2001 vintage, which turned into an excellent year for Paso Robles (and a good one for California in general.) The 2000 vintage was decent, but the tastes of 2001 were good enough for me to join their club for shipments. I detect an underlying character of peppertree sap on many of their wines (perhaps from their use of Hungarian oak) along with relatively low or well-integrated tannin. The overall style shows ripe soft Paso Robles character, not for long cellering but pleasant when young.

2001 Rose de Robles ($14)
Clean dry flavors with good acidity. Lightly dusty nose, orange blossoms and spice. Bright strawberry flavors with a hint of pepper. I think this would be great with Asian food.

2000 Chardonnay ($18)
Nose of butter and butterscotch, hint of smoke and wood, ripe pineapple and limestone. Clean mouth feel but with deep and buttery palate, slightly warm spices. Not too buttery relative to others in this style.

2001 Rhone de Robles ($18)
Nose with green peppercorns, mixed blossoms, cinnamon, brambles, dust, chocolate cherries. Peppery palate, a hint woody, bitter cocoa and cherries, smoke, a light finish. An unusual blend of grenache, syrah, cinsault and counnoise.

*2000 Merlot ($20)
Big fragrances of pepper, cedar, mint, plum, lapsang souchong tea and cinnamon. The palate delivers the same as the nose with added pepperwood sap and cherries. Minute residula sweetness, low tannin, somewhat low acidity.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
Nose of cassis and dusty rose, floral and feminine in the manor that many 2000 vintage Paso wines have been. Tastes almost like a lighter version of the Merlot, with low tannin, pepper, plums, chocolate.

2000 Syrah ($20)
Very fruity nose, floral and ripe, with taffy, cherries, cocoa and dust. The starts big and then simplifies as it opens. Flavors also big and fruity, with plums, cherries, mild cocoa, like a plump feminine beauty. Lingering cinnamon and tobacco finish (oak profile.)

1999 Syrah Reserve Huerhuero Creek Vineyard ($28)
Tight at first, then starts to release tobacco and peppery spice fragrances. Higher acidity than the other syrah, but still very integrated tannins, big fruit and tobacco finish. This needs even more time, and I think it will become lovely and complex.

2000 Zinfandel ($24)
Showing the softer side of the 200 vintage. Big fruit nose with a hint vegetal (not to the point of a flaw.) Chery fruit, vanilla, pepper, a touch of fish. Bright and fruity in the mouth, but a hint green.

2001 Zinfandel ($24)
A giant that hopefully points to good things to come for the year 2001. Smells of caramalized cinamon candy, tobacco, tea, chocolate and warm spices. Huge palate with ripe fruit and tobacco, dark chocolate, jam. A beautiful big muscular zinfandel.

2001 Merlot (tasted 8/04)
Nose reminds me of cherry cream pie or zabaglione, with ripe sweet black cherry fruit, cream, clay dust or chalk, some chocolate, iodine, soapy rose petals and eucalyptus. Soft cherry fruit on the palate, with rounded tannins, peppery spices and sweet cinnamon oak, with a slightly soapy medicinal finish. (13.9% alc.)

2001 Syrah Paso Robles ($12 at Trader Joes)
(tasted 9/03) Upon opening, smells very young: gravel dust, vanilla, light cherry, fruit forward, a hint smokey opening up into hint of sweet pipe tobacco. Palate shows clean fruit profile, very balanced, needs several years in the bottle or some time in a decanter before it shows more depth. The smoke smells are very promising. As it opens for a few hours, more grassy smells arise, giving more of the syrah profile, more blueberry astringency and wirey qualities. Good value.

2002 Rhone de Robles ($18)
Brighter and lighter than the 2001 vintage of this Rhone-style blend. Nose shows clean ripe red cherry and raspberry fruit, almost reminiscent of fruit punch. Hints of chocolate and anise, clay dust, leather, yet overall rather simple fruit profile. Palate of cocoa and cherry, medium to low acidity, soft dusty tannins, sweet oak smells linger in glass. Best not to age this one, enjoy it young.





Tablas Creek
9339 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-1231

This collaboration between wine merchant Robert Haas and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel has started their first decade with several auspicious vintages. I first tasted their 1997 Vinter's Cuvée at a friend's restaurant, and I immediately noticed the spicy chocolate tones and rustic tannins of mourvedre grapes.

Tablas Creek is aiming to become the Chateauneuf du Pape of California, and they chose their site carefully to optimize soil and weather conditions for the Rhone varietals that they imported from France. After waiting three years while the Department of Agriculture certified their cuttings to be free of disease, they began a horticultural project to graft and establish these vines in the central coast. They sell syrah, marsanne, mourvedre, counoise, roussanne, grenache and other vines to surrounding vineyards. Of course, this gives me hope to find more mourvedre from the Central Coast!

These wines are complex, large and ripe yet delicate and clean tasting. True to French tradition, most of these wines are blends between several grape varities, which tends to show more of the vineyard qualities and vintner's style instead of pure varietal character. Tablas Creek's style tends towards bright acidity and brambly chocolatey depth for the reds, and fully malolactic tropical spice for the whites, all with clean mineral limestone aromas and solid tannins. Most of the reds seem very age-worthy.

As the vintages move towards recent years, the vines are extending their roots deeper into the limestone soil, and I expect the product will become more complex, with a deeper mineral profile.

Interestingly, Perrin chose to declassify the 2001 grapes from the Esprit de Beaucastel premium blend, feeling that they exhibited a profile that was too soft and ripe. Most of these grapes went into the Cotes de Tablas blend, which sold for about $15 at Costco. I found this to be an good value.

2000 Clos Blanc ($35)
45% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne, 19% Viognier, 17% Grenache Blanc. Nose of soft limestone, pineapple, bubble gum, apricot, fennel greens, very tropical and exotic. Palate of mineral dryness, a bit salty, buttery with spice, lingering tropical and pineapple qualities. A good balance between fruit acidity and malolactic softness. 13.5%

2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc ($35)
44% Roussanne, 22% Viognier, 18% Grenache Blanc, 16% Marsanne. Basically the same cuvée as the Clos Blanc, they changed the name in the newer vintages to reflect their high-end wines. Nose still reflects pineapple tones, but more citrus in comparison to 2000. Hints of Meyer lemon, perhaps from the viognier. MOre spicey on the palate, but the nose has more caramalized qualities, a stronger oak fingerprint. Hint of efforvescence on the tongue would fade with time. 13.8% alc.

2000 Antithesis Chardonnay ($35)
Mineral limestone nose, with high fruit acidity despite full malolactic. Hints of spice - cardamon? Buttery palate with subtle clove qualities. The finishing scents are slightly toasty, yet clearly not overoaked. The oak and fruit qualities show delicate balance. 14.2% alc.

1998 Rouge ($32.50)
44% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 11% Counoise. Dusty nose with hints of chocolatey oxidation, dark cherries and cedar. Bright acidity on the palate, with high tannin, brambly characteristics, crushed leaves, clove and peppery spice. 13.8% alc.

1999 Petite Cuvée ($22)
65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre. Nose shows a hint of liquorice, currants, ripe blackberries. Big spicy palate with bright fruit and a peppery lingering finish. The blend ratio resembles a Chateauneuf, but the flavors point to California. 15.2% alc.

*1999 Reserve Cuvée ($35)
2400 cases made. Similar ratio to '98 Rouge. Nose of cinnamon, cedar, black pepper, currants. Ripe mid-palate fruit with dark black cherry, yet a bit spicy and acidic. Long finish has a hint of vanilla with fireplace ash from French oak. Dry tannins. Seems extremely ageworthy, maybe developing for 10-15 years. 14.5% alc.

2000 Cotes de Tablas ($22)
84% Grenache, 16% Syrah. Jammy nose with clove, nutmeg, cinnamon. Flavors of liquorice tannin and velvety smooth fruit. Becomes a fruit explosion, lush and ripe, but with an increasingly bright acidic finish, yet with soft tannin and low oak. Not for ageing, more like a good fat Paso Robles red. 15.6% alc.

*2000 Esprit de Beaucastel ($35)
The renamed Reserve Cuvée, to designate the top of the line. 4,500 cases made. 35% Mourvedre, 26% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 14% Counoise. Nose of chocolate, clove, rare beef (mineral iron), not with obvious ripe fruit-forward smells. The palate again shows high acidity, spicy brambles and wood, humus. Very complex and almost rustic. A big wine. 14.6% alc.

2001 Côtes de Tablas ($20)
Perrín declassified these grapes from the Esprit de Beaucastel because he didn't think they had the structure or longevity: all the better for big wine lovers, because the same grapes drop into an affordable class for many. This one is indeed much softer and lower acid than previous Beaucastel, but makes up for it with loads of ripe chocolate and cherry fruit, limestone minerality and cocoa tannins, with a hint of anise and rust. Seems dominated by Mourvèdre.


Other Central Coast Wines

2000 Alban Vineyards Larraine Syrah, Edna Valley (tasted 10/03)
One of those huge wines that taste "black" to my synaesthetic brain. Multilayered nose of blueberry/cherry, horse manure or fermented grass (Brett), lamb fat, a bit metallic. Leathery but smooth in the mouth, oily and clinging, with a serious viscous tarry finish, rounded and warm with few flavor protrusions. Everything unifies into a mysterious polished black intensity. Wow.

1996 B3 Zaca Mesa Syrah, Black Bear Block (tasted 10/03)
Bright, ripe and bold Santa Barbara cherry-style Syrah. Nose of cassis and ripe cherry juice, opening up into mild age effects of fish and pond water, with subdued chocolate and vanilla. Palate is clear with a full mouth-feel, flavors of bright cherry, a hint of cocoa, lingering acidity, subdued and integrated oak tones. (14% alc.)

2000 Byron Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley (tasted 10/03)
Bretty barnyard nose, horse manure, sweet warm vanilla candy, a bit cloying. Palate shows the full earthiness of the varietal, with leather and tobacco, within a matrix of sweet fruit and vanilla oak. This definitely falls on the earthy-haystack side of the Pinot Noir spectrum. I like it! (14.1% alc.)

2000 Clos Mimi Syrah Bunny Slope Vineyard, Paso Robles (tasted 4/04)
An uncomprimising, complex, almost bizarre wine. Salty briney nose, grassy and a bit metallic, limestone minerality resembles crushed clamshells. Fragrances of tight blackberry fruit, allspice, bananas and black pepper. The palate doesn't give away its fruit freely, with austere oaky citrus and a mouth-feel that almost seems galvanic. Words fail to encompass these sorts of flavors. Absolutely unique.

2003 Morgan Pinot Noir 12 Clones Central Coast ($14) (tasted 5/05)
Slightly minty berry fruit, with chocolate and cherry fruit leather, gravel and black liquorice. A very ripe wine. The palate shows oil and black tarry fruit textures, caramel and liquorice with long lingering hint of sweetness. An unusually dense pinot. 14.2% alc.

1999 Ojai Vineyard Syrah (Stolpman Vineyard) (tasted 2/04)
Nose of ripe cherries, pepper, oak vanillins, calm, not intensely complex. The first note on the palate is sweetness, then bright acidity, followed by lingering tannins. In mid-palate, flashes of cinnamon and cocoa butter add detail to a calm musical progression of ripe syrah flavors. Definitely a Californian wine.

1999 Pandora Edna Valley Grenache/Syrah (tasted 2/04)
The nose is deep and ripe, with chocolate, sea breeze, smokey oregano spice, blueberry and earthy caramel, slight hints of eucalyptus (not unpleasant), burnt leather and hayloft. These strike me as smells more indicative of Syrah than Grenache, despite the 60/40 dominance of the latter. The palate shows low acidity, well integrated soft tannins, dominated by bright plum/bluberry fruit. After breathing for two hours, deep ferric qualities joined the flavors, hints of rust, red meat and sulphur. (14.3% alc.)

2001 Paraiso Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) (tasted 2/04)
Excellent cool weather pinot, with deep extracted flavors and firm acidity. Nose shows slightly pinched black cherries, oolong tea, smokey oak with some splintery qualities (needs time), leather, mint leaves. Palate offers a flurry of soft and ripe flavors blending with bright and tight texture from firm acidity and tannin, a mouth watering finish. (13.5% alc.)

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