Paso Robles: California’s Most Promising Wine-Making Region

 

 

A review of some wines from Paso Robles.

 

By Louis Marmon

 

Gazette Newspapers  April 18, 2007

 

J Lohr Hilltop Cabernet SauvignonMore than 40 different varietals — high-quality Zinfandel, excellent Cabernet blends and first-rate Rhone varietals — are cultivated in Paso Robles, California’s largest American Viticultural Area (AVA). The 24-plus square mile area has 700 to 2,000-foot elevations, with diverse microclimates from the cooling Pacific breezes and multiple canyons.

 

Still, Paso Robles suffers from an identity crisis. The public is mostly unaware of the many notable wines being made at many of the 100 Paso Robles wineries.

 

‘‘It is important that we become more distinctive,” said Steve Lohr, Vice President of J. Lohr Vineyards as well as the Chair of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (www.pasowine.com), a consortium dedicated to increasing consumer’s familiarity with the area. The alliance recently applied to divide Paso Robles into several smaller AVAs to reflect the local climate differences. ‘‘Many years ago everyone thought of Napa as a uniform area,” said Lohr. ‘‘Now we recognize the significant differences between areas within Napa, such as Spring Mountain and St. Helena. It’s the same in Paso Robles, which also has many distinct microclimates.”

 

The alliance’s Grand Tasting tour recently stopped in D.C. Among the producers present was Edward Sellers who specializes in small lots of Rhone style wines from grapes grown on the western limestone hills. The Edward Sellers Viognier 2005 ($28) had beautiful peach and pear flavors and balanced acidity while the very fragrant Edward Sellers Roussanne 2005 ($26) was even better, with apricot, orange and white peach notes; perfectly balanced, it is a superb summer wine. Made from Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault the medium-bodied Edward Sellers Cuvee des Cinq 2004 ($42) is another great effort, with its beautiful smoky and spicy red fruit flavors and lush finish.

 

Orchids and wine are the passions of Mike and Estrella Schenkhuizen who established their Orchid Hill Winery in 1999. The Orchid Hill Viognier 2005 ($21) is another really good Rhone varietal from Paso Robles; it has floral aromas, honey and peach notes and crisp acidity. Spicy, jammy black fruit and a touch of vanilla and minerals at the end make the Orchid Hill Primi Zinfandel 2004 ($24) very enjoyable as is the Orchid Hill Estate Syrah 2003 ($25), which has dark fruit and chocolate flavors with a rich finish.

 

Jerome Lohr, who began his winemaking efforts in Monterey County in 1972, now has 900 acres planted with Chardonnay, Riesling and other varietals. His son Steve Lohr spoke with delight about the ‘‘whole family helping in the vineyards,” where he learned such skills as driving a tractor and vine pruning. Lohr bought his first vineyard in Paso Robles in 1988, and now J.Lohr Vineyards has 2,000 acres under cultivation. Less tannic than Napa wines, the J.Lohr Cabernets still exhibit the classic California flavor profile and structure. The single-vineyard, full-bodied J. Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($30) is a fine example, with minty black fruit and cassis flavors, along with some coffee and oakiness at the end. Their ‘‘Cuvee Series” are blends of Paso Robles grapes patterned after Grand Cru Bordeaux produced in Pomerol, St. Emilion and Pauillac. Made from 97 percent Cabernet Franc, the J.Lohr Cuvee St. E Paso Robles 2000 ($50) was stunning at dinner. The red currants and raspberries seemed to jump from the glass, along with toasty oak, anise, vanilla and dark chocolate in the lush finish.

 

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