Author: Christopher Sawyer
Located at the midpoint along Highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is a winegrowing region on the rise. Through the 1970s, this sleepy rural community was best known for its sulfur-rich mineral batLocated at the midpoint along Highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is a winegrowing region on the rise. Through the 1970s, this sleepy rural community was best known for its sulfur-rich mineral baths, big ranches, and cattle grazing fields. But in the early 1980’s, that started to change when a group of talented grape growers and winemakers moved to the region. They took advantage of special microclimates, diverse soils, and unique topography of the region, along with potential of working with pristine fruit.
Over the past 30 years, the appellation has become synonymous with rich fruity wines and versatile blends. Currently, there are 26,000 acres of planted vineyards, with a couple thousand more coming online over the next few years. That’s a huge growth considering there were only 5,000 acres planted in the early 1980s. The same is true with the number of bonded wineries in operation. This number has increased from five in the early 1980s to over 200 currently, and a growing number of virtual wineries that now call Paso Robles home.
Whites: For white wines, Chardonnay has been the main white grape varietal of the region since the late 1970s, and currently accounts for 8 percent of the vineyards planted in the AVA. Second in line is Sauvignon Blanc at 3 percent. Smaller percentages of Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and Verdelho are grown in the region as well.
Reds: In the early years, the most widely planted grape was Zinfandel. But in the early 1990s, the area started becoming known for Bordeaux varietals, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, which now represents an average of 38% of the grapes harvested each year.
Once the early plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals were established, the Rhône revolution began to gain momentum. In 1974, Eberle started developing the Estrella clone of Syrah and was the first to introduce a 100 percent Syrah varietal wine to the United States in 1978. In addition to Syrah and other Rhone varietals like Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault; other exciting red varietals planted in the region include Sangiovese, Aglianico, Blaufrankish, Tannat, Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional.
White Wines: In general, the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are very approachable, fruit-forward, and in many cases feature mineral notes and high acidity. But if you like aromatic wines, it’s hard to resist white Rhone varietals, especially the blends. Many of these exciting white wines feature aromas of spring flowers, honeysuckle, orange blossom, with flavors of ripe peaches, apricot and candied citrus, with a rich texture, bright acidity, and elegant finish.
Red Wines: Beyond the ripe flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, black plum and currant, Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux style blends often feature lovely nuances of anise, cola, black pepper, mineral, and tannins that are more smooth and supple. Zinfandels tend to have pronounced flavors of ripe red and black fruits, fresh ground pepper, and layers of spice. While the Syrahs and red Rhone blends offer attractive aromatics and lavish flavors of fresh blackberry, cherry, blueberry, boysenberry and layers of spice.
With white wines, think mild cheeses, salads with citrus vinaigrette, grilled fish, sushi, risotto, pork and poultry with fresh fruit chutney, and spicy Thai cuisine. For reds, the Bordeaux varieties pair nicely with fine cheeses, roasted vegetables, hearty stews, duck, pork chops and grilled meats. With Zinfandel, tangy cheeses, pasta, pizza, pork ribs and other barbecued meats. For the Rhone reds, think gamey meats, duck, pork and lamb; fresh herbs, wild mushrooms, deep red sauces, and tasty variations French and Italian cuisine.
By Christopher Sawyer