Paso Robles Rhône varietals and blends tend to get a lot of media attention and some even refer to Paso as “California’s Rhône Zone”. I recently attended the 2019 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience and was able to taste through a large number of excellent Rhone wines. Read on to see my top picks.
The Rhone Rangers
The Rhone Rangers is America’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. Their mission is to educate the public on Rhone varietal wine grapes grown in America and to promote the production and enjoyment of these wines, with emphasis on integration into daily lives.
The Paso Robles chapter has over 50 members and each year the group hosts a wine tasting event that kicks off with a seminar and luncheon.
I din’t attend the seminar and luncheon portion of the event; however, I did manage to talk with several people who did. Overall the comments were very positive with most people indicating they have attended this event for several years and never miss the seminar. The top comment was that it is so interesting to hear the winemakers and winery owners talk in length about the wines. They really walked away feeling like they got the inside scoop.
One couple said the highlight of the seminar for them this year was learning about cinsault from Daniel Callan of Thacher Winery. They had always considered cinsualt as a blending grape and were surprised how much they enjoyed the varietal as a stand alone wine.
I was intrigued by what I heard and made my way over to the Thacher Winery table to try the 2017 Cinsault. In case you are not familiar with the grape, cinsault is a red skinned Rhône grape that is known to be drought-resistant and is capable of tolerating extreme temperatures (sounds ideal for Paso). It is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet, and clearly some vitners offer it as a stand alone varietal. Although light in color, the Thacher Cinsault offered a mouthful of fruit and a delightful aroma. I would enjoy this wine with light lunch.
I decided to continue my tasting by selecting some of the lesser known varietals. My quest led me to Amy Butler, of Ranchero Cellars, to try her 2014 Carignan. Amy has been a consulting winemaker for several wineries over the years, and it was the carignan grape that made her take the move to launch her own label. This is a very intense, lush wine that lingers on the palate. One of my favorite wines of the day, it is easy to see why Amy is so drawn to this grape.
Next up was the 2014 Tannat from Seven Oxen Estate Wines. Tannat is another dark, bold varietal that is often used as a blending grape to add color and structure. I found this a very enjoyable drink and could easily see having a bottle of this with a nice steak dinner. Although it was indeed on the bold side, the silky tannins and lingering finish make this very drinkable even on its own.
I decided it was time to move on from the unusual, standalone varietals and look for some more common Rhônes like Syrah, Grenache and the ever popular GSM blends. Not surprising, Eberle Winery had a nice selection of wines. Gary Eberle was the first to plant Syrah in California and I always enjoy his, vintage after vintage. The 2014 Syrah made from Stienbeck Vineyard’s grapes is rustic and delicious – easy to see why this wine receives so many awards and high ratings.
Another favorite of mine from the tasting was kukkula wine‘s pas de deux. The blend is dominated by grenache with just the right level of syrah. This is a combination I really enjoy (those who know me well, are aware that I am always happy to skip the “M” in a GSM). This could easily become an every day drinking wine in my house.
Another producer I really enjoy is Alta Colina. If you get a chance, be sure to visit their tasting room on the west side of Paso Robles and if they are offering vineyard tours, you are in for a real treat. The Toasted Slope Syrah grows on a hillside on their property with the most gorgeous views. This is another go to wine, that I enjoy year after year.
I don’t think it is possible to talk about Rhône wines in Paso Robles without mentioning Tablas Creek Vineyard. Tablas Creek makes exclusively Rhône varietals and blends, and is responsible for bringing many of the first Rhône cuttings to the area. Their early efforts importing and working through the lengthy process of having the varietals certified and propagated is likely a large reason that Paso is gaining its reputation as “California’s Rhône Zone”. I can’t say I have ever had a Tablas Creek wine that I didn’t enjoy. My hands down top pick is their 2016 Esprit de Tablas. This wine is a blend of four estate-grown varietals, propagated from budwood cuttings from the Château de Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf du Pape: mourvedre, grenache, syrah and counoise. I highly recommend a visit to the tasting room surrounded by the the estate vineyards — you can also learn a great deal by following the winery’s blog.
The Paso Robles Rhone Rangers host a number of events thoughout the year. The next one is a Mardi Gras Celebration! on March 5th at Tooth & Nail Winery. Twenty-four member wineries will be pouring during this event to celebrate Mardi Gras and women in wine (a percentage of the proceeds from the evening will be donated to the national Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund, designated for a female winemaking/viticulturist/wine business student). Purchase tickets here.
The Paso Robles chapter also host monthly varietal tastings during the warmer months. These events are a great way to do an in depth tasting of the featured grape. Check the event page for these as well as other member events.