In the final round of voting at the Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles today, novelty emerged as the prevailing theme. For anyone looking to the best wines of a comprehensive judging to say something of a region's strength, personality and momentum, today's outcome would be a disappointment. While the competition was open to wineries from Monterey to Ventura, as befits the name "Central Coast," three-quarters of the entries were from the immediate Paso Robles appellation, which became clear as we 15 judges learned the identities of the wines immediately after the last vote. And Paso Robles is a region recognized largely for wines based on grape varieties long grown in France's Rhone Valley, such as viognier and syrah, as well as cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. Yet, not a single wine with those pedigrees finished in the top four, from which the grand champion was selected.
For one, while Paso Robles is celebrated for exquisite dry roses based on such Rhone Valley varieties as grenache and syrah, the competition's best pink wine was the brash and sweet San Marcos Creek Vineyard 2009 Paso Robles White Merlot. It was delightfully fragrant and persistent, an ideal hot-tub wine on a warm summer evening, but I don't see it setting the agenda for Paso Robles over the coming decade.