Friday, June 18, 2010

Novelty Reigns In Paso Robles

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.

The best red wine was even more startling. Elected from a field of 13 nominees, including a cabernet sauvignon, a pinot noir, a tempranillo, a zinfandel and a syrah, it was the juicy and solid Alapay Cellars 2008 Paso Robles French Camp Vineyard Legrein. What the heck is legrein? It's a black grape most closely associated with hearty yet accessible red wines from the Alto Adige territory in northern Italy. I liked it enough to vote for it during the round to choose the competition's best red wine, but I also voted for a stupendous meritage, a highly toned tempranillo and a wonderfully lively and complex cabernet sauvignon, all of which, in retrospect, I suspect better represent the future of the wine trade in Paso Robles. Thus, I was surprised by the wide margin with which the legrein won the title as the competition's best red wine.

The best white wine, which went on to become the competition's grand champion in the final vote, also was something of a surprise. It's the Vina Robles 2009 Paso Robles Huerhuero White 4, an elegantly fresh and spicy mix of vermentino, verdelho, viognier and sauvignon blanc. No one was surprised that a white blend was so highly regarded - Paso Robles long has been home to stylish blends based on green grapes commonly identified with France's Rhone Valley - but more than a few fellow judges may have been startled that this particular blend was so varied and imaginative, yet ultimately satisfying in its balance and persistence. Regardless, it seems to speak persuasively to the longterm standing of Paso Robles as a fine-wine region, in part for the quality of its fruit, in part for the free-wheeling yet thoughtful enterprise it represents. What's more, it sells for just $16 the bottle. I know; immediately after the competition I drove out to the winery and stocked up.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog! I discovered Alapay Cellars recently and picked up a few bottles of their 2008 Legrein. Congrats to them!