Friday, June 30, 2017

Paso Robles - California’s Fastest Growing Wine Region

Photo courtesy of Paso Robles Wine Alliance.
Located just six miles from the Pacific Ocean on the inland side of the Santa Lucia Coastal Mountains lies Paso Robles, now California’s fastest growing wine region.  With 40,000 acres of land under vine currently and over 200 wineries producing, there is a lot to discover in this sizable Central Coast appellation.

How large is it? For comparison sake, Napa Valley has approximately 225,000 total acres in its delineated area making it about 1/3 the size of Paso Robles. Comparing actual vineyard land currently in use, there is only a difference of 5,000 acres between the two with Napa ahead with 45,000 acres of land under vine. Paso Robles, however, has over 600,000 total acres of land within its boundaries which may allow for it to enjoy even greater expansion in the future.


In 2014, eleven new AVAs within the Paso Robles AVA were recognized as distinct wine growing sub-regions. Wines sporting these new designated labels will soon become more common in the market. 

Why does this matter? The unique characteristics that each of these sub-region’s possess are due to the differences in their terroir. Things like different types of soils, amount of sun exposure, vineyard elevation, level of rainfall and temperature range are aspects of terroir which can influence the quality and taste of the grapes grown there and eventually influence the resulting wine. 

The advantage of these special micro-climates being identified for consumers is the greater ease in finding other wines with similar characteristics to previously enjoyed Paso Robles wines. By more precisely defining the provenance of the grapes, consumers can choose to buy or not buy certain varietals from certain areas. The front labels of the area’s wines will continue to include the name Paso Robles with the new AVA designation to further simplify for the wine buyer where the grapes were grown.


Paso Robles grows a diverse assortment of grapes but the majority of their production is red wine, only 12% of the grapes grown are white varieties. Right now, look for exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and easy drinking New World style red blends from the area but don’t be surprised to see more of their smaller production dry rosé and interesting white varietals and blends in the market as the region continues growing.

Though Paso Robles has been gaining new interest from drinkers and investors as the wines win awards and earn higher scores from critics, the region is not new to wine production. The area’s wine history begins in the year 1790, sixty years before California even became a state, when Franciscan friars first planted vineyards upon their arrival in a place now known as the Santa Margarita Ranch. 

In modern times, this historic property is a destination for thrill seeking wine lovers who wish to zip-line from the hillsides and fly over bucolic Pinot Noir vineyards in between tastings. 

I did that last month on my trip to Paso Robles, follow along here all through July every Monday and Saturday as I show you what's happening in Paso Robles now.

Monday, June 19, 2017

New Chile Pequeños Tasting - Houston

"Long and thin it will always remain, 
but Chile is packing a lot of excitement into such a confined space." ~ Tim Atkins, M.W. 

The quote above summarizes the message from the Wines of Chile seminar at the New Chile Pequeños Tasting in Houston last month delivered by Master Sommelier candidate Steven McDonald. 

The excitement stems from Chile beginning to more fully utilize its  diverse range of soils and climates to push the country's viticultural limits. If you think the country only produces wines from its signature grape,  Carménère, it is time for you to rethink Chilean wine. 75% of all the grapes grown are red but there are a range of different varieties being produced. 

This tasting focused on site specific artisan wines from cooler high elevation terroirs.  These unique growing areas support specific varieties more easily and contribute to the purity of style.

The wine:

Aquitania Sol de Sol 2014 - This 100% Chardonnay wine was sourced from a cold southern vineyard area in the Malleco Valley which has a climate similar to Oregon with clay and granite soils. It spent 8 months in French Oak barrels with twice weekly lees stirring and no racking. Interesting, refreshing, creamy with medium body, medium + acidity with lemon, mushroom and a light mineral finish. SRP $35

Casa Silva Los Lingues 2014 -From the Colchagua Valley, this 100% Carménère wine is sourced from 14 year old vines planted at an elevation of 1475 feet on stony clay soil. Each vineyard block is vinified separately with aging in oak barrels for 10-12 months for 80% of the wine. McDonald discussed the careful farming required to get the most out of what he referred to as "a tricky grape." Spicy and fruity with raspberry jam, pink peppercorn and a bit of leather with a medium + body and medium acidity and tannins with a smooth red fruit finish. SRP $20

Garcés Silva Amayna 2013 - This sustainable  100% Pinot Noir from the Leyda Valley was grown on decomposed granite with alluvial stones and calcium deposits. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and was aged for 12 months in French oak, of which 15% was new. Blueberries, blackberries and a bit of an oxidized quality on the nose with a cranberry and licorice flavor and a slight nuttiness in the finish. SRP $35

De Martino Gallardia 2016 - This Cinsault is from the Itata Valley where it was dry-farmed on its original rootstock on granite soil. It underwent a short semi-carbonic maceration and was fermented with native yeasts. Fresh and fruity with a medium body, medium + acidity and pomegranate aromas and flavors, McDonald commented "it has a naturalness, a crunchy underripe quality that I like." SRP $19.99

Maquis Franco 2010 - From the Colchagua Valley, this 100% Cabernet Franc is sustainably grown on alluvial soils over a layer of gravel. The wine is then aged in French oak barrels for 14 months creating a full bodied ripe red with medium + fine grained tannins, medium acidity with raspberry aromas and flavors, a slight minty note and a lingering finish. SRP $85

Calcu Futa 2010 - This sustainably produced 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from granitic and clay soils in the Colchagua Valley. It spent 18 months in French oak barrels creating a fresh, structured, well-balanced full bodied red with floral aromas, blackberry and raspberry aromas and flavors, chewy tannins, medium + acidity and a light touch of vanilla in the long finish. SRP $65

All the wines are highly recommended; they are unique, delicious and reflective of the diverse terroir of Chile!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Notes from a Santenay Tasting and Seminar

Last week at the Texas Wine School, Guy Stout shared his knowledge with Houston wine professionals on the village appellation of Santenay located in the Côte de Beaune growing area in Bourgogne, also known as the Burgundy wine region of France.

Santenay is situated in the southern portion of the Côte de Beaune on limestone based soils which receive ideal morning sun exposure. The area primarily produces well structured red wines from Pinot Noir but they also produce some elegant white wine from Chardonnay as well.

Santenay earned AOC status in 1937. Wine wasn't the only liquid of interest at the time, a hot springs spa was a major attraction in the area until 1998 when it was closed. The wines of the region, however, have maintained their attraction through their reputation for quality and charm.

There are twelve Premiers Crus Climats within the Santenay appellation. In Bourgogne, Climats are plots of land that have been delimited by winemakers for generations, some as far back as the 7th century. Unfortunately, we did not get to taste them all. The sample we did enjoy, however, has inspired me to seek more wines from Santenay in the near future.

The wines:

Santenay "Clos de Malte" by Maison Louis Jadot 2013 - This white wine was sourced from a seven hectare Monopole vineyard on the foot of the Montagne des Troix Croix of which only one hectare is devoted to Chardonnay. From a vintage that Stout described as "lean, for both production and style", the wine was dry with a medium body and medium plus acidity with fruity aromas and flavors of green apple and yellow plum, a nutty nuance with a bit of tartness in the fresh finish. "I like it," pronounced Stout.

Santenay 1er Cru Clos des Gravières by Domaine Bachey-Legros 2015 - From a highly respected premier cru vineyard site for red wines, this white wine was aromatically interesting with a slight musty earthiness combined with fruity meyer lemon and yellow plum flavor. Dry, rounder with medium acidity, a slightly chewy texture and juicy citrus in the lingering mineral-laced finish.

Santenay by Domaine Jacques Bavard 2014 - Stout called this village level red "a classic Pinot Noir" from it's bright ruby color to its cherry, cranberry and forest floor aromas and flavors. Dry with medium acidity and moderate tannins, Stout said this wine was both "simple and easy to enjoy."


Santenay 1er Cru Gravières by Domaine Jessiaume 2014 - Bright floral aromas with juicy cherry and pomegranate flavors, dry, medium bodied with moderate tannins and medium+ acidity, Stout referred to this wine as "a gazelle that was ready to run".

Santenay 1er Cru Clos Rousseau by Domaine Jean-Claude Regnaudot et Fils - Stout sniffed, swirled and tasted this wine and announced to the group, "It's going to be hard to move past this one!" Bright aromas of ripe Bing cherries and forest floor, dry, medium bodied, medium+ chewy tannins and medium+ acidity with juicy plum and cherry flavors with a truffled savory note in the finish.

Santenay 1er Cru Maladière by Domaine Lucien Muzard et Fils - Less youthful seeming than the previous wines from the slight orangish tint to the rim to the slightly oxidized note on the nose but equally elegant. Aromas and flavors of cranberries, truffles and forest floor with a medium body and medium acidity and tannins, this dry red also has a touch of spiciness in the finish.

Sophisticated, energetic and full of character; the wines from this tasting are all highly recommended.

Wines tasted on May 29, 2017