Wine and Beer Touring in California’s Paso Robles, 2017

Wine and Beer Touring in California’s Paso Robles, 2017

In 2014, the U.S. TTB finally approved a longstanding plan to split Paso Robles up into 11 AVAs. It was just the latest move that is turning this sleepy region into a top wine destination, with some 300 wineries (plus or minus, depending on who you talk to) cranking out some excellent bottlings. Rhone grapes — syrah, grenache, mourvedre, viognier — are the general focus here, but you’ll find just about everything being produced in this area, which experiences a wide range of microclimates but also undergoes huge swings in temperature.

Recently we spent four days in the region. Tasting notes on just about everything we encountered follow.

Need more Paso? See also notes from our previous road trips here in 2012 and 2014.

Calcareous Vineyard

A perennial favorite in Paso, Calcareous is one of the first stops you’ll reach as you head into the mountains — and the source of one of the area’s best wines, too. Calcareous is a geological term describing calcium carbonate, which the soil here is so rich with that it’s white.

2015 Calcareous Estate Chardonnay – Bright and lemony, melon notes and some lightly tropical character. The moderately creamy body is spot on. A- / $34
2014 Calcareous York Mountain Pinot Noir – Burgundian in tone, with light smoke and leather notes, and a bit of a balsamic edge. Restrained cherry notes give it life. A- / $40
2015 Calcareous ZSM – 48% syrah, 28% zinfandel, 24% merlot. An odd blend, the zin giving the wine a sweet attack. The merlot dials it all back and gives it a touch of cocoa on the back end. B+ / $45
2014 Calcareous Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – Bright and fruity, with bold cherry, spice, and lingering cola and tea leaf notes. A- / $50
2015 Calcareous Grenache Paso Robles – A lightly floral nose is a surprise, as the wine winds its way toward dark raspberry, orange peel, and blackberry notes. A- / $49
2014 Calcareous Lloyd Paso Robles – 31% cabernet franc, 28% merlot, 24% cabernet sauvignon, and some other stuff I didn’t get written down. Chocolate, blackberry, and blueberry notes explode up front, leading to a bold, chewy palate with a citrus edge on the finish. A- / $62
2014 Calcareous Cabernet Sauvignon York Mountain Carver Vineyard – A quieter nose, chewy but stone-heavy, with balsamic notes and a silky finish. A- / $100
2013 Calcareous Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – Boldly minty with eucalyptus notes, brambly blackberry fills the palate. A- / $NA

Tablas Creek Vineyard

A titan of Paso Robles and one of the founding wineries of this area, Tablas makes a huge selection of Rhone-specific blends and single-varietal wines. Play nice and maybe they’ll pull out some of the “VINsider” stock for you.

2016 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Blanc – 43% viognier, 40% grenache blanc, 14% marsanne, 3% roussanne. Very dry, mineral-heavy, with notes of green apple and sea salt. High acidity brightens it up. B+ / $30
2014 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc – 72% roussanne, 23% grenache blanc, 5% picpoul blanc. Slightly vegetal, bold but grassy, with light acid. B / $45
2014 Tablas Creek Full Circle 
– 100% pinot noir, not a grape this region is known for. Earthy, with licorice and a meaty underbelly; cherry notes develop over time. B+ / $45
2015 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas
– 39% granache noir, 35% syrah, 16% counoise, 10% mourvedre. Bright fruit here, with strong cherry and vanilla notes. A- / $35
2015 Tablas Creek Mourvedre
– 100% mourvedre. Bold and a bit funky, meaty with a strong bacon character. B+ / $40
2014 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas
– 40% mourvedre, 35% grenache noir, 20% syrah, 5% counoise. A great combination of earth and fruit, bold raspberry and cherry notes. Sharp. A- / $55
2015 Tablas Creek En Gobelet
– A GSM wine made from “gobelet” trained vines. A salami and cheese-friendly wine, meaty, slightly gamy. B+ / $NA
2016 Tablas Creek Picpoul Blanc
– Light honey and peach notes, like a viognier-lite, with mild acidity. A- / $24
2015 Tablas Creek Tannat
– Yes, tannat! Strong currant notes, some earth, and a hint of eucalyptus. B / $32

Justin Winery

Since selling to Fiji Water in 2010, Justin Winery has undergone significant expansion and seen numerous upgrades. Today it’s a major destination in Paso Robles, complete with a luxury inn and gourmet restaurant.

2016 Justin Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast – Fueled by grapefruit, lemon, and some lime, this sauv blanc is bold, with a slight creaminess. A- / $NA
2016 Justin Viognier Paso Robles – A classic, peach-heavy wine with a mix of fresh herbs hitting on the back end. Some marshmallow notes emerge midway, but the finish is quite dry. B+ / $NA
2015 Justin Trilateral – A syrah, grenache, mourvedre blend (in that order), made in the style of a Cotes du Rhone. Heavily meaty on the nose, with notes of beef jerky and a leathery finish with notes of dried cherries. B / $NA
2015 Justin Malbec Reserve Paso Robles – Chewy, with some pepper, fresh plum, mint, and a long finish, with hints of cocoa. A- / $NA
2015 Justin Justification Paso Robles – 52% cabernet franc, 48% merlot. In pre-release, bold chocolate notes, big tannins, but will soften in time. Lightly floral, with some caramel on the finish. A- / $NA
2014 Justin Isosceles – 73% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc, 12% merlot. Fragrant and spicy on the nose, iconic currant notes, a bit of baked apple, and a slight lilac note. One to watch. A / $NA
2015 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Paso Robles
– Quite bold with milk chocolate and blackcurrant notes, a barnburner or a wine with a semi-sweet kick to it. B / $NA
2014 Justin Isosceles Reserve
– The nose is quite spicy, and the palate is loaded with same. The body is mountainous with fruit and some floral notes, but this wine needs ample time for its disparate flavors to integrate. A- / $NA

And one from sister winery Landmark Vineyards, whose facility is located in Sonoma…

2014 Landmark Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Escolle Road Vineyard – Dense and powerful, with rich cherry and cola notes; a gorgeous wine. A- / $NA

Law Estate Wines

This high-end operation only produced its first vintage in 2010, and already it has built a reputation as one of Paso’s most luxurious wines — and most upscale places to visit, perched in a modernist castle atop a ridge studded with beautiful views. Nearly all of its wines are blends and all are made with estate fruit.

2014 Law Cirque – 32% tempranillo, 23% mourvedre, 23% grenache, 22% carignan. Smoky on the nose, with a palate full of meaty bacon. Very dense and dry, with cocoa powder leading to a tight finish that’s only just starting to open up. Not altogether there yet, but it may focus in time. B / $75
2014 Law Sagacious
– 42% mourvedre, 38% syrah, 20% granache. More floral, with green olive notes, lots of chocolate, and some tobacco character. Better integration of flavors, with a silky finish. A- / $75
2014 Law Audacious
– 30% cabernet sauvignon, 29% syrah, 23% granache, 18% petit verdot. Again, cocoa and cassis carry the day, with eucalyptus notes on the back end. Blueberry hits on the finish. One of may favorites of the grouping. A- / $75
2014 Law Beyond Category
– 75% syrah, 13% petit verdot, 12% petite sirah. A bit dusty, with violet and plum notes, plus blueberries and pie crust, lifting it up. B+ / $75

Epoch Estate Wines

Located on the western edge of the Paso region, getting to Epoch requires some minor off-roading, but it’s worth the trip for Jordan Fiorentini’s lineup of rich wines. Don’t miss her “vinpressions,” Jordan’s drawings that visualize on paper her experience of tasting each wine. (Winery cat pictured above!)

2016 Epoch White – 47% grenache blanc, 39% viognier, 14% roussanne. Rather bold, with some vegetal notes atop a core of quince, brown butter, and baking spices. B+ / $35
2013 Epoch Veracity – 49% grenache, 34% mourvedre, 17% syrah. A creamy expression of a Rhone with notes of graphite and leather. Vanilla kicks in on the back end before some fruit washes over you. A- / $65
2013 Epoch Estate Blend – 32% syrah, 25% grenache, 25% mourvedre, 10% tempranillo, 8% zinfandel. Silky and a bit spicy, with solid vanilla notes, raspberry, and chocolate sauce on the finish. Tons of depth here. A / $50
2013 Epoch Ingenuity
– 54% syrah, 21% mourvedre, 16% grenache, 9% petite sirah. A pepper, raspberry, and currant explosion. Earth with more chocolate notes, silky tannins, some mushroom, and blueberry fruit on the finish. Elegant and balanced. A / $70
2013 Epoch Tempranillo
– 87% tempranillo, 10% grenache, 3% zinfandel. Tannic and heavy, with some mint notes. Lots of earthy, leathery notes. B+ / $75
2013 Epoch Tempranillo Reserva –
78% tempranillo, 22% grenache. Intense, with a mouthful of eucalyptus, dark chocolate, and a lingering sweetness. Massively tannic. B+ / $NA

Pelletiere Estate Vineyard and Winery

Janis Denner, a Bay Area transplant, purchased this dilapidated vineyard and winery in 2014 and built it back into something that is gaining some real attention for its focus on Italian grapes, unusual in this area. On the day of our visit, she was the only one working in the winery’s small tasting room.

2016 Pelletiere Viognier Paso Robles – Classic, golden and bright, well structured, with bold notes of peaches, honey, and a little spice. A / $NA
2015 Pelletiere Montepulciano Paso Robles – A massive barnyard funk mars this wine, pungent and earthy, with blown-out licorice and smoky bacon notes. B- / $NA
NV Pelletiere Vino Rosso Paso Robles – A nonvintage table wine, with a bit of olive, fruit, and ample leather and spice notes. Some earth and licorice underneath. B+ / $NA
2014 Pelletiere Sangiovese Paso Robles – A classic representation of its style; Italian in structure, with leafy olive notes, ample acid, and a cherry core. B+ / $NA
2015 Pelletiere Zinfandel Paso Robles – Peppery and bold, but a bit restrained, allowing some pretty spice notes to show through. A- / $NA
2015 Pelletiere Syrah Paso Robles – Notes of toasted bread, with an ample meaty bacon character. Could use some time in bottle to soothe its leathery tannins. B / $NA

Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery

Vina Robles is one of only a handful of wineries on the “east side” of Paso Robles, across the 101 freeway. Flatter and drier, the wines here can be considerably different from those just a few miles away to the west. Vina Robles is also home to a large concert venue which hosts some of the biggest names in music and comedy to venture through this region.

2016 Vina Robles WHITE4 – A blend of 45% viognier, 27% vermintino, 17% sauvignon blanc, and 11% verdelho. Aromatic and lightly peachy, with gentle lemon notes. Lightly creamy, it’s a big crowd-pleaser. A- / $16
2016 Vina Robles Vermintino Huerheuro – Great acidity here, with floral and vanilla notes; creamy at times with ample zippiness. A / $18
2015 Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – Blueberry and currant notes galore, with bold chocolate and fruit notes. The finish is surprisingly dry. B / $26
2014 Vina Robles Petite Sirah Estate – Lovely milk chocolate notes, some florals, and a bit of raspberry. A- / $29
2014 Vina Robles Zinfancel Estate – 88% zinfandel, 12% petite sirah. Fresh strawberry and baking spice notes, almond on the finish. Light body for zin. A- / $32
2013 Vina Robles Syree – 80% syrah, 20% petite sirah. Chocolate cherry, but quite dry, with bold pepper and eucalyptus notes. Some blueberry at the back. B+ / $46
2013 Vina Robles Petite Sirah Creston Valley Vineyard – Bolder and higher in acid, but seeing some gamy, meaty notes. B / $46
2013 Vina Robles Signature
– 79% petit verdot, 21% petite sirah. Violet notes lead some heavy floral notes, with cocoa powder and a slight grassiness. B+ / $46
2013 Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Road Reserve
– Eucalyptus notes, with dark chocolate, vanilla, and brown sugar all heavy. A little beefy at times, but the tannins are softening. A- / $54
2014 Vina Robles Syrah Terra Bella Paso Robles
– A punch of dark chocolate leaves behind more eucalyptus, cassis, and a mound of roast beef. A- / $NA
NV Vina Robles Brut
– Sourced from New Mexico, this is a fresh and creamy sparkler, with apples, pears, and some fig fruit. B+ / $NA

Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Paso Robles isn’t just home to some world-class wines, it’s also got a major beer operation calling the region home. Firestone Walker has become one of the biggest successes in craft brewing in recent years, driven largely by the runaway success of its ubiquitous 805 Blonde Ale. (This beer is sold in 30 states, but 80% of the total goes to California.) The tour here is quick, informative, and well worth taking.

Firestone Walker DBA – Firestone’s original beer, with lots of lemon and chewy malt. Slightly hazy, its a winner that drinks easily. 5% abv. A-
Firestone Walker 805 – Punchy with malt, fresh and lively. Easy to see why it’s a hit. 4.7% abv. A-
Firestone Walker Unfiltered DBA – A slight woodiness here vs. the standard DBA, some vegetal notes. 5% abv. B
Firestone Walker Pivo Pils
– A hoppy pilsner, with bold grain notes plus a punch of hops. 5.3% abv. B+
Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin Milk Stout
– A beautiful stout with a supple body, rich with fresh and toasty cocoa nibs, but light on the finish. 5.5% abv. A
Firestone Walker Pale 31 
– Floral with nuts and lots of toasty malt, a big and rounded “pretzel beer.” 4.9% abv. A-
Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion 008 
– Tons of fruit here, apples and spice, lemon, grapefruit, and a playful bounty of hops. Supple and well balanced. 5.9% abv. A
Firestone Walker Wookus 
– A Leo vs. Ursus black rye, very chewy and chunky, with notes of burnt toast and hard pretzels. A big departure, stylistically, for this series. 8.2% abv. B+
Firestone Walker Dark & Stormy (2017)
– An ale blended with ginger and lime; it sure does smell like its namesake, but the sweet malt and spicy ginger make for some unusual sipping. Hard to get your head around it. 13.6% abv. B+
Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee (2017) 
– A molasses bomb with maple syrup and baking spices; a bit thick for me. 13.8% abv. B
Firestone Walker Sucaba (2016) 
– This barrel-aged barley wine has dill on the nose and ample balsamic notes, with a bold finish of molasses, vanilla, and cocoa powder. A monster. 13.4% abv. A-
Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary (2017) 
– Gorgeous, loaded with caramel and chocolate, raspberry, and ginger notes. Tons going on, and doing it perfectly. 11.8% abv. A
Firestone Walker C-Hops Pale Ale – An exceptional pale ale, with loads of citrus, piney resin, and just a great all-around balance. 6% abv. A
Firestone Walker Highland Park Brewing Collaboration
 – Not a collaboration with the distillery but rather with another brewer in Venice Beach. A rather dull beer, a Czech-style lager with chewy malt notes and not a lot more going on. 5.3% abv. C

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.