Move Over Rhône Rangers – Here Comes Paso’s Bordeaux Brigade

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Ryan Swarthout, Executive Chef of Robert’s and Estrella restaurants, handing out corn muffins stuffed with pulled pork at the Paso Robles Wine Festival.

This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

The Central Coast wine region of Paso Robles is noted for its Rhône varietals. So I was surprised to see booths pouring Cabernet Sauvignon wines outnumber Rhône wines at the 31st annual wine festival last weekend.

Some 60 wineries poured their reds, whites and pinks at this popular event that drew a crowd of about 3,000 people.

Since Paso Robles does not have any sub-appellations, the region is now defining its varied pockets by grape varietals. While Rhône varietals and Zinfandel vines are planted pretty much all over Paso, Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in the region’s warmer eastside and Pinot Noir on the westside.

And so it was at Saturday’s Grand Tasting. The tree-shaded historic square in downtown Paso was divided into regions: Rhône, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Zinfandel and, this being Paso, an “Other Wild Wines” section with 10 wine booths. The Cab/Syrah/Zinfandel blended with other varietals has become such a signature style that it might as well be labeled “Super Paso” (like Super Tuscan).

Among the wildest blends I tasted was Chronic Cellars’ 2011 Purple Paradise – a riot of Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and Counoise.

In this section was another little gem – Bodegas, wines crafted by winemaker Dorothy Schuler. Although dedicated to Spanish varietals, I did find a blend of Mourvédre, Tempranillo and Garnacha.

Claudine Blackwell and Terry Brady of Clautiere Vineyards donated 5 cases at the Friday silent auction.
Claudine Blackwell and Terry Brady of Clautiere Vineyards donated 5 cases of their 2011 BDX Bordeaux Blend at Friday’s silent auction.

Back to Paso’s Bordeaux blends. Besides the usual suspects such as Daou, Niner Estate, Eberle, J. Lohr, Chateau Margene — all known for complex Cabernet Sauvignon wines — I discovered Domaine Degher, Broken Earth and Hoyt Family Winery. All are crafting deep, rich wines. Interestingly, not all wineries producing Cabernet Sauvignon are located on the eastside. Some are in the hilly Adelaida region and others tucked along Highway 46 West.

The coterie of well-known Rhône Rangers included Tablas Creek, Anglim, Treana, Ecluse, Cass, Pomar Junction and Summerwood, pouring refreshing white blends and Rosés along with inky Syrahs.

The Pinot pack included some of my favorites such as Windward, Ascuncion Ridge and Wild Horse Winery.

Mexican ratatouille from Thomas Hill Organics. Some 20 restaurants and chefs served food alongside the wines.
Mexican ratatouille from Thomas Hill Organics. Some 20 restaurants and chefs served food alongside the wines.

To wash down the Paso blends, some 20 restaurants and chefs dished out delicious food sourced from local farms. There was gazpacho served with curried chicken salad from Red Scooter Deli, salmon crostini from Villa Creek, pulled pork sliders from California Fresh Market, cheeses from Vivant and breads from Bless Your Heart Bakery. The popular spot on this hot afternoon was Leo Leo Gelato. Owners Lauren and Andrea scooped out flavors such as tiramisu, mascarpone and strawberry with basil.

An intimate tasting and silent auction was staged the day before, also in the park. It drew some 47 wineries pouring Reserve and Library wines. The auction turned out to be not so silent, with the auctioneer’s loud enthusiasm to raise the bids on six donated wines – Ancient Peaks, Clautiere, Tobin James, Cass, Broken Earth and Villicana. The top five bids for each wine received a case of wine upon completion of barrel and bottle aging. The top winner of each wine also took home the special engraved barrel head. Tobin James Cellars’ 2009 Blue Moon Syrah brought in the top bid of $825 for the case.

Many of the region’s 160 wineries (most of them small and family-owned) held open houses Sunday. Eberle Winery was the most popular one. This is where Gary Eberle (regarded as the region’s Godfather) held court behind a large Santa Maria grill anchored in the winery’s courtyard. Wine glass in hand, Gary got busy grilling duck sausage, tri-tip and baby back ribs that paired deliciously with his Cabs and Syrahs. And why was this spot so popular? The bbq — coming from Harris Ranch’s finest meats — and the wine tasting were free!