During the Saturday Grand Tasting at Windfall Farms, we made two circuits of the wineries. The first iteration was for pinot noir. The second was for GSM and other wines. Thus we have the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival part III: a second circuit. (For those wondering how we managed to fit all this into the two-hour trade tasting, the answer is that we didn’t try. We started with the trade tasting, but also bought tickets for the full afternoon tasting. There was a 30 minute break between the two, giving us a bit of time to recover.)
[pullquote]California winemakers seem to have discovered that zinfandel is an excellent choice for red blends. Roger Nicolas has about half an acre of zinfandel grapes on his estate, using them exclusively for blends.[/pullquote]
There were 49 wineries at the grand tasting. We managed to track down a few that are producing very good Rhône and Bordeaux-style blends. And then there are the exotics. Our personal favorite was the ZinAlley Nerelli Estate “Generation 4” including syrah and zinfandel grapes. The Garagiste program claims this wine is syrah and grenache, but we are inclined to believe the winery’s website.
As was the case in our two previous articles about this event (click here and here), our general impression was very positive. There are some tiny wineries making outstanding red blends. Standouts included the previously mentioned Nerelli Estate and our old friends from the Saturday pinot round, Baker & Brain.
The Two Best
Frank Nerelli and his wife Connie bought the property from his uncle, Victor Pesenti, in the early 1970’s. They planted dry farmed, head pruned vines, grown in old world tradition with the finesse of modern technology to produce a soft and complex Zinfandel. Following in the foot steps of his father Aldo Nerelli, and grandfather Frank Pesenti, Frank is sharing in the heritage of award winning Zinfandels. With a sense of tradition, a passion for the grape, and a style all his own Frank is producing no more than 500 cases a year of some of the best Zinfandels, California has to offer.
Although technically the Nerelli Estate label is owned by ZinAlley, you will unsuccessfully search the label for that information. The website describes the relationship between the two labels.→
The Generation 4 ($47) was terrific. Great acid balance, aromas of cherries and earth, bold, intense flavors and a long finish. Enough tannins to age for a few years. Our only issue is the price.
Baker & Brain was one of our two favorites for pinot noir. They win the grand prize by being one of the top two in the non-pinot section as well. Their 2011 Pendulum (60% Syrah + 40% Grenache, $35) is another bargain. Aromas of graham cracker and blueberries are followed by flavors of leather, tobacco, and earth. Great mouth feel, and a terrific acid balance.
One We Missed
In our previous review of pinot noirs, we neglected Sinor-LaVallee. Owners Mike Sinor and his wife Cheryl (nee LaVallee) have been in business since 1997. Even today they only produce 550 cases per year. They were pouring three of their 2011 vintages: Talley Rincon ($40), Aubaine Vineyard ($40) and Anniversary Cuvee ($50). We have managed to lose our tasting notes, but were reminded of these wines at a recent tasting at Artisan Wine Depot. We brought home two bottles of their 2012 San Luis Obispo County pinot and were delighted. We only hope Artisan begins carrying their wines regularly.
And the Rest
Probably the best of the rest was Thomas Alexander. Although we have a general policy of not trusting anyone with two first names, we’ll make an exception in this case. They were pouring four 2010 vintage wines, each with elements of grenache, mourvedre, and/or syrah: the Le Pitchoun (75% grenache, 25% syrah, $28), the Le Tigre Le Tigre (71% Syrah, 29% Grenache, $28), the L’Entrecote Syrah ($42), and the Sans Pareil Grenache ($45). Of the four, our favorite was Le Tigre. All the fruit comes from one single vineyard located adjacent to the Tablas Creek Vineyard, on the west side of Paso Robles. Beautifully balanced with dark berry fruit up front, a very earthy mid-palate, followed by some good tannin. It is a very appealing wine, and very delicious. If you let it breathe for a few hours, it opens into a full mouth feel, slightpepper, cherry with good tannins. The nose is fantastic with mineral and earth notes.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention The Farm Winery. Owners Jim and Azmina Madsen met winemaker Santiago Achaval and his wife Mercedes when they attended Stanford. Since Norma and I met when we were graduate students at Stanford, The Farm immediately occupied a warm place in our hearts. (“The Farm” is a nickname given to Stanford since the property was once Leland Stanford’s farm.) This winery is a newcomer, founded in 2009. They were tasting three 2010 vintages: the Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon ($90), The Big Game (50% Cab, 38% Syrah, 12% Petit Verdot, $75), and the Touchy-Feely (64% Grenache, 36% Syrah, $60). Each of these wines will take quite a bit of aging, at least five years. But the structure of the tannins, oak, and fruit holds great promise. We especially enjoyed the Touchy-Feely.
The Touchy-Feely presents aromas of kirsch liqueur, blackberry, spice and licorice. Flavors of earth and dark chocolate accompany tannins and oak. Like the Cardinal, if you must drink this wine now, decant it and let it breathe for at least an hour. Those who can manage to resist the temptation will be rewarded with continuous improvement at least through 2020.
The Cardinal begins with aromas of herbs and carbon with floral notes. The palate is well-structured black fruit with acidity on the mid-palate, followed by tannins on the finish. If you insist on drinking this now, you’ll need to decant it and let it breathe for at least an hour. Other reviewers say this wine can be safely aged until 2020. We agree with that recommendation and would not open a bottle of this before 2016.
The Big Game shows classic Cabernet Sauvignon aromas and flavors. The scents of black currant, lead pencil, mint, licorice and hints of tar are followed by a nice balance of acidity and tannins. Don’t even think about opening this one before 2020. It will probably continue to improve through 2025.
And the Most Entertaining Award Goes To …
Cloak and Dagger Wines who do not list the grape varietals used in their blends. “It’s a mystery.”
Now that we’ve written this we’ve realized how terrific the Garagiste Festival was. If the wine deities are smiling on us we’ll be back next year.