After exhausting the pinots we made another circuit to taste other reds. We were delighted to discover that many wineries have followed the lead of Roger Nicolas, producing eclectic blends that would be illegal in France.
That’s a shame because French wine drinkers (is that redundant?) are missing some real treats. These winemakers know what they’re doing. Blending cabernet sauvignon and syrah? No problem. We have to mention the increasing use of Spanish varietals, especially tempranillo. In fact, we tasted several “GST” wines — grenache, sarah, and tempranillo. This is our review of Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: but not pinot noir.
This review turned out much longer than I expected. Here are some links to help you find what you’re looking for. Wineries are listed alphabetically here from Z to A (just to overcome the usual A-Z bias).
Paso Garagiste festivals begin with an Opening Round Friday evening. In 2014 this event was held at The Carlton Hotel in Atascadero. We ran into significant traffic on the trip south (thanks, CalTrans) so arrived at the event late. We tasted many wines that evening, but only found one that knocked our socks off.
levo wines (they seem to prefer lower-case, who are we to change that?) produces 800 cases per year. The first vintage was produced by winemaker Bret Urness in 2012. This is about as Garagiste as you can get.
[pullquote]Suddenly I woke up in 2014 and I started running into old friends. One over riding question was “where the hell have you been?” Being held ransom by wine. I rarely poke my head out of hiding, but I finally have three messages in a bottle for the outside world. Ransom is one of them.[/pullquote]
Bret has personalized the winery’s website in delightful ways including individual stories for each of his four wines. We tasted his Ransom (2012). Here’s part of the story of the wine’s unusual name →
Ransom ($36) is 75% grenache, 25% syrah. Opening with smoky aroma, the palate is a delightful combination cedar, black cherries and blackberries. Highly recommended.
There were many excellent, unusual varietals and blends at the Grand Tasting. Rather than trying to pick the “best” of a very eclectic group, we’ll just write about them in the order in which we tasted them.
Nobelle Wines was the beginning. Winemaker Sébastian Noël’s first vintage was 2012. The winery’s annual production is 800 cases per year.
The 2012 Cuvee Noël ($25) blends 40% cab, 10% merlot, 10% petite sirah, and 40% malbec. It features a nice aroma from the petite sirah and malbec, overcoming the perpetual issues of cabernet sauvignon nose. This is a very nice wine, dark fruit with a hint of spice. The merlot adds texture while tannins are supplied by the cabernet sauvignon.
Sébastian is an interesting guy. From the Nobelle website:
Maître de Chai—“Ora et labora,” work and pray, as Burgundians monks used to say.
Sébastien Noël is a French Winemaker who joins us from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Paris, France. He worked his first harvest in Bordeaux in 1999, and carries a family passion that can be traced back for decades, as Sébastien is a descendant of a ‘negociant’. As a boy, he listened to stories about how his ancestors would purchase and ship bulk wine by horse and carriage. The route was from the Loire Valley to Neauphle le Chateau (a small village in the west side of Paris). There they would age the wine at the Grand Marnier Cellar, owned by the Lapostolle Family, to later sell to the Parisians.
Fascinated by the family history, Sébastien’s curiosity grew. In September 2005 he began his journey to California, pursuing a wine career with only 2 backpacks and his Springer Spaniel, Orion. His first stop was at Laguna Canyon Winery in Laguna Beach. Quickly rising to Assistant Winemaker, the expanse of wine country began attracting him. In 2009, Sébastien’s next stop was Paso Robles with a packed trailer and Orion, man’s best friend. His new position as intern at Justin Winery started at 7am the following day. Since then Sébastien has also worked for some of Paso’s finest: Sextant, Robert Hall, and Eberle.
For generations wine has been in his family, on their tables to enjoy and in their cellars to age. Sébastien espouses that winemaking is a combination of art, love and science. The first two came naturally; his scientific background comes from experience, as well as from education at Saddle Back Community College and UC Davis. His first private release, a 2009 vintage received 17.5/20 from judges. Sébastien’s winemaking is ever evolving, with recipes that are unique and authentically French.
Another marvelous discovery was a plethora of creative, even artistic labels. ONX was the first example. Winemaker Brian Brown and associate winemaker Jeff Strekas produced 1,000 cases last year. Unfortunately they will produce 2,000 cases this year and will not be eligible for Garagiste 2015. Their first vintage was 2008. Here’s the full label of their Praetorian 2012:
The Praetorian 2012 ($45) is 55% tempranillo, 22% grenache, 14% mourvedre, 8% malbec, and 1% alicante bouschet. This is a wine made to drink with food. We disagreed a bit on when this one should be drunk. I thought it needed a few more years to smooth out the tannins, but Norma rated it “ready now.” On the nose, aromas of red raspberry and pomegranate yield to spice and cinnamon palate. There are also hints of wet slate and lavender. The finish combines rough tempranillo tannins with the gentler from malbec.
Brash 2012 ($45) is a more traditional zinfandel blend. This wine is eminently quaffable. My tasting notes say, “Unbelievably good.” The blend includes 70% zinfandel, 15% petite sirah, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% syrah. Beginning with aromas of blackberries and cedar, flavors of forest floor begin the palate. This leads to black pepper with a hint of chocolate. The tannic finish is a bit rough, lending itself to the general rustic style of the wine.
Even if you don’t buy their wine, the ONX website is worth visiting for its design and creativity, combined with vast amounts of information. For example, they include two vineyard maps. One shows which varietal is planted where. The other is a soils map. Overlay the two and you can get a good idea of this vital part of terroir.
Paix sur Terre
Paix sur Terre offered an excellent GSM, the 2012 Songs of Its Own. Before reviewing the wine, take a look at these labels:
The winery has an artist creating their labels. Jon Blythe is behind the label artwork. Winemaker Ryan Pease and Jon have known each other since childhood — more on the art later.
[pullquote]The Grenache A is planted on high limestone terraces on the summit of Glenrose and has incredibly pure red fruit notes of strawberry and kirsch with hints of coriander, thyme, and garrigue. The Mourvedre A at the top of the summit lends its flavors of black cherry, baking spices and saline qualities. Shiraz clone 7 provides meatiness, sweet lavender notes, and chalky mineral flavors. The palate is juicy and mouthwatering and will provide great drinking pleasure over the next 10 years.[/pullquote]
Ryan and his partner Nicole Pease produced their first vintage in 2010. The winery produces all of 225 cases per year, putting them in the cult category.
Their 2012 Songs of Its Own (Glenrose Vineyard) is 58% grenache, 30% mourvedre, and 12% syrah. This wine is really good, featuring complex aromas and flavors. The wine opens with traditional GSM aromas, melding into a palate with a hint of spice flowing into black cherries. Long, silky tannins finish a marvelous experience. From the website →
Excuse me? What is “garrigue?” We turn to the Wine Spectator’s “Ask Dr. Vinny” feature for the answer:
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I’ve read the term “garrigue” in reference to describing wine flavor. Does the term usually refer to a wine expressing a sense of the limestone that some plants grow in, or the notes of the actual herbs like sage, rosemary or lavender coming out in the wine?
—Michael S., Oak Park, Calif.
Garrigue refers to the low-growing vegetation on the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast, not the limestone itself. There are a bunch of bushy, fragrant plants that grow wild there, such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender, and garrigue refers to the sum of them. Think herbes de Provence, or a mix of fresh minty-herbal notes with more pungent, floral fragrances.
Now about the artist. Again from the website:
Jon Blythe is the artist behind the label artwork for Paix Sur Terre. Ryan and Jon have known each other since childhood and Ryan has always respected and enjoyed Jon’s abstract art. When deciding on a label, we were looking for something that would allow us to stand out among the crowd; Jon’s artwork does just that. We are excited to be teaming with Jon as he will be producing a new piece of art for each Paix Sur Terre wine.
LXV is whimsically named after the Kama Sutra. That text includes descriptions of the 64 sutras. According to owners Neeta and Kunal Mittal, wine is the 65th sutra. LXV, of course, is 65 in Roman numerals. (Yes, it took us a while to figure that out.)
Working with winemaker Amy Butler, the Mittals’s first vintage was 2010. Current production is 450 cases per year.
We were excited to taste a barrel sample of a cabernet sauvignon – syrah blend. As you would expect, this wine needs time to calm down. But our semi-professional opinion is that the wine has good potential.
[pullquote]The Rising Tempo label and name are “inspired by Nritya, the Kama Sutra Art of Dance. [Los Angeles] contemporary dancer Reshma Gajjar [was] photographed as she indulges in her dance.”[/pullquote]
On the other hand, LXV’s 2012 Rising Tempo ($42) blends 65% grenache, 23% syrah, and 12% tempranillo. This wine opens with aromas of black cherries and coffee, followed by Bing cherries, chocolate, and herbs on the palate. The finish is long, with fine tannins.
Their 2012 Secret Craving ($52) combines 34% cabernet franc, 33% syrah, and 33% merlot — a GSM of a different M. Scents of cherry, licorice, and blackberries combine with spice flavors. All this leads to another long finish with smooth tannins.
[pullquote]”Secret Craving is inspired by Food, the Kama Sutra Art of Culinary Design. [The label features] Bravo Top Chef Dakota Weiss from the W Hotel in Westwood, California.”[/pullquote]
We look forward to LXV’s release of a sangiovese – petite sirah blend soon (not yet available on their website as of January 28, 2015).
And we noted this from their website:
The new LXV Wine Lounge (Tasting Room), in downtown Paso Robles, is a sensory experience , with deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, wines paired with spices, and labels inspired by the 64 arts of Kama Sutra.
Falcone Family Vineyards
[pullquote]You learn more in those places [large wineries] than you do making 200 cases. You learn how to process mediocre grapes, bad grapes, good grapes, you learn about the chemistry, you learn how to do the work in the cellar, … [/pullquote]
Compared to many of the other winemakers, John and Helen Falcone are old hands. Falcone Family Vineyards first vintage was in 2002, with current production at 1,250 cases per year. Today their daughter Mia helps out. Before opening his own shop, John was a winemaker at a good-sized winery. As he put it, →
Falcone’s Annaté V ($65) is both multi-vintage (64% 2011, 28% 2012, 8% 2013) and multi-varietal (50% Syrah-Falcone Vineyard, 45% Petite Sirah – Diamond West Vineyard, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon-Falcone Vineyard). This wine is pretty darn good — we liked it a lot. On the nose, scents of cherry and a hint of smoke. The aromas are reflected in the flavors, with rich tannins creating a long, smooth finish.
Since John had experience with larger-scale production, I asked whether he was familiar with Terravant in Buellton. It turns out that under Helen’s fine direction, Terravant makes the Falcone chardonnay!
The Netherlands were kind enough to export Michael DeWit to California. He currently makes wine for his Copia Vineyards. Their first vintage was 2011 and current production is 300 cases per year. Copia will start pouring at Paso Underground in mid-April, Fridays through Sundays.
Copia’s “The Blend” 2012 L’Aventure Vineyard ($65) is a traditional GSM: 40% syrah, 30% grenache and 30% mourvèdre. This wine is quaffable right now. Opening with aromas of black cherries and fresh-cut flowers, the palate adds spice and kirsch. This is a very nice wine.
The Answer 2013 ($40) is another GSM with 75% syrah, 23% grenache and 2% mourvèdre. Excellent aromas of black cherry and rose petals are followed by licorice and chocolate on the palate. Buy this and don’t open it until 2017 at the earliest.
Michael has been around. He owned a vineyard in the south of France. From there he made wine in the infamous Malibu AVA. Now he’s located in the hills west of Paso Robles. Undoubtedly the relaxed lifestyle of that area contributes to the quality of his wines.
Ranchita Canyon is a project of winemakers Bill and Teresa Hinrichs. Their first vintage was 2003, with current production 1,100 cases per year. They farm 72 acres, mainly selling grapes. But from what they keep they make 21 different wines.
We were excited to see that the Hinrichs produce a cabernet pfeffer. (We first encountered this grape through Kenneth Volk’s wine club.) Ranchita Canyon has a few acres planted. The 2010 ($30) is their first estate cabernet pfeffer. The wine has nice strawberry and raspberry flavors with a hint of pepper. The wine is old enough that the tannins have integrated, giving it great structure.
Unfortunately our audio recorder let us down at this point, so we can only report that these two wines are pretty darn good. The 2010 Divin ($34) is 38% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, 14% petit verdot, 14% malbec, and 12% cabernet franc. The 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel ($32) is also an estate wine.
Ranchita Canyon has one of the best logos we’ve seen. Have a look:
There are eight wineries in this review from which we reviewed 13 wines. Part 1 of our review looked at two wineries and three wines. Part 2 evaluated four wineries and five wines. (Remember, we only review wines and wineries we like. We tasted many more than 21.) This neatly summarizes why we go back to the Garagiste festival every year. There are many small wineries making terrific wine. We’re happy we can share some of them with our readers.