Last August, while killing time in a never ending sea of weddings, Wayward Wine toured Paso Robles, California. Check back each Monday for a new review of a winery or wine we loved there.
Paso is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) a three hour drive North of Los Angeles (without traffic…so, potentially five hours). For us it took twelve hours from our home in Oregon. Not shabby.
To overgeneralize, Paso is a large, hot, dry, sunny, inland plain.
Like much of California, Spanish missions brought vines in the eighteenth century, entrepreneurs turned wine into profit in the late nineteenth, then prohibition knocked its wind out. Paso took longer to get back on its vinous feet than its prestigious Napa or Sonoma neighbors.
But since its early days, outlaws have hid out among these arid hills. Paso continued to capitalize on this rebellious streak and early on grew big, burly Zins, then, with their revival in the 1980s, Rhône Rangers, like Eberle, found home for hot-climate Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and others. Since 1990 its wineries have increased tenfold to 200. Alongside local producers, a great influx of interest (and cash) from Napa to France has come here.
Our guide, Coakely Vineyards, plans to show us Paso’s many rustic and modern faces. We load into his pickup and kick up chalk dust en route to Fratelli Perata Winery.
At the hilltop we find an old single-story ranch home: quaint, but a winery? Inside what looks like a former living room holds a tasting bar. A painting of a compressed Italian countryside with family colors the wall. Barrels patiently wait on stands throughout.
In 1987 Gino Perata opened the winery with vines planted in 1980. Perata is a rare 100% estate (31 acres), dry farmed, hand harvested, low tonnage (2 tons per acre) winery producing only unfiltered and unfined wines, in a land where irrigation and modern manipulations are common. Today his daughters Cathy and Joanne play vital roles.
But how do Perata’s old world wines fare? Cathy walks us through their range.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 Bel’ Bruzzo ($33):
Ruby in color, this is a dry, lean, bright, earthy red with black cherry fruit flavors that last a medium length. It is good (3 of 5) but in a pretty straight-laced, easy-drinking manner.
Charbono (aka Bonarda) 2011 ($38):
Wow! Charbono in Cali! The medium ruby color looks fine. But on the nose alcohols burn through aromas of dried bramble fruits. The dry, tart palate also hints at volatile acidity that cuts up the medium body. Flavors tend toward dried herbs, tobacco (100% French oak), olive tapenade, gamy brett, and dried red apple skin of medium length. Perata’s Charbono is interesting, wild, and acceptable (2 of 5). This serious wine needs the right food or aging.
Barbera 2010 ($52)
Another Italian grape variety. Again fusel aromas of bandaid and plastic distract from the nice nutmeg and wild cherry. Too much acidity, a full body, and spiced flavors of pepper, cherry, and hay of medium length make for another wine wanting (2 of 5). They say it needs a decade to shine, which could help calm the acidity and off aromas. The Bambino Grande 2011 seems similar but more complex.
These old world, old school wines challenge us. I worry about heat damage. But maybe, Italian vines need more time in Paso. We try their Bordeaux range…
Mafalda 2011 (60% Cab Franc, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot) ($36)
Named after their mushroom loving mother, Mafalda looks medium ruby in color, with a dry palate of medium plus acidity, medium tannin, and medium body that feels lean and tangy. Black cassis fruit and minerals lead, with just a whiff of meaty brett savor carrying a medium length. Solid (3 of 5).
Petit Verdot 2011 ($36)
Inky in color, with dusty, gripping tannins, low acidity, and blackberries: Perata’s Petit is all edge and extra length. It is clean and quite age-worthy: very good (4 of 5).
Tre Sorelle 2010 ($44)
55% of this comes from their reserve of three year French barrel aged Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, and 12% Cabernet Franc. A deep ruby core with tawny edges stages clean, powerful aromas of super ripe cassis, raspberry, and light mushroom matched on the palate. Structures push for medium plus acidity, tannin, and body. Tre Sorelle is intense but well balanced, with enough fruit, complexity, and rustic charm to be very good (4 of 5).
Then a light turns on. Cathy mentions that they planted Cabernet Sauvignon first in 1980. Cab remains Paso’s most planted gape (29%). Maybe Perata’s restrained farming works best with mature vines.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($36)
Medium plus aromas of mint leaf, florals, old wood, black cassis and bright twangy cherry correspond on the palate. Acids and tannins are pretty high, but the body remains round and medium. Perata’s cab is not overly complex but single-minded, focused, and pure. Very good (4 of 5).
We happily buy Tre Sorelle and the Cab and head outside. Tree thick Cabernet vines collide into the side of the building.
I do not know why some of the Italian grape wines came off so rustic and at times volatile (although the Montepulciano was fine). I typically love earthy, funky, edgy wines with oodles of age on them. Maybe having worked in Italy for years, my expectations were too narrow. Why the Cabernet and other Bordeaux varieties showed so well may be chance.
But this is Paso. It is different here (and pretty hot).
Either way, Perata was well worth a visit. Their wines are a real, rustic, and minimally manipulated. When they succeed, they are great expressions of what Paso Robles can offer.
Visit next Monday as our tour of Paso Robles continues.