Last Monday’s post visited Firestone Walker Brewery (read here). Lone Madrone Winery was also founded twenty years ago, in 1996. The nineties clearly provided busy times for Paso.
Our pickup heads west from Paso Robles on Adelaida Road. The world turns a sandy sable and olive shrub. Hills mount each other, as we climb and wheel round them. Soon, orderly vines draped in mesh add militant structure to this wild place.
John drives us up to Daou Winery. At mountaintop gleams what looks like a Spanish mission, as if dropped here from space. The parking lot is packed. The Daou brothers landed here, loaded, retired at 31, and bought the land in 2012. The view steals ones’ breath. But we did not come for star-studded (i.e. expensive) Cabernet.
We roll down a bit and then crawl onto the gravel driveway of Lone Madrone. The tasting room looks like a barn, because it is one (with a nice patio). Night and day.
Siblings Neil and Jackie Collins left Bristol, England and now focus on single vineyards that are dry-farmed, head-trained, old vines on these high hills of limestone-rich west Paso. These high hills matter because they sit above fog from the Templeton Gap and thus avoid frost: enemy of vine buds. Lone Madrone allows native yeast and malolactic bacteria to run their course with all their wines. Neutral oak dominates. The cool thing is that they also make wicked good dry hard cider as Bristols Cider with the same focus on local and wild.
Inside, past wood plank walls, we find the bar. Bearded Ryan starts our glasses with white.
Their Chenin Blanc tastes like a plump white melon, drizzled in honey, and sprinkled with salt. It is dry, with medium acidity, mild alcohol. Good (3 of 5) at $28.
Spanish white grape Alvarinho blends time in oak barrels and stainless tanks to create a floral, citric, light white wine of pleasant clarity and persistence. Very Good (4 of 5) at $26.
I will Ryan to slip us some of the open, but members only, Picpoul blanc (popular table wine of Mediterranean French oyster bars). Thanks to Tablas Creek cuttings (read review here), Madrone’s Picpoul manages to speak French with an American accent. Classic lemon peel, melon, fresh herb, and dry saline snap here, but the body feels medium weight. It tastes fruitier and riper than . Still very good (4 of 5) alone, but comparisons to the purity of the original hurt it.
Reds begin with 2010’s Syrah.
I appreciate that most of Madrone’s wines come under screw cap. Straight out the Syrah impresses us with its bright red and black cherry, violets, fruit leather, leather leather, clay dust, and pepper. Acidity and tannins keep it bright, tight and medium bodied. At For $30 this is solid Paso Syrah (4 of 5), that hedges on being just funky enough. We buy one.
2011’s Tannat originated in SW France (and Uruguay). It is an inky blood and iron color, dry and tannic yet full of raspberry and dark cherry fruit, with a sliver of tobacco from oak. Madrone’s Tannat is very good (4 of 5), grilled meats match, with years ahead of it. $36.
Mixed results with Italian grapes muddled our trip to Paso’s Fratelli Perata winery (read here). 2012’s Barbera is medium bodied, tannic, brighter, and blue-fruited with aniseed. 18 months of oak barrel aging numb it a bit with cocoa, but it still begs for tomato-based dishes, sausages, cracked pepper. It is very good (4 of 5), and a definite cleaner step from Fratelli Perata’s funky Barbera.
I get amped up for 2009’s “Bollo” Nebbiolo. A long 30 day maceration of grape skins has created a tannic, alcoholic black beast of a wine (16% abv). Three years in dinky 132 gallon French barrels only adds more grip. I keep swirling my glass in vain. Maybe another 5 years or a day’s decanting might help it. Potpourri, black dried cherry, and tar are there, somewhere, beneath all that structure and heat. It is good (3 of 5) $60.
We take a palate break. 2011’s Calon (Welsh for heart) red is a greater sum of its parts: 35% Mourvedre, 24% Counoise, 22% Grenache Noir, 10% Sangiovese, 9% Syrah all biodynamically farmed.
Aromas sing of dried fruits, treacle, and sun baked earth. It is dry, rich and chewy, with voluptuous tannins, and desert warmth. $40 is worth this outstanding (5 of 5) blend. A decade would not hurt it. A mushroom dish would love it. Of course we buy one.
Lone Madrone makes refreshing whites and solid, intense, rich reds. My wanting Paso wines to not be so boozy is like telling the Pope to stop being so Catholic. Some grapes work better here, sure, but Paso Robles ain’t Burgundy. Neil and Jackie know their growers well, get great fruit, and smartly hold back on new oak. Everything tastes clean and controlled, even with all their wild yeast and malolactic fermentations. Unlike Tablas Creek, these wines seem edgier, more complex, and interesting without tipping into the too wild and woolly.
Not bad for two Brits.