With our house a block of ice, I turn to southern climes for sunnier respite. This manic Monday’s glass travels to Paso Robles AVA: California’s hot hills of heritage Zinfandel vines and huge Syrah wines.
Today, we pit two icons against each other. One new and one old. The old is established and recognized: Justin Winery, which Justin Baldwin had planted in 1981 and started making massive Cabernet blends by 1986. Scores then skyrocketed it into collectors’ land by the late 1990s.
Around when Justin sold Justin, brothers from Lebanon, Daniel and Georges Daou, left their tech company to buy historic Hoffman Mountain Ranch in 2007. Daou aimed to pull off the same trick Justin had: make world-class quality (and costly) Bordeaux red blends.
They are both known for Cabernet Sauvignon, so let us truly test their metal instead with nearly identical Right Bank blends of Cabernet Franc and Merlot .
Daou Reserve, Seventeen Forty, Paso Robles CA 2010 $65
67% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot
The APPEARANCE has a rich ruby core, with a narrow, raspberry-colored rim. AROMAS smell strongly and densely of hard raspberry candy, dried lemon peel, dried chamomile and herbs, cocoa powder, with a chalk dust finish. The PALATE feels very dry and dusty, with jangly moderate acidity, extra thick dried leather tannins, hot alcoholic coals (14.9% abv), making for a medium plus body. FLAVORS tend the same way with added dried mint leaf, light white tobacco ash, dehydrated raspberries, prunes, chalk and heat and tannins that persist a medium plus length.
Daou’s Seventeen Forty is very good (4 of 5), but should be drunk now. I cannot see that dried fruit hanging around for long. It is woody and desperate for a grilled steak, lamb, or hard cheese.
Justin, Justification, Paso Robles CA 2013 $50
58% Cabernet Franc, 42% Merlot
The APPEARANCE has a denser purple core and ruby rim. AROMAS and FLAVORS smell like a young, modern, Right Bank Bordeaux with mint, dried violet, and fresh herb, fennel, oak, deep cassis syrup, ripe boysenberry that quiet down quickly. The PALATE feels dry, with medium acid, medium mellow fine-grained leather tannins, medium plus alcohol (15% abv: there but sneaky), with a plump body and smooth texture.
Justin’s silly-named Justification is also very good (4 of 5). Yet it is the polar opposite of the Daou. Maybe youth, production, or 2013’s extreme heat make the difference. It is modern, smooth, sleek, seductive, even slutty: a late 1990’s Robert Parker cliché in a glass. It is too tidy, manipulated, and short to be great though. It needs five years to show its stuffing but would work with a cheese burger or BBQ now.
Who knew twins could be so different.
Although opposites in fruit character, Daou and Justin retain Paso Robles’ basics: heat, richness, and dust are all there. But they also share an obsession with oak: both live in French barrels for twenty months, 80% new for Daou, 45% new for Justin. All that new barrel-time loads on more tannin, toast, and dryness. But if you are in the mood for that, you get what you pay for. They taste pricy and cost similarly. Both provide interesting ways to warm up this winter.