Paso Robles needs no introduction for those in the know. I was introduced to the region through Gary Eberle in the mid-90s, and immediately fell in love with his Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember driving back to San Francisco, calling all of my wine purveyors requesting that they bring any Paso wine they had in their portfolio. The region was a fantastic addition to my list, because most of my menu items consisted of grilled meat which paired well with them—and I enjoyed introducing guests to new wines they hadn’t tasted.
Twenty years later, Paso continues to innovate and reinvent themselves. On a recent visit, I was flabbergasted at the quality and innovation happening across the area. I’ve spotlighted my favorite producers and wines tasted recently. You should seriously consider joining their wine clubs and visiting the wineries when you’re in the area.
CORDANT | NELLE
Cordant & Nelle are two brands produced by the amazing Tyler Russell and David Taylor.
The Cordant brand is primarily made from Pinot noir and vineyard designate Rhone varietals, bearing expressive examples from each vineyard. The wines are made without an agenda, but with close attention to detail. Sourcing grapes happens up and down the California Central Coast with the aim to acquaint themselves with unique sites that have the most to say, and they do their best to tell their story.
Nelle, on the other hand, is made to showcase what the vineyards can do when they work in unison. In the winemaking process, intuition is king, and the little things winemaker Tyler Russell does during the process really matters the most. Nelle’s focus is to start with great vineyard sources to create a resulting wine that is better than its individual vineyard sources. At harvest, most decisions are made on the fly, after “listening” to what the grapes are telling him from the vineyard.
2015 Cordant Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California ($42)
Sourced from three vineyards, this Pinot noir is luminous, charming, layered and delicious!
2014 Cordant Wills Hills Grenache, California ($42)
Sourced from the West side of Paso, this Grenache is spectacular. Tannic, intricate, provocative, and graceful with black fruit and mineral.
2014 Nelle Grenache, California ($36)
Sourced from Paso and Santa Ynez; spectacular and feminine with red and black notes.
2014 Nelle Syrah, California ($36)
Sourced from four vineyards—Kiler Canyon, Glen Rose (Westside of Paso), Zaca Mesa (Santa Ynez), and Kimsey (Ballard Canyon). It’s silky and meaty, with integrated tannins; soft black and blue fruits.
Deeply influenced by his Sicilian heritage, Chris Ferrara creates Italian varietals that are old world, iconic and elegant. The winery and farm, which recently opened in the spring of 2017, is in the hills of Templeton Gap AVA. The inspiration behind his wines are part legacy, curiosity and culture—he brings his Sicilian-American farming roots and devotion for Italian culture into his winemaking process. The wines are perfectly balanced between old world and new world style, with lively acidity and integrated tannins.
2014 Clesi Sangiovese, Paso Robles, California ($36)
Light on its feet, it’s pretty with lovely plums, red fruits, and a dash of spice.
2014 Clesi Convivo, Paso Robles, California ($34)
This is a super-Tuscan redthat is balanced and rhythmic with plenty of red fruits to go around.
2014 Clesi Dolcetto, Paso Robles, California ($28)
Enticing and alluring with red fruits and licorice. Spirited and seductive.
2014 Clesi Sangiovese, Paso Robles, California ($36)
Symmetrical, with red fruits and lively acidity. Intricate with good balance and structure.
LE CUVIER WINERY
Promoting a non-interventionist approach to winemaking, Le Cuvier are a crew of quirky individuals making iconic Paso wines. Legendary John Munch is at the helm of this small production winery, with a hands-off approach to winemaking. Simply put, wine is best when left to its own devices. Le Cuvier takes a back seat to the fermentation process, allowing the grapes to naturally ferment, adding only enough sulfites to preserve the wine in bottle. The end result produces wines of fervor with gnarly character.
2011 Le Cuvier Grenache, Paso Robles, California ($58)
Airy and dynamic with provocative red fruits and awesome acidity.
2013 Le Cuvier Syrah, Paso Robles, California ($60)
Alluring aromatic nose; extremely balanced with black and blue fruits. Outstanding.
Clos Solène is a boutique winery that composes Rhone style wines from Paso Robles grapes. Winemaker Guillaume Fabre manages the process from farm to bottle with the intent to represent the truest expression of terroir. The wines are stunning and expressive. Here are a few tasted recently:
2016 Clos Solene Hommage Blanc, Paso Robles, California ($60)
Barrel fermented, no malolactic fermentation, gently fined and filtered; graceful, round, lush, lively lemon and citrus.
2015 Clos Solene L’Imprevu Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, California ($90)
Made from 35-year old Bien Nacido Vineyard Pommard and Martini clones; a fresh, and fruity Burgundian style that is bright with layers of cherries, raspberries and mineral notes.
2015 Clos Solene Harmonie GSM, Paso Robles, California ($85)
A blend of 62% Grenache, 28% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre; Exquisite layers with black fruits, chocolate and tobacco. Finishes with pretty mineral notes. Simply spectacular.
2015 Clos Solene Fleur de Solene Red Blend, Paso Robles, California ($70)
Westside Paso vines; blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Cabernet, and 20% Grenache. Tannic, earthy and robust. Delicious.
2015 Clos Solene Hommage a Nos Pairs Reserve Red Blend, Paso Robles, California ($95)
This is their flagship wine and I can see why. It is a co-fermented blend of Syrah (95%) with a splash of Grenache and Viognier. It’s tannic, complex, dark, balanced, and textured. Breathtaking.
2015 Clos Solene L’Insolent Red Blend, Paso Robles, California ($95)
70% Cabernet, and 30% Petit Verdot Westside Paso vines; big, bold fruit with a delicious nutty layer.
RN ESTATE VINEYARD
As a young boy from Brittany, France, Roger Nicolas (RN) dreamed big from his countryside village. When he landed in New York City at the age of 20, he believed dreams could come true. He spent his early years working at many of the prestigious restaurants in San Francisco before opening his own place, La Potiniere.
Years later, he accomplished another dream to open a winery. He found land six miles north of Paso Robles. The vineyard is situated in a notch high on the west ridge of the Estrella River valley. RN Estate released its first vintage in 2005, with the hopes of making stellar Paso Robles red wines.
At my last tasting with him, I can attest he is certainly headed in the right direction, with precision—his Rhône and Bordeaux varietals as well as his Burgundian style Pinot noir sourced from Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley are gorgeous.
2014 RN Malbec, Paso Robles, California ($45)
Fresh acidity and vibrant red fruits; plums and cranberries dance in the glass. Lovely.
2014 Harmonie des Cepages, Paso Robles, California ($55)
A blend of 27% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec. Gorgeous layers of dark cherries, licorice, violet and spices. Well balanced, great structure. Spectacular.
2014 RN Cuvee des Trois Cepages, Paso Robles, California ($59)
A blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot. Fresh acidity, red currants, dark cherries, cassis, mint and licorice. Spectacular.
Winemaker and owner Kevin Jussila started his wine journey making wine from his basement. Soon after, he moved to the Central Coast and began building his dream. His winery, Kukkula (kook-koo-luh), “the hill, or high place”, in Finnish (his first language) farms almost fifty acres of vines, eight acres of olive trees, and 32 acres of walnuts.
Since Kukkula’s terroir is similar to the Rhone region, Kevin focuses on Rhone-centric varieties. Other than Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, he grows Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc. He farms organically without irrigation, creating wines with intense aromatics, and flavors that represent the expression of place, and the essence of the terroir. Here are a few favorites I tasted with Kevin:
2013 Kukkula In the Red, Paso Robles, California ($42)
A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon that is ripe, rich, and luscious; feminine yet nicely balanced with dark fruits, cedar and clove. Beautiful!
2013 Kukkula Sisu, Paso Robles, California ($45)
A blend of 55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 20% Mourvedre. Its spicy, and luscious with black fruits and soft, silky tannins. Vivacious persistence and bright acidity.
2014 Kukkula Noir, Paso Robles, California ($50)
A blend of 89% Syrah, and 11% Counoise. A full bodied red with bold, black fruits; savory with layers of coffee, chocolate, black olives and pepper; good balance with integrated tannins. Damn good.
2013 Kukkula Pas de Deux Red, Paso Robles, California ($45)
60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. Perfumed nose with floral and spice; full-bodied with black fruits, savory notes, smoke, cherries, plums and licorice. Finishes with nice herbal and baking spice notes.
STEINBECK VINEYARDS & WINERY
Steinbeck Vineyards is a family owned winery that has been farming from the heart of California’s Central Coast for seven generations. They live off the land using responsible farming practices, and have carved out a place in history, producing fresh and honest wines. Here are a few delicious wines:
2012 Steinbeck Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California ($50)
This is a feminine style Cabernet with elegant, lively eucalyptus and mint flavors that dance in the glass; ends strong, with a dusty, tannic finish.
2013 Steinbeck Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California ($45)
Another feminine wine with pretty red fruit notes, violets and boysenberry.
2013 Steinbeck Viognier, Paso Robles, California ($35)
Great acidity with lemon zest; crisp and bright offering up plenty of forward tropical notes with creamy attributes that play in the background.