Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wining in Paso Robles with the CAB Collective...Day 1...

As the Goddess of Wine and JD headed north to Paso Robles for the 2nd Annual CABs of DISTINCTION media/trade/sommelier events, it occurred to me that JD and I fell in love with Paso mainly because of the exceptional Bordeaux-style wines we found there over 20 years ago. There were fewer wineries then, and each one seemed to have richly distinctive wines. We belonged to several wine clubs, and were always thrilled to receive boxes full of wonderful wine.

So it's a little odd to hear so many wine pundits touting the wonders of Paso Cabernets as if the region didn't exist before last year when Wine Enthusiast named it Region of the Year. Cabernet is what put Paso on the map, with Rhones and Zinfandel coming close on its heels. Now, as up-and-coming winemakers learn more about Paso and its many microclimates and terroir, more well-made, premium wines are evolving.

The Paso CAB Collective was created in 2012 as a "grass-roots non-profit organization...formed with the belief that the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec grown in the Paso Robles appellation—and the subsequent quality of the wines produced—is under-represented in the marketplace and across the wine industry." To this end, they have provided extensive access to the winemakers of the member wineries using barrel, current release and rare and reserve tastings along with special lunches and dinners designed to show the versatility of Paso Cabs.

Wednesday, we attended the En Primeur tasting at the beautiful Paso Robles Inn ballroom with barrel tastings from the 28 member wineries' as-yet-unreleased 2013 vintage, followed by the current release tasting, followed by dinner at Le Vigne Winery with winemaker Michael Barreto.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "En Primeur", it means that you're tasting young wines, still in barrel, not yet bottled, and not to be released for up to 2 or more years. As you can imagine, tasting baby Cabernets, full of big fruit and even bigger tannins, takes a toll on one's palate even if you swirl, sniff, sip, and spit as I do. It was wonderful to chat with the winemakers about their vision of what the wines will be in another 18 to 24 months in barrel, but by the time we were treated to the current releases, we were already tired and wished that the barrel samples and current releases could have been tasted side-by-side. Still, it was good to see how the 2010s and 2011s had matured, even though most of them could stay in the bottle for another 5 - 10 years and be even better.

As the current release tasting came to an end, we washed our purple hands (your hands get purple from the wine splashed and dripped into and around the wine glasses), tried to clear some of the purple/black from our teeth (your teeth get purple from the deep, dark wine), and headed over to long-time favorite Le Vigne Winery for dinner. Winemaker Michael Barreto told us how he came to Paso and Le Vigne as we eagerly dove into the delicious dinner prepared by his wife, Joey.

Michael was raised on a dairy farm in Hanford, California. After graduating from CSU Fresno with a degree in Agricultural Business he entered the fresh produce industry working in various areas from sales and farming analysis to sales to accounting. He worked for a software development company that created a computerized accounting system custom written for the produce industry. Michael was in charge of implementing the accounting software at the client sites, enabling him to visit many regions rich in agriculture and wines. During his travels he expanded his knowledge of wine, and in 1997 he returned to Fresno to study enology and winery management. He made his first barrel of wine at home in 1999, and that spurred him to make wine full-time. Michael and his wife, Joey, moved to the Central Coast in August of 2001 and he began working at Courtside Cellars, located in San Miguel. Working in the cellar at first, he moved into the laboratory by the middle of harvest. Michael was offered the opportunity to begin working at Le Vigne Winery in 2003 where he has elevated the quality and reputation of the wines produced.

Main course
Joey, whom we met at the very end of the meal to an enthusiastic round of applause, started us with a simple and fresh arugula salad with pine nuts and balsamic vinegar dressing. Our second course was a rich and cheesy risotto that was too good not to finish. Course three was the steak we had all been waiting for after tasting nothing but Cabernet Sauvignon all afternoon; accompanied by farm-to-table veggies, it was close to perfection.

Cheese plate
Course four was individual cheese plates! Oh. My. Goodness. The cheeses included "Ewenique", a local sheep Gouda, "La Tur", a 3-milk (cow, goat, sheep) cheese, "Bleu Buffala", blue Italian water buffalo cheese, and "D'Affinois", a double-cream French Brie. Accompanied by Prosciutto and Breseaola and small slices of Chocolate-Fig-Almond cake, we were in heaven, but there was more!

There was Flan! and tiny cups of espresso to wake us up for the drive back to the hotel.

En Primeur tasting highlights of the day included: (All 2013s) B&E Vineyard - peppery, won't be released until 2016; Calcareous - old vines; Daou - tannins surprisingly ripe; Eberle - mint, chocolate, dark fruit; Halter Ranch - sweet fruit, firm tannins; Jada - concrete amphora aged, wonderful (their 2011 Jack of Hearts was also a Wow for me); Justin - small barrel lots, also some concrete, great potential; Le Vigne - long finish, very approachable now, but will be in oak for another 24 months; Opolo - sweet fruit and serious tannins; Parrish Family - lovely tannins and good structure; Peachy Canyon - their Petite Verdot is one of the best I've tasted; Pomar Junction - a delightful surprise; Record Family - rich and full with medium tannins and a peppery finish; Red Soles - cherry, cassis, soft tannins; Sextant - Entav Clone 18, very bright and sweet; Villa San-Juliette - great fruit; Vina Robles - big vintage, big tannins, great fruit.

And those were just the barrel tastings!

We fell into bed with the knowledge that Day 2 would provide even more opportunities to expand our palates - and our waistlines.

Stay tuned for Day 2 when we attend a vintner panel discussion, have lunch at Pomar Junction Winery, indulge in a Library/Rare and Reserve tasting at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom, and finish up with a one-of-a-kind barbeque at JUSTIN. Cheers!

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