Pride of Paso

Paso Robles Pride:

“Cut! It’s pronounced ‘Pah-Soe Roh-Bulls.’”

I was in California’s Paso Robles, serving as a lead judge for the new PBS television series, “The Winemakers,” when the filming came to abrupt halt after I mangled the pronunciation of the very wine region where we were. I had assumed it was uttered as the elegant, Spanish-inflected “Rrroh-blays,” not the clunky, Americanized “Roh-bulls,” which sounds more like a piece of farm equipment than it does a vinous appellation. But when several locals on the set rushed to correct the errors of my tongue, I got the message.

My inability to pronounce it notwithstanding, Paso Robles – located on California’s Central Coast about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles – is one of world’s most promising wine regions. The last twenty or so years have seen a dramatic infusion of winemaking talent there, with wineries like Saxon, Alban, and Linne Calod–o leveraging the region’s sunny-but-cool climate and limestone-rich soil to produce wine of first rank. Europeans are also plumbing the potential of Paso, with Frenchmen behind superlative local labels such as L’Aventure and Tablas Creek, the latter of which is co-owned by François Perrin of the Rhône Valley’s legendary Château Beaucastel.

If one were to single out the eminence grise of Paso, it would be Justin Winery, which was founded in 1981 by former banker Justin Baldwin and his wife Deborah. Over the years Justin has made consistently exceptional wine, the zenith of which is a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend called Isosceles Reserve. Though it is comprised of Bordeaux grapes, don’t expect the Isosceles Reserve to have the fragile finesse of an aged red Bordeaux; rather, like many top pours from these sunny Californian climes, the Isosceles Reserve arrives on the scene ready to rumble, typically showing ripe, flamboyant fruit, a generous dose of alcohol, and tannins that are often pronounced but not out-of-proportion.

These qualities mean that the Isosceles Reserve can often benefit from a few years of bottle aging as well as aeration in a decanter for about an hour before serving. The current release, the 2005 Isosceles Reserve ($95), sports mega-ripe plummy fruit, notes of tobacco and coffee, and muscular tannins that should integrate beautifully in a few years. Another pick is the 2002 Isosceles Reserve ($100), which is built for immediate pleasure with irresistible layers of blackcurrants and cassis, hints of chocolate and mocha, and a rich, velvety finish that lasts for an eternity – or at least for as long as it would take to pronounce “Paso Robles” a few dozen times.