Wine in O.C.: Grand Tasting Tour, Newport Beach

Senior editor and wine writer Anne Valdespino disembarked from last night’s Paso Robles-on-a-yacht and has the following report. (Read Anne’s earlier post about the multi-winery event here.)

Napa vs. Paso? Let me break it down for you in the simplest of terms. Napa wines are generally high-toned. Paso wines are usually gutsy. But those in the know have observed over the years that Paso vintners are developing the balance and overall elegance that we’ve come to expect from Napa, typically at lower prices.

I was really struck by this last night at the “Grand Tasting Tour: Newport Beach” on the yacht Majestic. If you missed the party there’s one last event tonight (March 1) at the Wine Lab’s new location in Costa Mesa. Some of my all-time favorite Paso vintners were there: L’Aventure (Côte a Côte $85), Tablas Creek (Patelin de Tablas $20), and Justin (Isoceles $62). I expected those to be a cut above and they were but some other vintners caught my eye because they are continually improving and moving themselves into the next level. When Paso wines come of age they are in a league of their own, combining bold, powerful New World fruit and Old World finesse. Here are some to look for online or in your local wine bar.

Calcareous Vineyard. Syrah ($34). Big fruit comes on strong in this inky wine but gives way to soft edges and an unctuous finish. The talker at this table was Tres Violet ($38), which was gone by the time I arrived. I did manage to sniff the empty bottle and can report that it’s a grenache-syrah-mourvedre with a lovely nose.

Cypher Winery. Always known for their kick-ass blends such as Heretic and ZinBitch, this winery showed some different animals: A dry rosé, Pistil 2010 ($24), and Monarchy ($40), a lush blend of petit verdot, malbec, and tempranillo with the right touch of oak.

Victor Hugo Winery. The big boy at this all-estate winery is Opulence, a Bordeaux style blend of cab, cab franc, petit verdot, malbec, and merlot. At $28 it’s a steal with grand fruit flavors and a sexy texture.

J. Lohr Estates. This high-production winery with locations in Santa Clara Valley and on the Central Coast, sources fruit from around the state but they’re making a point to bring glory to Paso with a series of estate wines modeled on French first-growths from Pauillac, Pomerol, and St. Emilion: Cuvée Pau, Cuvée St. E, and Cuvée Pom. Pau ($50) haunted my night. Its scent of violets lingered, and the vanilla from its oak aging wasn’t overpowered by its rich fruit, (cab, cab franc, petit verdot, and malbec), because the wine is wonderfully integrated. I was walking up to strangers and telling them to sniff my glass. Yeah, I had enough. So I strolled over to the Wine Lab for a snack and a bottle of water before I drove home, on a cloud of perfume, with the smug satisfaction that Paso, one of the most incredible wine regions in the world, knew enough to bring its show to ever-thirsty O.C.—Anne Valdespino


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