Paso Robles is located at, approximately halfway between the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Paso Robles is where the region of Southern California ends. The elevation of Paso Robles ranges from 675 to 1,100 feet (340 m), but the majority of the main downtown area of the city sits at about 740 feet (230 m) above sea level.
The topography of the area consists of gentle rolling hills on the eastern half of the city, and foothill peaks which rise in elevation to the Santa Lucia Coastal Range on the west, which are all blanketed in the Californian chaparral environment, which is mainly dry grassland and oak woodland. Simply “Paso,” as it is referred to by locals, sits on the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucia Coastal Mountain Range, which lies directly to the West of the city, and runs in a North-South direction, starting at Monterey, then runs down South to its terminus, in the San Luis Obispo area. The city is located at the southern end of the fertile Salinas River Valley. Paso Robles sits at the border where northern San Luis Obispo County and southern Monterey County meet, and is situated roughly 24 miles (39 km), or 20 minutes, inland from the Pacific Ocean.
For a time, Paso Robles was known as the “Almond City” because the local almond growers created the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world.
Paso Robles’ wine industry has a long history within the area. Wine grapes were introduced to the Paso Robles soil in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries. Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez envisioned an abundant wine-producing operation and encouraged settlers from Mexico and other parts of California to cultivate the land. The first vineyardists in the area were the Padres of the Mission San Miguel, and their old fermentation vats and grapevine artwork can still be seen at the Mission, north of the city of Paso Robles.
Commercial winemaking was introduced to the Paso Robles region in 1882 when Andrew York, a settler from Indiana, began planting vineyards and established the Ascension Winery at what is now York Mountain Winery.
Following Andrew York’s early success in the wine business, Gerd and Ilsabe Klintworth planted a vineyard in the Geneseo/Linne area in approximately 1886. They were licensed to sell jugs of Zinfandel, Port, and Muscatel, as well as some of the area’s first white wine made from Burger grapes. The Casteel Vineyards in the Willow Creek area were planted just prior to 1908. Casteel wines were stored and aged in a cave cellar. Cuttings from the old vines provided the start for other vineyards, still producing in the area today.
As the popularity of wines began to grow, so did the Paso Robles wine region. The Templeton Winery was the area’s first to be bonded following the repeal of Prohibition.
The Paso Robles wine region gained more notoriety when Ignace Paderewski, the famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, visited Paso Robles, became enchanted with the area, and purchased 2,000 acres In the early 1920s, he planted Petite Sirah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio vineyard in the Adelaide area. Following Prohibition, Paderewski’s wine was made at York Mountain Winery. The wines produced from grapes grown on Rancho San Ignacio went on to become award-winners. Paso Robles’ reputation as a premier wine region became firmly established as a result of this and later successes.
On a warm Thursday evening in Pompano Beach Florida 8 wine enthusiast sat down to enjoy a lovely French dinner of Coq Au Vin and Roasted Pork, but the food was not going to be the star of this dinner we had on display 9 bottles of Anne Parent Pommard wines from 2010 and 2013. The wines were provided by Andrew Lampasone from www.winewatch.com
Domaine Parent, www.domaine-parent-bourgogne.com, owned by sisters Anne and Catherine, is located in Pommard. Anne, fluent in English, travels the world promoting Domaine Parent wines and advocating for women winemakers. Anne and Catherine represent the twelfth generation of family winemaking in Burgundy. The family has been producing wine since 1635, and after 11 generations of male wine makers, the Parent sisters are in control of the Domaine and have been since1998. Legend has it that Thomas Jefferson while serving as ambassador to France was a huge fan of their wines and a personal friend to Etienne Parent.
Anne and Catherine divide the responsibility of running the winery; Anne handles the wine making and Catherine handles the business of running the Domaine. Domaine Parent makes wine according to Burgundian classifications: Bourgogne, Village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. Anne’s personal philosophy on wine making is “There are no bad vintages, there are only bad winemakers”, she made this statement in reference to the extremely challenging 2012 vintage. Anne is also a big believer in organic and biodynamic farming and is moving her Domaine in that direction. Anne has had a passion for wine making from a very young age, but growing up with brothers, a father will choose males in the family to carry on the wine making tradition. In general women are left to explore other avenues to fulfill their passions. Anne went to university to study law then later returned to study wine making.
Once her brother left to start his own Domaine, Anne and her Catherine took control of Domaine Parent. Anne believes it is clearly more challenging for women coming up in the wine industry by having to prove themselves three times more than there male winemaker counterparts to obtain the respect they desire. An overall view of the wines from Pommard will find that they tend to be more masculine as well as elegant in style, this is also true of Anne’s wines.
The common theme I found with Anne Parent’s wines are Clarity, sharp Acidity with harmony and complexity. They are a joy to drink.
2010 Pommard – Expressive nose of juicy red raspberries, black pepper, baking spices and leaves. The wine is medium bodied with integrated and persistent soft tannin. Solid acidity and a moderate finish brought this wine together nicely. Between the slight earthy note and structure, this is a beautiful expression of Pommard.
2010 Beaune Epinottes 1er Cru – Nuance, finesse and pretty. This wine exudes the delicate and complex nature of Beaune. Fresh red cheries, raspberries, dried roses, and some black olives. Medium body with bright acidty and medium minus tannin. This is a wine of great finesse with a lengthy finish. While this is a lighter body wine, it should age well due to it’s acid backbone and harmonious balance.
2010 Pommard Chanlins 1er Cru – This wine needs time, it’s somewhat closed at the moment but hits all the right notes. The nose is complex; Cherry cola, black cherries, raspberries, white pepper and orange marmalade. Palate is fleshy, medium chalky tannin, solid acid backbone and long finish. The wine is terrific, needs time in the glass or years in the bottle to show its full potential.
2013 Pommard Chanlins 1er Cru – expressive and complex nose. Fresh raspberries, baking spices, cocoa nibs, fresh herbs. This wine is medium body, medium drying tannins and elevated acid. Terrific texture and persistent long Finish. This is gorgeous wine. It’s vibrant, fresh, concentrated and structured.
2010 Champoniers 1er Cru – Fruit and complexity! Raspberry, cherry, baking spices, nutmeg and a host of nuance. Medium body with moderate amount of gripping tanning and a firm acid backbone. Combined with the long finish this is a wine that will age gracefully well over 10 years.
2013 Champoniers 1er Cru – Bright and uplifting aroma of raspberries, wild strawberry, fresh roses and a spices. The palate is well balanced with upfront chalky tannins, firm acid and a long finish. This is a wine with gorgeous freshness and will age very well. Outstanding!
2010 Argillieres 1er Cru – Strong intensity on nose with very ripe red fruit; raspberries, black cherries, plums along with savory mushrooms and herbs. This wine has pronounced ripe tannins, medium acid, a long finish and very well balanced. The flavors are consistent with the nose. This wine should develop nicely over the next decade.
2013 Argillieres 1er Cru – Alluring and intense nose; Fresh red cherries, wild strawberry, assortment of spices (cinnamon, white pepper), fresh herbs and brown sugar. The wine has a delicate but firm texture; forward tannins, bright acidity and a long finish. The This wine exemplifies finesse, I look forward to enjoying this for many years. Outstanding!
2013 Corton Les Renards Grand Cru – Intense wine with remarkable concentration. Blackberry, plum, cured meat, mushroom and herbs fill the glass. The wine is medium bodied. Chalky tannins give the wine density, for a wine this tightly wound, it has a velvety texture and a long, lingering finish. Even though oak is obvious, it’s well integrated and will become harmonious with age. An excellent bottle that demands patience to reach its full potential.
Sales of luxury bubbles have bounced back, and since we’re heading into prime fizz season, I grabbed the chance last week to sample more than 125 Champagnes and top sparkling wines from countries such as Spain and Portugal.
Drinking expensive fizz has always been linked with a positive economic outlook (though personally I think it’s also an essential perk-up if you’re coping with a downturn). That’s why Champagne plunged in late 2008, and prosecco swooped in as the cheapie alternative. Oceans of the sparkling Italian white are still flowing, but in 2014, U.S. drinkers also swallowed 19.2 million bottles of Champagne, up 1.3 million from the year before, according to trade association Comité Champagne.
That’s important, because over the past few years other sparkling wines have made significant inroads, especially in the U.K. Even though the country downed 32.7 million bottles’ worth of Champagne in 2014, up more than 6 percent from a year earlier, the value of sales from all other sparkling wines increased 52 percent in the first half of 2015.
Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes. These bubblies—made by small family producers, who used to sell grapes to big brands like Moët but now bottle their own—are on a roll. In 1997 there were 33 brands in the U.S.; now the number is up to 282, and just about every fine restaurant has at least one, if not several, on its list.
The diversity of grower Champagnes was prominently on display at last week’s tasting. Many growers have been innovators in the Champagne region, bringing in new ideas and points of view—like organic grape growing—and challenging traditions. They’re not just sticking to blends of mostly pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, which are grown in many vineyards across the region.
Instead, growers such as L. Aubry Fils are playing with forgotten, fragile varieties like arbanne—once used, but abandoned because they ripened inconsistently in Champagne’s chilly climate. Now, because of global warming, harvests arrive earlier than in the past; climate change has been beneficial for these grapes, which need more warmth and a longer growing season. (You could say climate change has rescued them.)
Others, like David Pehu of Pehu-Simonet, follow a Burgundian philosophy and are bent on creating single-vineyard Champagnes. Yet more hip young growers are experimenting with making Champagne with fewer bubbles, so it tastes more like a still wine, as well as finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.
The trendy grower movement has kept interest in Champagne high, especially among influential sommeliers. That’s fortunate, because there are now serious competitors that cost a lot less. For example, I was highly impressed with vintage-dated bubblies from Spanish winery Raventós i Blanc. They used to be labeled cava, but the Raventós family created its own geographic designation, Conca del Riu Anoia, to distinguish its wines from the indifferent, often gassy cavas from cooperatives.
My biggest takeaway, though, was the wide range of quality among grower Champagnes, especially in wines from the difficult 2011 vintage.
Below are my top Champagnes from the tasting. You can try some of these during New York’s La Fête du Champagne, which starts on Oct. 26. Wine shops and restaurants will be offering deals, but the heart of this annual event, now in its second year, is the grand tasting of nearly 120 Champagnes on Nov. 7 ($350), with a gala dinner that evening ($1,000) at which collectors share their best bottles.
2010 Marc Hebrart Special Club Brut ($75)
Special club bottlings, which carry an exclusive label, are growers’ prestige cuvées. The vivid, complex flavors of this pinot noir–chardonnay blend are fresh and delicate.
Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes ($130)
Powerful, concentrated, and intense, this 100 percent pinot noir wine comes from a single vineyard of 70-year-old vines. It’s one to age, and to drink with a grand dinner.
2010 Champagne Doyard Clos de L’Abbaye Blanc de Blancs ($95)
This single-vineyard all-chardonnay Champagne is harmonious, with bright flavors of citrus and chalk. It’s less fizzy than most, emulating a style of Champagne from the past.
2009 L. Aubry Fils Sablé Le Nombre d’Or Blanc des Blancs Brut ($70)
Bright and racy, this blend of all the white varieties grown in Champagne includes chardonnay, but also obscure meslier, fromenteau, and arbanne grapes, which add citrusy, apple-y notes to its aromas.
Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut ($75)
Savory and sumptuous, with cherry and cassis flavors, this all-pinot noir fizz is an example of the new one-grape, one-vineyard, one-vintage trend. It comes from a single parcel called Les Perthois.
Nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée ($60)
The love affair with all-pink wines continues. This rosy-colored one, made from 100 percent pinot noir, has the savor and lusciousness of strawberries and hibiscus flowers.
2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut ($70)
The lemony, chalky aromas of this zingy all-chardonnay Champagne just leap out of the glass. The taste is as dry as crushed oyster shells. Non-dosé, which means no sugar or reserve wine is added to balance the wine’s acidity, is part of a trend toward drier fizz.
Nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut ($55)
All-chardonnay, it’s crisp, fresh, sleek, and filled with pure notes of slate and lime that make it perfect as an aperitif. It’s a fave of many New York somms; you can try it by the glass at the NoMad, but at $35 per, you might as well buy a bottle and drink it at home.
2007 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée ($125)
Sometimes described as “the poor man’s Krug,” this concentrated wine from old vines is almost smoky, with layers of flavors—minerals, salt, cloves, lemon, verbena—as well as hints of oak. Grand and rich, it’s fantastic with food.