Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Deserved Hype in Paso Robles

Last weekend I had a few hours to spend in Paso Robles and really wanted to make the most of it. This region, for me, is one of the most exciting wine growing regions in California. It holds the rather distinct status of being widely recognized yet somewhat emerging. Paso Robles is arguably established and yet also still finding itself. As a whole the area seems to have settled into its ability to produce amazing Rhone varietally based wines, but it also has success with zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and many other experiments. Paso Robles is also decidedly empty on a Friday afternoon in January and offers some beautiful grounds and some of the friendliest people in California wine.

Recently a Paso Robles wine was named the #1 wine of the year for 2010 by Wine Spectator. The Saxum James Berry Vineyard grenache based wine brought new attention to the Rhone possibilities in Paso, and yet at relatively low production levels is next to impossible to get your hands on (and now certainly selling at a premium). But there are a handful of winemakers around Paso that are sourcing fruit from the same vineyards as Saxum winemaker Justin Smith, and have worked together over the years closely, producing wines in a similar style with similar care.

One such winery, located on a beautiful plot of land on the Westside of Paso Robles, is Booker Wines. Eric and Lisa Jensen have farmed 72 acres on this property since 2001, selling their fruit to people like Justin Smith and working as assistant winemaker to both Saxum and L'Aventure. In 2005 Eric and Lisa realized that they could use some of their own fruit, which was producing highly acclaimed wines elsewhere, and make their own versions of some amazing wines. I for one am glad they did, as I found each of their wines to be remarkable. Poured in a rather minimalist but comfortable tasting room by two knowledgeable and charming assistants these wines each stood out for being unique and impeccably crafted:
The Booker 2009 Pink was a compeltely unfiltered rose style wine of mourvedre, grenache, and syrah. The wine was so cloudy it could almost be off-putting to the unsuspecting but was absolutely delicious. With residual sugar of less than 1% the wine offered copious amounts of pastry, cherry lemonade, and sweet rose petals. It came across as slightly sweet with a perfect kiss of acidity. Completely different from anything I have had before, and a welcome surprise.

Booker 2008 White is a blend of Roussanne and Viognier with a nose of peaches and an almost bath product or hand soap-like clean perfumed quality that smells absolutely wonderful. It drinks of subtle pit fruits, olive oil, and spice with a very full bodied viscous mouthfeel and some amazing minerality down the middle. This wine has an extraordinary finish and was really stunning. One of the most interesting white wines I have drank in a long time.
Booker 2008 Oublie 60% counoise, 22% mourvedre, and 18% syrah. This was my favorite red wine poured. It is a big and ripe wine fully of baked blueberry pie but kept in check with notes of smoked meat, baking spices, and a brilliant structure. Like all of these wines it had a rich texture and was rather extracted but done so within a range that kept everything delicious and balanced.

Booker 2008 Alchemist is 65% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit verdot, 10% tempranillo, and 5% grenache. Aged in new French oak for 24 months this wine is huge and yet again kept in check with spice, minerality, and appropriate acid. The wine stradles the syrah spiciness, and the cassis offerings of the cab and PV, with amazing play between the softness of the grenache, velvety tempranillo, and powerful earth driven notes of the syrah. It is a brilliant blend and utterly complex.

Booker makes many more wines than this each year, sold exclusively through their mailing list and wine club. These were the wines that they have held back for the tasting room, and they are running out quickly. Already having amassed a dedicated following, Booker is the type of winery that has the potential to jump to cult status when a couple of these wines get major media attention (ala Saxum). Whether because of this attention or despite it, you want to be on the list. The wine club is only 6 bottles sent once a year and serves as the waiting list for allocation. If there is any part of you that appreciates big California styled, full throttled but well made wines, this is a winery you do not want to miss.


  1. Hey Scott-I couldn't agree more on Paso. Some really good stuff going on there at a number of different price points, I hope the hype doesn't get prices out of control like it has done elsewhere.....but some of our favorites in the area are Alta Colina, Denner (their winemaker Anthony has a personal label called Kinero) Terry Hoague, Barrel 27 etc etc.

  2. Thanks Mark. I tried Denner as well and thought their stuff was excellent. Also Uncorked Ventures looks great, thanks for stopping by the blog.