With apologies to French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (The Raw and the Cooked) I’d like to take a little creative license from the title to share some Paso Robles adventure love. There are those of you who’d be shocked – shocked! – to discover that out of approximately 50-odd bottles of wine purchased during my stay, over 20 them are whites and pinks.
Yeah, I know. I can’t believe it either.
So why so many? Taste, my brutha, taste.
You all who have been tasting with me know how I am. I will politely taste the white wines before moving on to the wines of color (“real wines”), be they pink or red. Well, during this trip, either something went wrong with my taste buds (doubtful) or the whites are rocking. I think it’s the latter.
It actually began innocently enough when I picked up the Côtes du Paso Robles White Rhône blend from Fresh ‘n Easy about three months ago, long before my vacation. I was very impressed with that inexpensive little wine, more so after I discovered that it had won a gold medal in a San Diego wine competition. This, along with the Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastle white that Rod and I discovered a couple of years previously, let me know that these particular white wines were something with which to be reckoned. Even with that, I still found myself focusing on Chards and Sauv Blancs as my go-to whites. Just habit I guess.
My story of Rosés is a little more complex. My first “wines,” after all, were pink. That is, if you consider Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill and (fill in the blank label) White Zinfandel actual *wines.* Hey, we all had to start somewhere! Of course, I discovered “real” Rosés several years ago and have written about (and drunk) them regularly ever since.
But what if I told you that one of the wines that I bought was a pink Zin? Shocked? Don’t be. I will have a full explanation in a later post.
My white wine adventure began unremarkably enough with the Hug Cellars 2011 Vino del Cielo, their Chardonnay (55%) and Viognier (45%) blend. This is the second year that it’s been made, and while I thought the 2010 was okay, I wasn’t in love with it. The 2011 on the other hand, is beautifully fragrant and has mouth-watering acidity (for Viognier) with lots of food-friendly citrus and white fruit notes. Its decided superiority over the 2010 surprised me, and I knew I’d be enjoying it – really enjoying it! – with something seafood-y at the first opportunity.
After we left Hug (with a few of their new signature glasses and several bottles of wine) we went next door to Barrel 27. The first thing we dove into was their High on the Hog white – which is, incidentally, available locally – because the Vino del Cielo had made such an impression. I already had a bottle of HotH in my White Wine cooler, but this was a nice a reminder of how Rhône whites aren’t to be messed with. It’s a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, and Rousanne – all rich, unctuous, and fragrant.
Of course we didn’t stop there. During the Paso Robles Wine Festival, we didn’t eschew the whites. We actively sought them out and found that we were less likely to find Chards. We were really homing in on the Viogniers, Rousannes, Grenache Blancs, and other Rhône varietals. There were several quotations I heard repeated: “Rhône whites are a red wine drinker’s white wine,” “Rhône whites are red wines dressed up in white clothing,” and “Not Chardonnay.”
These whites don’t have the creamy, buttery fragrance of my favorite Chards (yes, I’m guilty of loving the overdone) or the grassy, grapefruity character of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but they’re a different animal altogether. They’re beautiful in the glass, with the rich, curvy legs reminding me of an aged, oily German white. The fragrances can be heady (can we say Viognier!), and they have a luscious mouthfeel. I’m slowly being converted back into a white wine drinker because of these beautiful wines.
They are also challenging my single-varietal snootinesss. My first Viognier, for instance, was from France. It was like sniffing a field of flowers. The flavors were fruity, flowery, and had a decided mineral backbone with lots of food-friendly acidity. I loved it. Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of the Viognier boom here in the U.S. and I couldn’t find an American-made Viognier that possessed the characteristics of the French for quite some time. It seemed like every American-made Viognier was a wannabe Chardonnay – kept in so much oak that the floral aroma that makes it so distinctive was lost in a sea of butter.
While I think that American-made Viognier won’t duplicate the characteristics of its French brethren, I’m happy to say that it’s come very close. And in some cases, even surpassed! American ingenuity being what it is, I figured it would be just a matter of time before our winemakers would take on the challenge and succeed!
Paso Robles winemakers have taken this intensely fragrant wine and blended it with other whites, and they’ve had great success. So my attitude about leaving Viognier on its own has been altered considerably. More on my Viognier love later.
My week consisted of tasting and buying wine (in between naps), many of which were white. And I did something that I have never done before – walked out of a winery with nothing but whites and pinks. No reds – and they had good reds.
Yeah, I know. Stay tuned…