Paso Robles, on the Central Coast of California, is not California’s largest wine region, nor is it considered to be the most well-known across the country. Nor is it the easiest of California’s wine regions to access, but it has been one of the hottest wine regions in terms of growth over the last decade or so.
Perhaps due to all of those factors, many forget that Paso Robles is home to perhaps the highest concentration of legendary Zinfandel vineyards in the country.
The first vineyards were planted in the area by Franciscan friars just a dozen years or so after the American Revolution and the first Zins were planted a century later, in the 1880s. Less than a handful of decades later, there was a prolific period of planting with several vineyards planted, many of which becoming what are considered today, legendary.
A little over a year ago, I wrote an article for the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) website, covering a few of the legendary Zinfandel vineyards in Paso. A few weeks ago, I tasted through a few more wines from the region, touching on three more vineyards that have their own remarkable stories.
The first wine comes from some of the oldest vines in California, planted during that first surge of Zinfandel plantings, in 1880. It is technically not in the Paso Robles AVA, in fact, it is closer to San Luis Obispo than Paso, but given the nature of the wines produced and the history of the vineyard, it was included with the two Paso wines.
2018 Saucelito Canyon Zinfandel 1880 Old Vines, Arroyo Grande Valley, CA: Retail $75. 100% Zinfandel. From some of the oldest vines in the state, these historical Zinfandel head-trained vines were resurrected in the early 1980s after a half-century of neglect. Also one of the more remote vineyard sites in the state, the block that produces the fruit for this wine is a scant three acres. Rich magenta color with both red and dark fruit (raspberry, blackberry, cassis, plum), a heavy dose of spice (black pepper, cardamom, baking spice), and a sweet floral aspect. The palate is simply delightful. Yes, as one would expect, there is fruit, but this is an acidity driven wine, as all that tartness holds the fruit in line with ease. I would not need more than one hand to enumerate the number of Zins I have tasted in this class. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
The second wine comes from perhaps the most famous vineyard in Paso, the Benito Dusi Ranch Vineyard (originally called the “Home Ranch”), which was planted in the mid-1920s. The vineyard may have remained in relative obscurity were it not for the relationship that was formed between the Dusi family and Ridge Vineyards nearly half a century later in 1967. As Ridge rose to the highest of prominence, it brought the Home Ranch along with it–a symbiotic relationship, in essence.
2017 Ridge Zinfandel Benito Dusi Ranch, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $45. 100% Zinfandel. What can be said about the Benito Dusi Ranch (and Ridge Vineyards, for that matter) that has not already been written? I have only been to the Dusi Vineyards a few times, but it is a magical place (even with the 101 bifurcating the property). Benito died a year and a half ago (or so) but his legacy is being furthered by the third generation. And this classic bottling from Ridge is a good as it has ever been (although my familiarity with this wine is far below many). A classic Ridge which emphasizes the fruit initially (blackberry, cassis) but quickly introduces a healthy, balancing dose of tartness right before the mid-palate. Another classic characteristic Ridge attribute? A lengthy finish characterized by fruit, tartness, supple tannins, and incredible length. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
The vineyards for the third wine was actually planted a couple of years earlier than the Dusi Home Ranch Vineyard by Ignacy Paderewski, a famed Polish pianist, composer, and diplomat who loved his homeland but also the Paso Robles area, planting a vineyard in what is now known as the Adelaide District on 1920.
2018 Epoch Estate Wines Zinfandel Paderewski Vineyard, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $65. Really, Really, Heavy B.A.B. I could not find the precise blend, but over 90% Zin from the Paderewski Vineyard. The vineyard is named for Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a Polish composer, pianist, and politician who loved the United States and was the first to plant Zinfandel in Paso Robles. The fruit for this wine comes from some of the land that Paderewski originally purchased on the first quarter of the 20th Century. Quite dark in the glass with loads of dark fruit (blackberry, plum), a bit of florally. The palate is exceedingly well-balanced with equal parts fruit and acidity (and a touch of heat—15.3% ABV). An excellent wine. Outstanding. 92 Points.