Downtown Paso: Unspoiled delights

Paso Robles was named Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year in 2013. It’s easy to see why. The scenery is magnificent as you come into town, the vineyards on both sides of Highway 46 are resplendent with color. But the major point of appeal for my wife and I during our recent, but all too brief, visit to the area was the relatively unspoiled scene in the downtown area, which has an old-west and Spanish mission feel to it.

If you’ve been to downtown Lodi and said to yourself, “Hey, that was fun,” you probably would like downtown Paso Robles. Like downtown Lodi, downtown Paso Robles has several tasting rooms, restaurants, shops and bars. And like downtown Lodi, downtown Paso Robles isn’t a madhouse, like Napa usually is, and the opportunity to casually speak with the pourers  is much more likely there than in Napa. Plus, the tasting fees at Paso Robles wineries tend to be reasonable, in the $5-$8 range, and usually are waived with the purchase of a bottle of wine. Try finding that in Napa. Man, I LOVE me some Chimney Rock, but $35 or $45 to taste?

Pianetta Winery (829 13th Street)

My first exposure to Pianetta was at the Taste of Monterey in Cannery Row a few years back. I remember liking one of the blends and took home a bottle, consuming its contents shortly thereafter. Pianetta has a nice lineup of Italian and Rhone varietals. It’s a boutique winery that makes about 3,000 cases per year, depending on the yield, and almost all of it is sold through the wine club, which has 700 members.

The winery is 14 miles from downtown Paso Robles on the border with Monterey County and much of Pianetta’s fruit is sourced from Monterey County. In general, Pianetta wines are full of fruit  with a nice balance of acid. They are approachable, and my wife likes them because they are lighter in style than big reds from Lodi and Napa, though I enjoy those big Napa and Lodi reds immensely.

Tuscan Nights and Cabernet Sauvignon from Pianetta Winery.

Here is what we sampled at Pianetta:

2013 Nonna’s Vino Rosato ($18 retail/$14.40 club)

A new-release dry rose blend of 55% Syrah, 45% Cabernet. A bit more to it than some roses. A little darker in color. Might go well with Thanksgiving dinner or roasted pork. Has some heartiness to it, but still crisp with strawberry and peach on the nose. Great summertime wine. 100 cases produced. My rating 86/100.

2011 Sangiovese ($29/$23.20)

 This is the one I kept going back to, as it had an infectious fruit quality with refreshing acidity that I found to be irresistible. Pairs with pizza, red sauces and soft cheeses. Gold medal and 90 points at the 2013 BTI World Wine Championship, and silver medal winner at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. 431 cases produced. 91/100.

2011 Tuscan Nights ($40/$32)

This “Super Tuscan” blend of 72% Cabernet, 25% Sangiovese and 3% Petite Sirah is rustic and velvety with sweet smoke, sour cherries, lots of fruit, soft tannins. This one spoke to me. 112 cases produced. 92/100.

2011 Estate Cabernet ($32/$25.60)

Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it: Sorry, but I’m not big on Paso Robles Cabernets. They lack the oomph I enjoy so much. My wife likes Paso Robles Cabernets more than Napa Cabs, proving the addage “to each his own.” This is the 10th anniversary of Pianetta’s first release of Estate Cabernet. It’s fruit forward and delicate. Gold medal and 93 points at the 2013 BTI World Wine Championship. So what the heck do I know? Give it a try. 410 cases produced. 85/100.

2012 Petite Sirah ($32/$25.60)

I picked up floral notes, lavender on the nose; potpourri, in the floral sense, not sweet. Surprising. 422 cases produced. 88/100.

2012 Barbera ($30)

Bottled in May, this brand-new release has some growing to do. Its nose was tight, but in time this will be dynamite. Rich with mature red fruit. Again, just a baby. 85/100.

2012 Red Jug Wine ($24)

A delicious “everything but the kitchen sink” red wine blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and Syrah. Opened a bottle this week, had a glass, put the stopper back in the neck and let it sit. Poured a glass the next day and it had opened up big time. Can’t wait to see how it tastes when I get off work tonight. Don’t let the clear-glass demijohn fool you. This ain’t no ordinary jug wine. This is terrific. Pianetta also makes a Pink Jug Wine. 86/100.

 Next stop on our tour of downtown Paso Robles: Clayhouse.

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a thoroughly obsessed wine enthusiast and has earned Level I certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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