Back in 1976 I didn't know squat about wine. I don't even want to mention brand names that I thought were good back then. But I remember a certain charm that I felt the more unpretentious California country wines had and that's what I got in touch with a couple weeks ago when one of my vendors brought by an open bottle of Clayhouse Adobe Red. That charm, by the way, wasn't always positive, critically speaking. Some of those field blends back in the day were unstructured, muddy, and flabby but others had some structure and character, albeit rough, but because of my modest financial means, they worked just fine for my purposes. The Adobe Red we tasted here this weekend was a little lighter than the seventies wines I recall but tasted like a thoughtful, finer update of what came before.
Clayhouse markets a dozen wines sorted between three quality levels. At their website the Estate Series is priced in the $20-40 range; the Vineyard Series and Adobe Series are both advertised at $15/btl. The Estate wines are sourced from specific locations in their Paso Robles Red Cedar Vineyard. The Vineyard wines also come from Red Cedar but utilize varying blends for a consistent year to year flavor profile. The Adobes are made from grapes purchased from Central Coast grape growers. On Friday we tasted the 2011 Vineyard Malbec (95% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah), the 2012 Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Verdot, with 3% Malbec/Merlot), and the 2011 Adobe Red which is a blend primarily of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon along with four other types.
Paso Robles is the largest AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Central Coast, itself the largest AVA in California. Twice enlarged to about 617,000 acres today, Paso Robles hosts two hundred wineries with 32,000 acres currently in vines. Forty different grape varieties are grown there. Two factors always seem to exist in the history of any wine production region: The first vines were planted by monks, in this case the Franciscan Friars of the Ascension in 1790, and the climate features the diurnal shift of warm days and cool nights which always optimizes fruit quality.
On March 4, 2013 we wrote about Paso Robles and the ideal vineyard soil the region can now claim from a turbulent geological history over epochs of dramatic change. The net result is a soil that is rich in minerals with enviable drainage from its constituent fissile shale and degraded granite, volcanic rock, and marine sedimentation. According to one Paso Robles vintner, "This soil naturally restricts yields while promoting firm structure and pure fruit expression in wine." For a guy who waxes romantic about field blend reds from decades ago, what more could you want?
This coming Thursday at the 7pm Wine 101 class, we'll tackle Chenin Blanc and white blends along with sweeter red wines. On Friday, it's David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits with a showing of California wines and on the 5th of September, Scott Beauchamp of Eagle Rock joins us for more of their great Europeans. Please join us.