The halfway point on the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is Paso Robles, a place I like to stop and realign my vertebrae. Since it’s one of the most dynamic wine regions in California, I’m not in a hurry to leave.
Whether you’re a collector or new to wine, Paso Robles and its wines are worth knowing better. The region built its early reputation on Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but in the past decade, Syrah and other Rhône grapes such as Grenache and Mourvèdre have been making exciting wines. Top wines from producers such as Saxum, Denner, Linne Calodo and Torrin can be tricky to locate, but there are plenty of worthy, more obtainable alternatives.
Griping about the high cost of wine in restaurants is a hobby for some people. If there were any money in it, I know a few people who could go pro.
Ed Moore isn't one of those guys. Instead of complaining, he's doing something about it. Grab a table at his bistro, The 3rd Corner, and a bottle of wine sells for retail plus $5. Before you say he's doomed to failure, know this: Moore recently opened a 3rd Corner in Palm Desert, the third outlet of his Southern California restaurant/wine shop in five years.
A while back, I was talking to a winemaker about the challenges of making a truly great high-end wine. First, he said, you need to find an extraordinary vineyard and farm it meticulously. Then pamper the wine from vine to bottle, using the latest technology and the best French oak barrels. When you get it right, you can sell it for $75 or $100 a bottle.
“But that’s easy, really,” he told me with a laugh. “Anyone can do that. Have you ever tried to keep 6 million gallons of wine fermenting?” I thought of him the other day when I had a glass of Smoking Loon Syrah California 2008. I thought it was juicy and lively and surprisingly complex for the price, with notes of cherry, cranberry and spice. How, I wondered, can an $8 bottle of Syrah be this tasty?
I’m not a natural with languages. My editors will tell you I’m still mastering English. Like many Americans, when I was first learning about wine, the idea of pronouncing words like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gewürztraminer gave me hives.
For beginners, it’s a lot more fun to drink the stuff than to pronounce it. Many of us end up taking the challenge, of course, and try to learn the many languages of wine, but it’s not easy for everyone. I have a cousin who loves wine and travels all over the world but will forever call it ZinfanDALE. Merlot ends with a hard T for many casual drinkers, and “Peanut Noir” has become a popular wine with Americans in recent years.
And those are the easy wines.