Merlot won out, but it could just as easily have been Cabernet or Syrah.
In the case of Paloma, Jim and Barbara Richards' 15-acre vineyard on Spring Mountain, it actually produced three astounding wines, any one of which could have been a star on its own.
That the Richards chose Merlot is perhaps surprising to those familiar with the other two grapes that excelled in their vineyard. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah reached extraordinary heights in their vineyard and even within the family, there was considerable debate about which wine to focus on. Then again, their 2001 Merlot was Wine Spectator's 2003 Wine of the Year.
Of the three, I leaned toward the Cabernet, if ever so slightly. Once the Richards chose to focus on Merlot, they curtailed a Cabernet bottling, except on rare occasions. The most recent Paloma Cabernet release from 2009 (95 points, $54) offers all the evidence of how special Cabernet can be from their vineyard. My note understates the excitement this wine presented. The 2001 was also stunning. Many Paloma fans are surprised by its existence, since it only shows up every now and then.
Most years the Cabernet is blended with the Merlot for color and backbone. Merlot is the most elegant and refined of the three wines they've made, and it remains one of the greatest Merlot sites in the world. The Richards officially dropped Syrah, too, despite its success, and started a second label for the grape, called Palomita, made from grapes purchased in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley.
One of the surest measures of a vineyard's greatness is its ability to produce more than one amazing wine. Paloma is such a site.