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Executive editor Thomas Matthews joined Wine Spectator in 1988. His tasting beat is Spain.
Thomas Matthews

Big Red, Small World

Stephan L’Aventure Optimus Paso Robles 2009

Thomas Matthews
Posted: March 19, 2012

Recently I ate at Jung Sik, a creative Korean restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, with Marie DeLarrard, a friend from France. Her father, Philippe, is a vintner in the village near Bordeaux where I lived in the 1980s, and we were reminiscing about old times.

We were savoring sea urchin served with quinoa, beautifully paired with a 2010 Grüner Veltliner from Nikolaihof when I received a text message from Jack Miller, an old friend who was in Paso Robles visiting a winery I had recommended, called L’Aventure. As it turns out, the owner/winemaker is a Frenchman named Stephan Asseo, whom I had met in that same village, where he was running Domaine de Courteillac at the time. Marie knew Stephan, too, though more by reputation, since he had moved to California in the mid-1990s, when she was still a child.

Then came the meat dishes, including a stew of beef short ribs and rice cake balls called Galbi. The personable, knowledgeable sommelier, Kyungmoon Kim, decided to accompany it with a glass of 2009 Optimus—a Paso Robles red made by Asseo at L’Aventure. It felt as if the bottle had been chosen by the hand of fate.

The wine—a hearty blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot—was muscular in structure, with ripe, black fruit flavors and coffee and licorice accents. (I rated it 90 points, non-blind.) It seemed a world away from Asseo’s roots in Bordeaux or the cuisine’s traditions in Korea. Yet it bridged the gap, bringing out a spicy sweetness in the long-braised beef. And somehow it brought Stephan, Jack and Philippe all to the table, nearly 100 years of friendship for me in total—all through the magic of wine.

WineSpectator.com members: Read blind-tasting reviews for other vintages of Optimus.

• Plus, see scores and tasting notes for more recently rated wines from the Paso Robles region of California.

Howard G Goldberg
New York, N.Y. —  March 19, 2012 11:01am ET
In effect you have edited Rudyard Kipling:
Though East is East and West is West the twain indeed can meet.
Tim Mc Donald
Napa,CA —  March 19, 2012 3:14pm ET
L'Aventure Optimus is good value and tastes great, but the magic of bringing friends to the table...magical & priceless! Cheers!
Gerry Ansel
Fullerton, Calif —  March 19, 2012 7:38pm ET
Great story about Stephan. He has poured for my wife and me several times in his tasting room at L'Aventure. His vocabulary is - how shall we say - colorful, but he makes awesome, powerful wines that reflect the Paso Robles terroir. His big reds get the lion's share of attention, but his white wines - particularly his very pretty Roussanne - are some of the best made in California.
Thomas Matthews
New York City —  March 21, 2012 8:35am ET
Thanks for your comments. We can travel many different paths in life, but wine always seems to bring us together.

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