Napa Valley wines receive plenty of plaudits. Sonoma County product is firmly established among oenophiles and gets its fair share of praise too. But when five Paso Robles wines rank among the top 26 offerings in the entire world, that's newsworthy.
Wine Spectator magazine, one of the most trusted brands in the business, clearly saw something special coming out of the Central Coast wine region this year, naming these five bottles to the upper tiers of its 2017 Top 100 list.
No. 10: 2014 Booker Oblié Paso Robles
No. 16: 2014 Turley Zinfandel Paso Robles Ueberroth Vineyard
No. 22: 2014 Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles Willow Creek District
No. 24: 2014 Justin Justification Paso Robles
No. 26: 2015 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles
To put the above rankings in perspective, this unassuming San Luis Obispo County wine region landed more wines in the top tier than Italy, Spain, and Washington state. France barely edged out Paso Robles with six bottles in the top quarter of the list.
What in the wide world of wine is going on here?
“Paso Robles is one of the most exciting wine regions in California and it’s just getting started," according to Wine Spectator Senior Editor Tim Fish. "The region caught our eye in 2010 when Saxum won Wine of the Year for its James Berry Vineyard 2007, which earned 98 points in our official blind tastings. The five wines in the 2017 Top 100 are an acknowledgement of Paso Robles and its achievements. More significantly, all five wines are outstanding."
Booker's 2014 Oublié Paso Robles earned special praise, cracking the Top Ten for being "expressive and impressively structured" and for its "complex, densely layered flavors of currant, pepper, and espresso." The $80 wine is a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise.
"I’m extremely honored and humbled," says Booker owner and winemaker Eric Jensen. "The Oublié strikes a chord with a large segment of the wine industry since it’s not overly massive like a Cab or too light like some Pinots. It fits right in the middle."
The #26 wine on the list, Tablas Creek's 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles, is also a Rhone blend—Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne—and retails for $25.
"We were thrilled to see the wine so high in Wine Spectator's list, probably most of all for the category it represents," says Jason Haas, Tablas Creek partner and general manger. "To have them choose one of our whites (and a California white Rhone blend in general) is such a great validation of the category and our belief that these grapes can be exceptional in Paso Robles."
But why Paso Robles, and why now?
"The region really is on a roll right now," Haas explains. "We've had a string of outstanding vintages—'14, '15, and '16 were all top-notch. There are so many different grapes that can do well here; the Paso wines in the Top 100 included two red Rhone blends, a white Rhone blend, a Zinfandel, a Bordeaux blend, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. That diversity is an amazing asset.
"And whatever our focus in terms of grape family, the sun gives us outstanding fruit character and the cold nights give us freshness at whatever sugar level we choose to harvest at. That's good for everyone."
Fish agrees with this assesment: "For those of us who follow every vintage, 2014 and 2015 were kind to Paso Robles but it also speaks to the versatility of the region, which produces old-school Zinfandel and impressive red and white blends inspired by Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.”
Paso Robles' appeal extends beyond the glass and encompasses the entire culture, according to Jensen, making it an ideal tourism destination.
"It’s a unique place where everyone is treated well," Jensen says. "It’s just a comfortable, cozy place where you can be yourself and still drink world-renowned wine and eat at incredible restaurants."