Michael Perlis: Virtually in Paso

My recently planned trip to Paso Robles had to be canceled, as real life events required me to remain in town. While I was bemoaning that fact, I recalled that, in fact, I had recently made a virtual trip to Paso, thanks to All Corked Up.

Almost every Wednesday evening, Victor Herstein puts together a themed tasting at All Corked Up. We find ourselves attending many of these. Not only does he often highlight some of our favorite regions and varietals, but even when the selections are unfamiliar we often attend to try wines that we might not ordinarily have the opportunity to sample.

You can check out their Events calendar here:


This particular evening, the theme was Paso Robles, so it was a no-brainer for us to attend, as we are great fans of the Paso style of wines – big, bold, jammy and fruity. Vic had selected the following wines:

2007 Victor Hugo Viognier
2006 Tobin James Merlot
2006 Victor Hugo Malbec
2007 Sextant Wheelhouse Zinfandel
2006 Tobin James Zinfandel Ballistic
2007 Victor Hugo Zinfandel
2007 Pulchella Syrah
2006 Victor Hugo Petite Sirah
2006 Victor Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Pulchella Cabernet Sauvignon

The sole white of the evening was a Viognier from Victor Hugo and it was a very nice rendition of that varietal.

I have to admit that I sometimes overlook Victor Hugo, as I don’t always find the wines as being in the “classic” Paso style of big, fruit-forward wines. But, all the Victor Hugo wines poured were tasty and were fine representations of the grape variety.

And that being said, noted critic David Rosengarten [who is not really a fan of the “Paso style” that I love] is a big fan of Victor Hugo. Per the article on his website about his recent visit to Paso Robles:

“The ONE winery I worship…..is Victor Hugo Vineyards & Winery. Remember that name: Victor Hugo Vineyards & Winery It is in the Templeton Gap, of course, near the town of Templeton….but, contrary to the usual clichés, it is on the east side of Highway 101! It’s a small artisanal winery making super-elegant Paso Robles wines…..which is supposed to be the calling card of wineries on the west side of Highway 101. Whatever. Meet Victor Hugo Roberts, and his wife and co-owner Leslie Roberts. They make wine. And they make it their way….which also happens to be my way… …Here’s what I tasted: elegant, balanced reds, with lots of yummy, appealing California fruit in them. I don’t think they’d be mistaken for French wines…..but they sure do stand out from the Paso Robles pack, in the most appealing way. There’s concentration in these wines, but graceful concentration. You know the fruit is lovely, but the winemaker doesn’t have to ratchet it up to prove it to you (Roberts calls himself an “early picker).” There’s subtlety, layers of flavors, mouth-caressing textures…..all the things that make a wine-taster like me say “these are sophisticated wines.” Oh, screw “sophisticated”…..these are delicious wines, and delicious with food.”

You can read his entire article here: http://rosengartenchews.tumblr.com/

By now, pretty much everyone knows Tobin James. I remember drinking Toby’s wines long before he had his own tasting room [and even his own official winery, I think] at a small tasting room in Templeton called Templeton Corners that poured wines from some of the small wineries that didn’t have tasting rooms. That was a long time ago, and it was clear that Tobin James was destined for big things. To me, the Tobin James wines really exemplify Paso Robles. They tend to showcase the fruit, and at all price points really come through. The Tobin James wines that Victor was pouring were what would be considered everyday bottlings of Merlot and Zinfandel, and they really deliver for the money. I highly recommend that wine drinkers who like the Paso style also try some of the higher end bottlings that Tobin James produces, such as the James Gang Reserve Zinfandel and the French Camp Zinfandel.

Sextant is a relative newcomer on the Paso Robles scene. The Wheelhouse Zinfandel is a great example of Paso Robles Zinfandel. I also really enjoy their Night Watch bottling, which is a blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache. It is not particularly surprising that I like this wine, at it contains my four favorite varietals.

The highlight of the evening was tasting the wines from Pulchella [fka Dragonfly]. Not only were their wines being poured, but winery owners [and Santa Clarita locals] Steve Lemley and Nate Hasper were in attendance. It was really great to talk with them, although they probably got tired of all my questions. Their Syrah was a great example of what Paso can deliver. And while I generally am not a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, their version was all about the fruit and very enjoyable. And, while not advertised, they opened a couple of their Zinfandels that were amazing and totally screamed Paso Robles. Just great Zins that I think would stand out in any tasting. Pulchella’s production is very small; I highly recommend you seek them out.