By Celia Strong
Thank goodness, just in time for our holiday dinners we have a “set” of wines — white, red and dessert, some new, some old favorites, all really good and well-suited to our meals. Yay! So, again this week, we’re going to look at these “turkey” wines. But, keep in mind, by “turkey” we mean wines that will go with the assorted meats, vegetables, gravies and desserts that flood into our lives in a couple more weeks. Remember, as good as the food is, it’s all about the wines.
So, off we go to mid-California — halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles — to the Paso Robles area. (And, yes, we were here a couple of months ago, but the wines are new.)
Officially, the wine area around Paso Robles is the “Central Coast” of California. Paso (as those who like to sound cool nickname the city) is named for its location at a pass through the oak trees that are prolific in the area. Located on the Salinas River , Paso Robles is north of San Luis Obispo and known for its hot springs and the California Mid-State Fair. (Is any of this coming back to you yet?) The climate here, two different ones actually, is Mediterranean and coastal California. This means long, hot, dry summers, mild falls, short, and maybe rainy winters and early Springs. All together near perfect grape growing conditions. I think we’ll find, over time, as we talk about more and more wines, the area around Paso Robles has consistently good wines — different from both Napa and Sonoma — but just as good.
Backing up a bit, for our history lesson, we have to remember the hot springs in the area. The Salinas Indians, who lived here thousands of years ago, before the Spanish Missions spread up through California from Mexico with their vineyards, called this area the “Springs.” Paso Robles was a land grant from Mexico that was purchased by the two Blackburn brothers, James and Daniel, in 1857. Then, the “Springs” were a rest stop on the Camino Real — the Spanish highway that ran north from Mexico into California. Settlers came to the area, establishing cattle ranches, apple and almond orchards, dairy farms and vineyards. The El Paso de Robles Hotel was built, in 1864, a city park was also built, and a fair was held, October 31, 1886, to attract land buyers to the area. (I remember the date of that fair from the last time we looked at a Paso wine; we’re close to its anniversary.) So, yes, there was a great fair, yes, settlers came and came into the area, yes, vineyards were always part of the area’s history and economics, and now we’re all here to enjoy the benefits! Yes!
Moving on, we now go to Justin Winery in Paso Robles. This is a family owned winery making most of their wines with grapes that they grow. The winery was founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin, a former investment and international banker. He bought 160 acres and planted his estate vineyards. He has focused on making world class Bordeaux style blends, earning many awards and high scores ever since. Justin Winery is the only Central Coast winery to keep a full-time chef. Partly, because this is, after all, the French model where wine is a condiment for your food, but also because they now have a small but superb restaurant at the winery. Since 1981, the winery has expanded its vineyard acreage by working with a handful of selected growers nearby. Justin Baldwin and his daughter live at the winery and are involved every day in all aspects of the business.
But, let’s get to the good stuff. Our three wines for this week, starting with the white wine, Justin Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is a great example of the diversity of soils and climates that Paso has to offer. It is a combination of tropical and citrus fruit flavors balanced with crisp acidity and minerality; a perfect aperitif and a food wine all in one. The current vintage, 2011, was a difficult year – late bud break in the Spring, uneven ripening of the grapes, a cool summer, a warm, early fall with some rain. Hands on vineyard management resulted in a great wine but much less of it. Typical of the vintage overall. This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in stainless steel and aged five months is steel tanks. It is a pale straw color with green highlights, has a mix of lime, citrus, green apple and pear aromas and lemon-lime, white peach and passionfruit flavors. The minerality and fresh acidity are on the finish. Think of this wine with oysters (dressing), fried foods (turkey), green bean casseroles, peas, sweet potatoes.
Wine number two is the Justin Cabernet Sauvignon. I know we don’t usually think of Cabernet with turkey, but we don’t all have turkey for holiday dinners. And, if we do, we don’t all want to drink lighter bodied wines. The most important thing to remember about Cabs from the Paso Robles AVA is they are partly big and heavy, but partly smooth and mellow. Perfect for covering a wide range of drinkers’ styles. The 2010 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon is beautifully balanced with black and red fruit and spice aromas, and a bit of cedar, black currant and boysenberry flavors and a long finish with cherry candy notes and cedar. The fruits and the cedar in this wine are a result of the wet and cool growing season of the vintage. Harvest was delayed that year to let the grapes achieve a better degree of ripeness. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in American oak for 18 months. Over the years that I have enjoyed this Cab, I have noticed vintage differences, but the wine is always one of my favorites. Turkey, duck, game birds, even seafood all taste better with this wine. And, with the weight of a Cab, your sauces can be as intense as you like.
Finally, for dessert, or maybe just with coffee after all this food, we have Justin Obtuse. With our first two wines, the winery’s habit of naming their wines with geometry terms isn’t apparent. For those of you who know it, Justin Isosceles is a blend that is really good and one for which they are sought out. Justin Obtuse is their late harvest Cabernet, a fortified, port style wine. This wine is also from the 2010 vintage, deep red colored with ripe black cherry, dried plum and fig aromas, dark berries, chocolate and sweet raspberry jam flavors, all with soft tannins. Just imagine this wine after a great dinner.
So, now we have our set of holiday dinner wines, just in time! The Sauvignon Blanc is $12.99, the Cabernet is $22.99, and the Obtuse, in a half bottle, is $12.99. Each of these wines is truly better than its price and worthy of any dinner. And, isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Enjoy.