Austin Hope’s “Candor:” Wine On Steroids?


Hope Family Winery on Live Oak Road, westside Paso Robles CA

I wrote recently about Austin Hope, a second-generation winemaker from Paso Robles, California. He’s doing some pretty edgy things down there in the Central Coast, like making wines with no vintage date. Yes, his Candor and Troublemaker lines say “Lot 1″ or “Lot 2″ instead of, say, 2010.

I explained their reasoning in my last post, but here it is again: “Wine is best made when a winemaker has choices.” The way they see it, each vintage brings something useful to the blend, just like different varietals do in a traditionally blended wine. When they can choose to add a bit of this vintage and a bit of that in order to make a better-tasting wine, then why shouldn’t they blend vintages?

A purist may say that each vintage represents a unique set of circumstances dictated by the vagaries of weather. When you see a vintage-dated wine, say “2007 Napa Cabernet”, you have an idea right off the bat of how that wine may taste, based on your knowledge of the reputation of that vintage in that region.

Well, guess what? There are plenty of wine drinkers out there who don’t have the foggiest idea what characterized the 2007 (or any other) vintage. They don’t need the short-hand message on the label, and don’t need to be reassured that this bottle isn’t too old for them to drink.

They just want a good-tasting bottle of wine.

And that’s what Austin Hope’s Candor Merlot Lot 2 and Candor Zinfandel Lot 2 give them. Let’s look at the Merlot first.

Candor is like Merlot on steroids. There is more extraction, concentration and weight than I’ve ever seen in a Merlot. Now mind you, I’ve tasted wonderful mountain-grown Merlot, like Barnett from Spring Mountain, that has more structure and Cabernet-like depth, but for sheer brawn, Candor takes the cake.

Is that a good thing? Does this muscle-bound Merlot work?

It works for me. But it’ll blow the socks off all those folks who drink wimped-out, flabby, insipid Merlot (which unfortunately describes a lot of inexpensive California stuff).

From the first pour, this wine looks big. The color is densely opaque and deep burgundy.  Hell, even the bubbles around the rim were deep and dark in color.

The nose pretty much jumped out of the glass with plums, black cherry and vanilla. I could smell the richness…

The palate didn’t disappoint. i got plenty of plum fruit with some coffee and — lurking in the background. The acid and tannins lifted it up, but the alcohol, which tasted like it was over 14% gave it a bit of heat on the finish. My friend thought there might be some Petite Sirah in the blend, but that’s not mentioned on the website. The notes say that it’s just Merlot, but from several vineyards around California. They say proper site selection has produced fruit that shows the kind of acid and structure we tasted here.

And oh yeah — you can’t miss Austin Hope’s YouTube video about Candor Merlot. (Go to the page I’ve linked and the video is at the bottom). It’s fun and kinda goofy — just like I’d expect from this guy.

Stay tuned for a post on the Candor Zinfandel, and Cheers!


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