Vina Robles

roblesI opened up the wine list at a cool little pizza place in Florida and was surprised to see “not-your-usual-pizza-joint-winelist.” It was a very pleasant surprise, because I’ve come to dread the pathetic short list of cheap Italian and not-so-cheap but still lousy California selections.

The joint is actually part of a small national chain called “Grimaldi’s,” and they do a great job with build-your-own pizzas, craft beers and lots of wines by the glass and bottle. We drank a glass of Ferrari-Carano Siena (an elegant Sonoma County Sangiovese blend) at a bargain price, but we’d had it before and already knew it was a stellar wine.

The new winery of the evening was Vina Robles, which we learned sits in the rolling hills just north of Paso Robles, California. It was actually kind of a “deja-vu all over again” experience, because we realized we’d visited the winery on a buying trip many years ago. It was probably not long after the release of their first vintage (2000), and we met with the Swiss restaurateur who is their owner. Our impression of the wines then was that they were very Old World in style: leaner than typical California and more earthy and dry. We weren’t sure the wines would “fit” in our area, or that the winery had good long-term prospects.

I guess we were very wrong (it’s happened before, I’ll admit…) Vina Robles now has a magnificent retail and restaurant operation, and wines that have gotten great ratings from Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast, and medals from a long list of competitions.

In fact, Vina Robles now hangs their hat on their Old World heritage: their publicity tag line is “European Inspiration– California Character.” It seems they’ve learned to work with the ultra-ripe fruit that the Paso Robles climate produces: its very warm days and cool nights grow Bordeaux and Rhone varietals that are rich and intense.

We got a feeling for that style with Vina Robles Red4 2008, a blend of the Rhone varietals Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The rich, jammy nose said, “this ain’t no European wine” right off the bat, and the palate delivered lots of sweet blackberry and raspberry flavors with an almost viscose mid-palate. You could practically spread this thing on toast (not that that’s a bad thing…). But the balance isn’t way off — the Petite Sirah lends enough structure to keep it from being flabby. Interesting, too, that I didn’t detect any of the bacon-y or tar-y notes I sometimes get from California Syrah.

Next we drank the Vina Robles Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. This shows much more of its European heritage, with a leaner but fruit-filled palate and deep, dark berry fruit. There are flavor notes of toasty oak and coffee, and drier tannins that are nevertheless well-integrated. This is a really nice Cab that balances elegance and intensity, and is also a great value for around $20.

The website also shows a Chardonnay and white blend that I’d like to taste. let me know if you try them: Cheers!

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