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Embracing the alcohol of Paso red blends, and a word about that Benziger deal



For the past half-year, I’ve been hosting a series of wine tastings up at Jackson Family Wines headquarters, just outside Santa Rosa. So far, they’ve included both JFW and non-JFW wines, but the next one is strictly non-JFW. It’s a tasting of high-end Paso Robles Rhône-style blends (JFW currently owns no Paso Robles wineries), and I’m getting excited even before I pop a single cork.

Here’s the lineup so far:

  • Saxum 2012 Heart Stone
  • L’Aventure 2013 Cote de Cote
  • Tablas Creek 2012 Esprit de Tablas
  • Law 2011Sagacious
  • Linne Calodo 2013 Sticks & Stones
  • Jada 2012 Hell’s Kitchen
  • ONX 2012 Crux

I’m also trying to get a bottle of PharoahMoans 2012, and maybe one or two others.

These are all expensive wines, among the priciest in California outside Napa Valley. The most expensive is the Saxum. I’ve written before about Justin Smith’s amazing story: how he started this little winery that zoomed straight to the top. (If there are more expensive wines in Paso Robles, I don’t know what they are.) I’m not sure how Justin got there; probably he isn’t either, and has been pleasantly surprised by his success. I think my reviews helped, as did the chapter I gave him in my 2008 book, “New Classic Winemakers of California.”

I liked Justin’s wines from the moment I first tasted them (I gave them lots of 95s and 94s), but I realize these are not wines for the In Pursuit of Balance crowd. The alcohol on them can be very high. But then, the same can be said of many of these Paso Robles blends. The grapes get ripe, sometimes super-mature under that hot Paso sunshine, even in the Templeton Gap where things are supposedly cooler. Well, I drove right through the Templeton Gap yesterday during the hottest part of the afternoon, and yes, the temperature did fall from 92 just north of Paso Robles to 87-88 at Templeton, evidence that there really is a cooling influence that makes it in from the coast. Still, the Templeton Gap area is still pretty warm.

It would be a shame to dismiss these big, hearty Paso Robles red wines simply because of the alcohol level. They’re really world class. I’m excited about this tasting and will report on it here.

* * *

I asked my Facebook friends yesterday what I should blog about today and a lot of them said “Benziger.” I don’t have a super-strong view of the sale to The Wine Group, except for a couple thoughts. Number one, I like the Benziger clan and especially Mike, who was very kind to me when I was coming up as a wine writer. The family worked hard to establish both the Benziger brand and Imagery, and the wines from both were very good. The family did what they felt was in their best interests, at a time competition is fierce and Benziger was doing battle with brands from all over the world. I don’t know what The Wine Group will do with the brands—whether they’ll maintain them, elevate them or crush them into the ground. (By way of contrast, had Jackson Family Wines bought them, I’m confident the Jackson family would have elevated them.) Hopefully, The Wine Group will elevate them, although I do have some concerns that The Wine Group is not necessarily associated with the top quality tier. (Here’s a list of their brands.) Perhaps with this acquisition, The Wine Group is trying to go upscale and improve that image. If so, kudos to them.

* * *

Miss Sherry asked on Facebook for me to blog about Gus because she likes him a lot. So, Miss Sherry, here he is, relaxing on my queen bed at the lovely Santa Maria Radisson. We’re here for a couple days to hang out at Cambria and Byron.


  1. Keasling says:

    Drooling in envy about that upcoming tasting.

    A couple of valuable additions would be:

    Torrin 2011 Maven; and

    Herman Story 2011 Casual Encounters

  2. doug wilder says:

    Nicora, Brecon and Clos Solene.

  3. Rachel Peak says:

    Fantastic lineup of Paso wines. To add to it, what Keating and Doug suggested, plus Anglim, Booker, and the Ditch Digger from Denner.

  4. 2012 Calcareous Moose

  5. Steve,
    You need to grab the Tablas Panoplie.

  6. What’s interesting is the historical context of this purchase. Glen Ellen established by the Benzinger family in the 1980’s, was sold to Heublein, and then eventually to The Wine Group. The Wine Group generally creates and builds value brands, and uses economies of scale better than anyone in the wine industry. This purchase of Benzinger in a way re-assemblies a legacy, and opens a door for premium wine sales to the company. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  7. Ron Saikowski says:

    Hi Gus, our four girl dogs want you to know you are in their hearts!

  8. Will Burden says:

    The deal with the Templeton gap is timing. That part of the area is as hot as any other in the AM, and at anytime between 1 and 5 the marine air pushes through the east-west gap in the coast range and temps can 10 or 20 degrees in a short period of time. 100* daytime highs balanced by 50* lows. Biggest diurnal swing pretty much anywhere.

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