Tag Archives: Paso Robles

Smith & Hook red blend

AG Pick: Smith & Hook 2013 Proprietary Red Blend

It’s chilly, gray and drizzling where I am. It’s the kind of weather that makes me want to close my laptop, light a fire, and get cozy on the couch with a good book and glass of red wine.

The wine I’d want to be sipping is the Smith & Hook 2013 Proprietary Red Blend from California’s Central Coast. Rich with intense dark fruit and smoke notes, it’s the wine equivalent of a warm blanket on a cold winter day.

Smith & Hook Proprietary Red BlendThe wine is a blend of 47% Merlot, 35% Malbec, 10% Petite Sirah and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in Paso Robles, Arroyo Seco, San Antonio Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands. It was aged for 26 months in French oak, 60% of which was new.

2013 is the first vintage of the Proprietary Red Blend. Smith & Hook, part of Hahn Family Wines, also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Proprietary Red Blend opens with aromas of dark red berries, smoked meat and toasted oak. The taste is full, lush and layered with dark red cherry, blackberry, plum, vanilla, baking spice, tobacco and leather. It’s velvety smooth in the mouth with well-integrated tannins. The finish is long and satisfying with lingering berry pie.

The wine is a great pairing for hearty winter dishes. Enjoy the Smith & Hook Proprietary Red Blend with beef tenderloin or stew, a savory risotto or braised lamb shank.

A bottle of the Smith & Hook 2013 Proprietary Red Blend costs $25.

14.5% alcohol

Winter Whites: White Wines in Season

White wine is in season even when the weather is cool. Here are five white wines to try tonight:

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2011
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol

If you think the only white wine that comes from New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc, you’re missing out. Craggy Range produces delicious single vineyard Chardonnay on the North Island.

This wine comes from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand’s second largest winegrowing region. The grapes were mostly harvested by hand, and the wine spent five months aging in 12% new French oak barrels.

Reminiscent of Chablis, the Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay has citrus and white peach aromas. Lemon, grapefruit and tart white apricot flavors mingle with vanilla and a hint of almond, with lively acidity and chalky minerality giving the wine a bright finish. It’s the happy medium for people who can’t decide between a stainless steel or oaked Chardonnay.


Vincent Gaudry Le Tournebride Sancerre 2010
Sancerre, France
12.5% alcohol

All wines tell a story, and this French wine has a dynamic – that is, biodynamic – one. Vincent Gaudry’s wines come from the Sancerre AOC in the eastern part of the Loire region, in central France. The domaine has passed from father to son for several generations; they began farming organically in 1993. Today the domaine is not only certified organic, but it is certified biodynamic too —  Gaudry cuts wood for his barrels only on days suggested by the biodynamic calendar, and the wines are bottled according to the lunar calendar. There are no artificial yeasts or additives in the wine, and the wine is not filtered. What you drink is a true expression of the place where the wine came from.

Le Tournebride, named for a small path leading to the domaine, is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes came from 30 year old vines that grow in limestone and marl soil. The wine was fermented in tanks, then spent eight months on the lees before bottling.

The nose of Le Tournebride Sancerre is a mix of citrus and tropical fruit. Flavors of lemon, peach, pineapple and tart lychee unfold on the palate, with a hint of Marcona almond on the lingering finish. Well balanced acidity and refreshing minerality make this wine a pleasant sip.


Barbi Orvieto 2011
Umbria, Italy
12.5% alcohol

Orvieto is both the name of a region in central Italy and the wine produced there. White Orvieto can be a blend of several grapes; the Barbi Orvieto is a blend of Grechetto (40%), Procanico (30%, also known as Trebbiano), Verdello (10%), Malvasia (10%), and Vermentino (10%). These combine to make a wine that is crisp, refreshing and aromatic, with a slight touch of sweetness adding a lift at the end of each sip.

The grapes in the Barbi Orvieto were grown in vineyards that are 960 feet above sea level, in clay and sandy soil that is rich in fossils. Fermentation was stopped early to retain some residual sugar.

Melon and honeysuckle aromas introduce a palate of honeydew, green apple, yellow pear and a hint of white pepper. Vibrant acidity gives the Barbi Orvieto a lively mouthfeel and a clean finish.


Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso Blanc 2011
Paso Robles, California
14.2% alcohol

If winter weather has you feeling down, try the Côtes de Paso Blanc from Halter Ranch. Its fragrant floral aromas will make you feel like spring is already in bloom.

Rhône grapes shine in Paso Robles, the Central California region where Halter Ranch Winery is located. This wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc (33%), Roussanne (26%), Picpoul Blanc (20%), Marsanne (12%), and Viognier (9%). After fermentation in French oak barrels, the wine spent four months aging on the lees in 100% neutral French oak barrels.

Aromas of white flowers and peach expand on the palate, along with flavors of white apricot, jasmine, orange blossom and toasted hazelnut. Elegant with refreshing minerality and a satisfying finish, the Côtes de Paso Blanc is a white wine that is sure to cheer you up on a cold day.


Standing Stone Vineyards Riesling 2011
Finger Lakes, New York
11.7% alcohol

The Finger Lakes region in upstate New York is becoming the go-to spot for new and exciting Riesling. Even the president is a fan – on Monday a Finger Lakes Riesling was served at President Obama’s inaugural luncheon.

Standing Stone Vineyards is located on the east side of Seneca Lake. The grapes for the 2011 Riesling were fermented in stainless steel tanks using three different yeasts. The final wine is a blend from the lots, which brings together the most desirable characteristic of each.

This off-dry Riesling is wonderfully aromatic with notes of ripe citrus, tropical fruits and wildflower honey. On the palate are flavors of tangerine, sweet grapefruit, guava and mango. Gentle acidity balances out the sweetness, and flinty minerality makes for a clean finish.

More White Wines | Red Wines | More Under $20

Whalebone: A Great Find in Paso Robles

The highlight of my day in Paso Robles was discovering the wines of Whalebone Vineyard.

Never heard of it? Neither had I before I came across their tasting barn. But after trying their delicious red wines I’m a huge fan.

Whalebone VineyardWhen I arrived at Whalebone I met Jan Simpson who, along with her husband Bob, bought the property in 1986 to farm and raise cattle. They planted their first grapes ahead of the Paso Robles boom in 1989 and were soon selling the fruit to nearby wineries for top dollar. Starting in 1994 the Simpsons saved grapes to make their own wine. “Bob Wine,” as they affectionately called it, soon became a hit among their friends. Jan explained that they got into winemaking full time after Bob (who was also a doctor), lost a couple of fingers in a hunting accident, effectively ending his medical career. The Simpsons released their first wine under the Whalebone label in 2001. They came up with the name after finding numerous whale and marine fossils on the property.

Today, with the help of winemaker Dan Kleck, the Simpsons produce their cult favorite Bob Wine, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel.

If you like big, bold and spicy reds, you’ll want to order one (or more) of each right away. You won’t be disappointed.

Whalebone ZinfandelThe first wine Jan poured for me was the 2006 Zinfandel, their first vintage of this varietal. It’s a blend of 79% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Sirah, 7% Tempranillo and 7% Counoise. The wine is bright and zesty with flavors of cherry, vanilla and spice with dried herbs and white pepper on the finish. Well-integrated tannins give it a velvety mouthfeel. It’s a great wine for grilled steak or lamb. The 2006 Zinfandel costs $30.

Next Jan poured the 2005 and 2006 Syrah. Both are really, really good. The 2005, which I prefered slightly more, is 95% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah. Deep purple in color, the wine has lush flavors of cherry and blueberry with a hint of toasted walnuts. The 2006 is 100% Syrah and has intense flavors of blackberry, vanilla, black pepper and smoke. Both the 2005 and 2006 Syrah cost $30.

Bob WineAfter the Syrah came two vintages of Bob Wine. Tasting both I could see why these have always been such a big hit. The 2005 Bob Wine is 76% Estate Cabernet, 18% Syrah and 6% Zinfandel. Dark crimson in color, the wine has jammy flavors of blackberries and raspberries with crushed black pepper. The finish is long and fruity. The 2006 Bob Wine is 61% Estate Cabernet, 19% Petit Verdot, 13% Zinfandel and 7% Syrah. Ripe flavors of plum and raspberry are complemented with a hint of cedar and spice and rounded out by soft tannins. Both are $30 so buy one of each to compare the flavors.

The tasting concluded with a trio of Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 and 2006 vintages are 100% Estate Cabernet, while the 2005 vintage has 93% Estate Cabernet and 7% Petite Sirah. All the Cabs have delicious full-bodied flavors of ripe black cherry, blackberry, sage, cedar and clove. You can’t go wrong with any vintage, though the 2004 is slightly more elegant and refined because of its age. The 2004, 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon cost $35.

Whalebone tasting roomI enjoyed all of Whalebone’s wines so much that I joined their wine club and bought a few bottles to ship home.

Having been to many tasting rooms, I always prefer the more intimate ones where you get to meet the owners or the winemaker, or chat with friendly and knowledgeable staff. The wine seems to taste better when you’re able to interact with the people who help craft it. By the time I left Whalebone’s tasting room I felt like I was part of the Simpson family. Jan was so warm and welcoming that it was impossible not to fall in love with their wine.

If you can’t visit Whalebone, be sure to order some of their wines online at www.whalebonevineyard.com (I’m not sure if the wines are available at stores outside of California). But if you can visit, it will surely be a great experience you won’t soon forget.