The Tasting Panel: The Romance of Paso Robles
Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein Puts the Spotlight on the Region’s Cabernets at a Wine Dinner in Chicago
Story by Meridith May and Ruth Tobias
Photos by Rebecca Peplinski
The Tasting Panel, January/February 2020
“Paso Robles is near and dear to my heart,” Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein recently declared to a group of wine professionals who attended his sold-out Full Circle Beverage Conference in Chicago last September. “I’ve been following California’s wine industry for decades and the prominence of the state’s most noteworthy grape: Cabernet Sauvignon. But it’s Paso Robles that has made among the most impressive advancements in style, technique, and character for Cab and red Bordeaux varieties. Thanks to an intricate tapestry of some 40 terroir formations, including its iconic high-pH calcareous soil and great swings of day-to-night temperatures, this unique region—California’s largest geographic appellation—continues to build on its world-class quality.”
“J. Lohr is a comfort label in the best sense of the word,” said Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon of this pioneering Paso brand—a compliment that surely comforted red wine- maker Brenden Wood as he kept one eye on the pre-harvest conditions back home. “I was just looking at my weather app: It was 100 degrees today, and it’ll be 55 tonight,” he told the group. “That extreme diurnal fluctuation contributes to the ripeness [as well as] the freshness and acidity in our wines.”
Though the 2019 growing season had been a fine one in the region, Wood’s watchfulness made sense given the tricky vintages of the two expressions that he and Sales Manager Doug Burch were on hand to present. With respect to the Hilltop Cabernet, Wood admitted, “2017 was a nail-biter”; due to an extreme heat wave in August, “We thought that the fruit wouldn’t hold up.” As for 2015, he explained, an unusually cool spring meant that “a lot of flowering shattered. But Merlot was not affected as much, and the low yields were a blessing” —especially for J. Lohr’s Right Bank–inspired blend Pom.
J. Lohr 2017 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon Exudes a combination of freshness and brilliant acidity, with a blueberry-pie ripeness that shines as earth and espresso form the palate’s base. Grown at an elevation of 2,000 feet on calcareous soil, it’s a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot with a splash of Malbec. —M.M.
J. Lohr 2015 Cuvée Pom A tribute to the Grand Cru wines of Pomerol on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, this Merlot- dominant red (90%) includes some Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Concentrated, savory, and broad, with aromas and flavors of black plum, it features chalky tannins that go from dry to satiny as the wine opens up with an earthy charm. Triffon commented, “I love its gentle ripeness and long, smooth mouthfeel.” —M.M.