Say the words “Paso Robles” and “wine,” and most people immediately think of zinfandel and Rhônes — reputations that are richly deserved. However, 55 percent of the vineyards planted in Paso’s American Viticulture Area are red Bordeaux varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec.
Enter the Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective, a nonprofit group formed in 2012 that’s “focused purely on promoting these varietals,” said Michael Mooney of Chateau Margene.
“We just feel that these wines are underrepresented,” he said. “Locally, they’ve always had a good following, but we’re not getting the looks we should be getting from outside the area.”
Currently with almost 30 members, the PRCC is actively reaching out to those other markets, but locally its big bash is “CABs of Distinction” from April 22-26. (For more information, go to http://www.pasoroblescab.com.)
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This wide-ranging event will take place in various locations within the AVA and will offer experiences tailored for media, trade and consumers. The key event for the public is the Grand Tasting Gala on April 26, which will feature premium PRCC member wines paired with artisanal charcuterie and cheeses, as well as food from several local restaurants and caterers.
“We just want people to come taste our terroir,” said Mooney. “All cabernet doesn’t have to taste like Napa cab. We’ve got over 600,000 acres of diversity (in the AVA) and we think this is one of the best places in the world to grow these grapes.”
Climate is one of the key factors in distinguishing that terroir. In the summertime, Paso’s daytime temperature often exceeds 100 degrees, but that’s tempered by nighttime temperatures in the 50s or 60s. That big swing (known as a diurnal temperature variation) all but assures the development of both acids and ripeness in the grapes, a dependable double whammy that most wine-growing regions can only wistfully dream of.
As a result, Paso’s Bordeaux wines are known for their versatile combination of dark fruit, bright acidity and elegant tannins. That balance means that most are certainly drinkable upon release, but many premium bottlings will also continue to significantly improve with aging if you have the patience to wait.
Most people think of a big juicy steak as the perfect pairing with these wines, but several PRCC representatives noted that they prefer other matchups.
“I’m not in the steak camp,” said Houston Smith, business manager at Le Cuvier Winery. “I’d go for boar or pork, especially a lean, pit-roasted wild boar. Kind of like a Hawaiian luau, but without the pineapple.”
Scott Shirley, winemaker at Justin Vineyards, picked his wife’s barbecued ribs — they’re dry rubbed Memphis-style before spending all day on the grill.
“Cabernet with herb-crusted lamb,” said Cecily Parrish-Ray, general manager of Parrish Family Vineyards. “You really can’t go wrong with that it’s a great marriage.”
“Cabernet is better than most wines to accompany cheese,” said Zina Miakinkova-Engel, the “Cheese Lady” of Peacock Cheese, the parent company of Le Vigne Winery. “The cheese’s lactic acids bond with the wine’s tannins and make it even more approachable.”
Some of the best cheeses to go with cab are a Piave Vecchio (an Italian cow’s milk cheese that she called “the magic bullet of cheeses”) and even a mild blue cheese.
For charcuterie pairings, go with Serrano ham, a fennel-flavored salumi (such as the locally made Finocchiona from Alle-Pia), or bresaola (a salt-cured beef).
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at email@example.com.