For the most part, familiar white wines such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc come from the cooler climates to the north and south of Paso Robles. But lesser-known grapes are starting to make a name for themselves among red-wine country. Look for these varietals around the region’s tasting rooms.
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A Spanish grape that does well in both warm and cool climates, albariño sports citrus flavors and subtle saltiness. While some of the albariño you’ll find in Paso Robles is made with grapes from around San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley, Paso hosts some vines, too, as well as a festival dedicated to the varietal. Try bottlings from Brecon Estate, Derby Wine Estates, Broken Earth Winery and Bodega de Edgar.
Grown in Spain and France’s Rhône valley, this cousin of the more common grenache noir offers a rich mouthfeel and a range of intense flavor. Tablas Creek Vineyard was the first to debut the heat-loving varietal, and California plantings of the varietal have grown two-fold over the past decade. Try Tablas Creek’s version alone or in blends; look to Ranchero Cellars, Adelaida Cellars and Halter Ranch Vineyard for other good offerings.
Roussanne and marsanne
These two Rhône grapes are often blended together, but worth trying on their own where available. A notoriously difficult grape to grow with only 200 acres in the whole state, roussanne also offers the best ageability among white wines, aside from old-world-style chardonnay; its texture and mouthfeel are more akin to red wine and often appeal to red-wine drinkers. Try Lone Madrone’s roussanne, Niner Wine Estates’ marsanne and blends from Cass Winery and ONX Wines.
Another Southern Rhône varietal, viognier is often blended with other wines — even reds such as syrah, with which it’s often co-fermented. Though viognier sometimes gets too ripe in Paso’s warm climate, the best bottlings showcase floral, tropical aromatics with honeysuckle and peach flavors. Check out Ranchero Cellars, Eberle Winery and Thacher Winery and Vineyard; Thacher also makes a sparkling version.
Other uncommon white grapes have cropped up around Paso Robles in even smaller quantities. While often used mostly in blending, you may occasionally find other French grapes, such as the lip-smacking picpoul blanc or chenin blanc, Portuguese verdelho, Italian falanghina and vermentino.