Paso Robles Cabernet

Stop overpaying for wine!


While assembling wines to taste for my recent look at $20 Cabernet, I was struck by a number of familiar brands from Paso Robles at or below this price point. Paso Robles is making a name for itself on the backs of the Rhone varietals, which can be better suited for some of the hotter spots in this central Californian appellation, though that's a bit of a recent development.

If I look back in my relationship with Paso, I see first and foremost Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular the Estate wines that Eberle produced in the early 1990s. They were pretty much all one could want from California Cabernet at their price. Rich ripe fruit was married to creamy spicy oak in a round, lush but not flabby style.

Of course, Zinfandel and even Barbera from Paso Robles impressed me, but the truth is that Eberle, the 1994 in particular, is one of the wines that taught me to stop over paying for wine! So how are things going with Paso Cabernet today? Let's take a look and see what the wines from seven popular producers have to say.

Photo courtesy sbisson via Flickr/cC

2009 Eberle Vineyard Selection 14.1% $17

A bit creamy on the nose, with a fine blend of red fruit, light herbal tones and leathery, vanilla streaked oak. This is rich and dense but with bright juicy acidity. The texture is very fine with integrated tannins adding support to the vanilla and cocoa accented dark berry fruit. There’s a touch of herb on the back end, then rather bright blackberry fruit on the finish. Shows a nice load of tannin that remains crisp and refreshing. This can stand some time in the cellar, and it has both the balance and the fruit to age well. 90pts

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2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles CA 14.5% $15

This comes in a big, heavy and attractive bottle suitable for gift giving! Creamy and toasty at first, with some espresso foam notes and gentle oak spice over a base of lightly minty black currant fruit. This is big and rich yet focused and tense in the mouth, with nice layered black currant and black cherry fruit framed by lightly toasty, spicy oak. The fruit stays fresh yet intense right through the moderately long finish. This is not elegant or refined, but it is very well balanced and intense with delicious fruit. 89pts

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2009 Justin 14.5% $23

Fairly complex and aromatic on the nose, with notes of red currant and pomegranate accented by cedar, cocoa and fennel seed. This is rich and seamless, with real depth on the palate. The tannins are rather muscular and a bit dry, but the fruit is there to cover them. Lots of plummy fruit accented with black berry tones and creamy vanilla crème brûlée notes adding complexity. The fennel seed returns on the back end, along with cedar oak spice. The finish is cut a bit short by the load of tannin, but this does show a nice combination of intensity, freshness of flavors and balance. 89pts

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2009 Liberty School 13.5% $15

This is interesting on the nose with its combination of very pure black currant fruit, softly doughy sweet vanilla oak tones and hints of both tropical fruit and flowers. On the palate, it shows a flash of orange oil early along with wild cherry fruit, then adds some nice, lightly nutty oak notes and turns more red currant flavored. The texture is a touch rigid and dry, which may come as a relief to folks seeking shelter from the fruit bomb style. The finish continues the dry theme, though there is some really nice aromatic cherry fruit that shows good persistence. Not fancy but restrained and nicely balanced. 87pts

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2009 J Lohr Seven Oaks 13.5% $15

This smells like sawdust, vanilla extract, licorice and roasted fruit. Rich though soft in the mouth at first, this certainly packs in body and dry extract, though it comes off as blocky and dense. The fruit is a bit on the pruny side and just seems really saturated. The finish is dry and tough, with matte saturation of flavor on the tongue. More a textural event than a tasting event, this reminds me of Play-doh. 85pts

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2009 Bridlewood 13.5% $15

This is oaky and slightly medicinal on the nose, with jammy, tarry aromas of black currants, licorice and menthol. A bit flat in the mouth, this combines cooked fruit flavors with caramel and jerky tones and a rather flat feel. There's some acid here, but not enough to prevent this from being cola flavored and loose in the mouth. Not much tannin either, though there is enough to dry out the modest finish. 75pts

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Want to Learn More?

Take a look at our recommendations for $20 Domestic Cabernet!

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  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,003

    You can find the Liberty School at World Market in California for $10-12, which makes it a great gift for friends who like wine and aren't snooty--also can take it to a dinner when you aren't sure if the wine you bring will be opened. Or, if you don't fear palate burnout, you can treat it like a daily drinker and have really solid Cab any night you like. Really a good bargain, IMO--why buy Chilean when you can have this?

    Dec 21, 2011 at 4:20 PM

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