San Luis Obispo is almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s close to the ocean and near another Central Coast region, Paso Robles. I recently sat down and tasted through a diverse package of wines that hail from there, and in addition to the excellent quality, what really stood out was the diversity. Not only are they making some terrific wines in San Luis Obispo, they’re also utilizing varietals that you don’t see very much of in California that fit in perfectly alongside excellent bottles of California’s usual suspects.
Zocker 2013 Grüner Veltliner — Suggested Retail Price $20
The vineyard this fruit was sourced from was first planted in 1973, and the acid-rich fruit of that labor is the flagship varietal of Austria. Fleshy, yellow melon aromas lead the nose. The palate shows off Granny Smith apple, pineapple, and lemon curd. Hints of linseed oil and wet limestone appear on the finish. Firm, racy acidity makes this a wonderful food wine, which will pair with an unbelievable array of different items.
Stephen Ross 2012 Jesperson Ranch Vineyard Albariño — Suggested Retail Price $22
This represents just the fourth year this vineyard produced fruit and the winery’s third release. It was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak. This manifestation of Albariño opens with an expressive nose that is full of citrus, vanilla, and a gentle bit of linseed oil. Anjou pear, grapefruit, and green apple are part of the full, round palate. A touch of fennel seed is present as well. Crème fraîche, lemon ice, and limestone elements appear on the finish. This mouthwatering wine is loaded with bracing acidity and fruit to spare. It’s delicious on its own, but a no-brainer with lighter foods.
Sinor-LaVallee 2012 Syrah — Suggested Retail Price $28
This winery is a small family operation run by Mike & Cheri Sinor. The fruit comes from a vineyard that sits just over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. Black currant, plum, and blueberry aromas waft with conviction from the nose. The substantial and full-bodied palate is studded with dried black and fresh fruit flavors as well as ample amounts of spice. Cherry, blackberry, earth, and black pepper all emerge on the memorably lengthy finish along with hints of chocolate sauce and minerals. This is a juicy and mouth-watering wine that begs you back to the glass for one sip after another.
Center of Effort 2011 Chardonnay — Suggested Retail Price $30
This wine stands as the fourth vintage for the winery. 100-percent of it underwent malolactic fermentation. Aging took place in a combination of new and seasoned French oak, concrete, and Acacia barrels. A gentle hint of toast and vanilla underpin a gorgeous mixture of orchard fruit aromas. Continued apple and pear characteristics light up the full bodied palate along with a host of tropical fruits. The long and somewhat lusty finish features bright Meyer lemon, continued vanilla bean, and a touch of fresh crushed ginger. This is an engaging and exceptional example of chardonnay loaded with a refreshing crispness. It’s delicious now but will age gracefully over the next 8 to 10 years.
Tolosa 2012 Estate Pinot Noir — Suggested Retail Price $32
All of the fruit for this wine came from their home vineyards located within the Edna Valley AVA. Four different clones of pinot noir made it into this wine. Barrel aging took place over 11 months in French oak; 33 percent of the barrels were new. This pinot has a gorgeous black cherry hue. Mushroom, rhubarb, sage, and bits of thyme all emerge from the nose. Red apple, strawberry, and wisps of cinnamon all appear on the palate. Sour black cherry, minerals, and a touch of earth are part of the extremely long finish. Firm acid and medium tannins, which yield with some air, mark the structure. This is a very fresh and appealing example of pinot noir.
Talley 2012 Estate Pinot Noir — Suggested Retail Price $36
The man behind this label, Brian Talley, is a third-generation farmer. Talley farms sustainably and all of the fruit comes from their own vineyard. Barrel aging took place over 18 months in French oak; 30 percent of them were new. Bay leaf, wild strawberry, and red cherry aromas inform the inviting nose. Hints of gala apple underscore a potpourri of red cherry flavors, which are accompanied by spices galore on the gentle and deeply layered palate. Cocoa, earth, and a light bit of cola are all in evidence on the prodigiously long finish which also features continuing spice, fruit, and bits of mineral. All of these elements keep reverberating on the back of the throat as you down sip after glorious sip. This is an outstanding expression of pinot noir. It’s a bit tight out of the bottle, so if you’re drinking it now, decant it for an hour or so for best results. Otherwise lay it down for five years and enjoy it in the three or four after that. Either way, your taste buds will thank you.
Tasting though a diverse array of wines such as this really excites me. It’s great to see a region making terrific site-specific wines at reasonable prices. Just as inspiring is the work with varietals such as Grüner Veltliner and Albariño, which thrive in other countries but have yet to make the same mark in the U.S. Even a really good Syrah is worth celebrating, as I don’t believe it has done nearly as well commercially in California as it should have. Of course there are myriad examples of fine pinot noir and chardonnay to be had throughout the state. However, these are excellent examples that show terrific varietal typicity and a strong sense of place; you just can’t have too many of those. Each of these wines is worth drinking and well worth your wine dollars. Most of them are relatively small production releases, so grab them while they last!