My friend and neighbor Tom Schaer is a veterinary surgeon who grew up in Switzerland and now runs a translational orthopedic research laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. With his wife Barbara, also a large-animal doctor, and their two daughters, he also operates a sheep dairy. When we were trading wine for cheese the other day, he was talking about another native Swiss, Hansjörg Wyss, who headed a medical devices company, Sytheses, and now owns a winery in California.
Bells as resonant as those on Tom’s sheep started ringing in my head. “That’s Halter Ranch,” I said. “I visited them in Paso Robles a few years ago and have several samples of their wines to try."
“Then try them with my cheese,” Tom said, and so I did — the Swiss wine and food connection, American-style.
2010 Halter Ranch Paso Robles Rosé
A Rhone-style blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre, it is a delicious melange of pastel fruit, candy flavors, and refreshing spices and bitters around the edges, with a touch of lactic or whey at the end. Passes the true rosé test: It doesn’t tire the palate.
Verdict: For people who argue whether red or white goes better with cheese — here’s the great compromise, as this rosé well matches the nutty, waxy, meaty, bleu-like flavors of Schaer’s aged hard cheese. ($14)
2008 Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso Blanc
Western Paso is so great for Rhone reds that we forget it produces distinctive whites as well — here, a very nice blend of about half roussanne and the rest grenache blanc, marsanne, and picpoul blanc. It’s full, but not heavy, with green fruitness including a light touch of lime and an undertone of chalkiness.
Verdict: If you go deep-sea fishing in the ocean — or at your local market, have a bottle of this chilled when you return. ($24)
2009 Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso Red
I stop listing ingredients when there are more than five grapes, but this blend is heavy with grenache — very granular, with cranberry and candied fruits note. I keep thinking “pectin.” Light in body, it has a firm and tannic finish.
Verdict: If some red wines are jammy, this one is very pleasurable, tart jelly. ($29).
2008 Halter Ranch Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
A big wine with lots of essence — ripe Bing cherries with edges of cranberries. Complex. Tight, but only modestly tannic, it tastes more mature than its actual age, a good thing, but, having said that, it has lots of cellar time ahead of it.
Verdict: A big, handsome, strapping wine whose high-pitched voice has already deepened. ($29)
2008 Halter Ranch Paso Robles Syrah
I absolutely love Paso syrah, and this one is a catalog of what I lust after most. It’s big and juicy, with lots of dark chocolate earthiness and lovely, ripe, dark cherries — in fact, it’s like a chocolate-and-cherry truffle without the vanilla crème. Good acidity to close up the shop, but there is a lingering flicker of flavor shining out under the door.
Verdict: Buy a case, but keep out one bottle out to drink as you’re storing the other 11 away in the cellar. ($29)
2007 Halter Ranch Paso Robles “Ancestor”
Although a good wine, this one doesn’t really move me. A bordeaux blend with a dollop of syrah — very minerally, dried fruits, conifer notes, not quite voluptuous, not quite lean — it just doesn’t hang together, even after airing. Just a matter of aging, you ask? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
Verdict: A pretty good ground runner, but this pheasant never spreads its wings and flies. ($44)
The prices of wine should never influence our opinions and descriptions of them, but prices certainly have a lot to do with whether we decide to buy them. In this Halter Ranch less than-$30 bin, there are certainly some good bargains clattering around.