The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2013

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Page 42 of 152

Judging a Wine by Its Calcareous Content story and photos by Randy Caparoso LIKE GOOD WINEMAKERS, GOOD SOMMELIERS UNDERSTAND THAT GREAT WINE CAN'T BE PIGEONHOLED Aaron Jackson, owner/winemaker of Aaron Wines, standing in Kiler Grove, a highly calcareous Paso Robles vineyard. I once asked Guillaume Fabre, the Frenchtrained winemaker/owner of the acclaimed Clos Solène winery in Paso Robles why he produces such gooey rich, enormously scaled wines from grapes like Roussanne, Grenache and Syrah. You would think a Frenchman would go for more restraint. "I didn't move to Paso Robles to make French wines," said Fabre. Part of a sommelier's job is to be curious about such things. That's why it may not be enough to present wines as reflections of regions or vineyards. In fact, what we perceive as typicity in a wine may not be because of its provenance. It may be a characteristic of an oak barrel or grape, found anywhere in the world. Or it may be a byproduct of something like brettanomyces, a yeast that adds earthy, leathery or animal-like flavors to wines, no matter where they come from. That's just level one. Level two for a sommelier is being savvy enough to know that while regional typicity exists, wine is more complicated than that. The best wines are often that way because they can't be pigeonholed. We learn this early on when we study, say, Burgundy's Côte d'Or or Germany's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer—so many tiny growths and artisanal producers, amazingly attuned to terroir—but we often forget that this phenomenon also occurs everywhere fine wines are grown. Take Paso Robles, which is generally thought of as having a "hot climate," producing ultraripe styles of wine in similar fashion to other sun-drenched regions, like Priorat, LanguedocRoussillon or South Australia. The fact is, Paso is really no hotter than Napa Valley's Rutherford and St. Helena AVAs, or Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Painting any region, be it Rutherford or Paso Robles, as "hot" only invites erroneous assumptions, which is why smart sommeliers don't couch wines in those terms. There's also that quaint European concept called soil, which is not just about dirt and rocks, but also about depth, parent material, water table, fog line, gradient, exposure, prevalent air mass, wind velocity, proximity to water, organisms, wild life, altitude, latitude and almost endless other factors. Soil is also why winemakers such as Turley Wine Cellars' Tegan Passalacqua—who farms in California's North Coast, Central Coast as well Solène and Guillaume Fabre, owner/winemakers of Clos Solène in Paso Robles. as the Delta and Sierra Foothills—thinks of Paso Robles as a source of "wines with the highest acid," contradicting the assumption that "hot" regions produce low-acid wines. A lot of this has to do with wind, slopes and diurnal swings, but also the incidence of higher than usual calcareous content in Paso Robles sites. Says Aaron Jackson, winemaker/owner of Aaron Wines, "Calcareous soils are higher in pH and give lower pH wines. That's why we have to hang our fruit a little longer, and sometimes end up with higher alcohols than what we may want in a wine. We actually have to wait for acids to drop in order to make wines that are drinkable—but at least we get great acid balance." This explains Clos Solène and many other humongous, yet beautifully proportioned, wines coming out of Paso Robles today. A sophisticated sommelier doesn't need to understand the nuances of each and every one of the world's wine regions. But it is a great sommelier who never leads you on with assumptions—and who can judge a wine for what it is, not what it's supposed to be. 42  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2013 TP1013_034-65.indd 42 9/23/13 10:33 PM

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