We were happy to host Wine Enthusiast Senior Editor and Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski at JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery last Thursday. Joe was in town for the landmark Hospice de Rhone event and he confessed to us that this was his first time to Paso Robles. Not that he had deliberately shunned us, but in his duties covering the wines of Australia, New Zealand, the Rhone and Germany for the Wine Enthusiast, Joe has just not been able to make it out here and see what the buzz is all about.
It did not hurt that we were enjoying a beautiful Central Coast California Spring day when he arrived (straight off the plane from blustery New York, I might add), but Joe was wowed by the now green rolling hills on the drive out to the winery.
After a walk around through our Tasting Room, Restaurant and the JUST Inn, Joe went on a tour of the vineyard with Paul Kaselionis, our Vineyard Manager. Joe was very interested to find out more about the soils and regional growing characteristics of Paso Robles, so his time in our vineyards with Paul was welcomed and Joe had plenty of questions. Paul is meticulous with his treatment of our vines, tending to think less about whole vineyards and blocks and more about individual vines so it was a good opportunity to better understand our vineyards with the eight or more different soil types on the property and difference that elevation can make even within a block of vines. Paul is a tireless proponent of more natural farming techniques incorporating elements of Biodynamic, Organic and Sustainable farming, and he explained to Joe how we were able to eliminate the use of chemical weed control in our vineyard through careful planning, mechanical weeding, and dry farming.
When we arrived up the hill from the Tasting Room at the production side of the estate, Fred Holloway, our Winemaker, took Joe through the winemaking facility explaining our high quality, detail oriented winemaking style. Fred explained that many of the winemaking techniques that we use here at JUSTIN are derived from Justin’s love for the first growth Bordeaux estates; multiple passes when picking, extensive sorting of the grapes by the berry, careful and slow skin contact in the tank as well as use of the best French Oak barrels in the cellar, are all standard practices at many of the best producers in Bordeaux and highlight what Fred likes to call the “blood, sweat, and tears” that form the foundation for quality wines like ISOSCELES, JUSTIFICATION, Reserve Cabernet and our other wines.
I took Joe on a walk-through of our caves, highlighting our ISOSCELES Library, 120 feet underground where we store our reference collection of ISOSCELES from past vintages before we began our tasting in our Evaluation Room where we do our blending trials.
For the tasting, we picked out three flights to show Joe the range of our wines:
We started with our 2008 JUSTIFICATION and Reserve Cabernet. Fred explained the philosophy of each wine with JUSTIFICATION showing an elegant Cabernet Franc based wine in the style of Pomerol or St. Emilion. I pointed out that our estate Cabernet Franc has some great Cab Franc tobacco and herby varietal characteristics that help make this wine a complex, more elegant, but substantial red wine that pairs well with pork, veal and game birds with complex sauces. The second wine in this flight was our Reserve Cabernet, which is fundamentally the other end of the range of the Bordeaux-styled wines, more appropriately the California style. Big, bold fruit forward, with a firm tannin structure that steals the show every time.
The next flight was appropriately Syrah themed in honor of the Hospice du Rhone. We started with our 2008 SAVANT, a wine that steals a bit of the Aussie Shiraz/Cab style, with some great depth of spice and fruit, but with a more restrained, Bordeaux-like structure that makes it a great pairing wine with food like game meats; think wild boar or venison with mustard-cream sauce or peppercorn-wine reduction. The other wine in this flight was the 2008 FOCUS, our bold, spicy tribute to the new world style of Syrah here in Paso with 96% barrel fermented Syrah with 4% Grenache.
Flight three was a real treat; a four vintage vertical of ISOSCELES (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008) with commentary by Fred, the person who made the wines! All of the wines are drinking well with the two oldest vintages showing some wonderful notes of forest floor, licorice and other spices. Fred explained that the 05 was a wine that was all about mouth-feel and richness with some exceptional aging potential, while the 06 is a very elegant, balanced and showy wine that shows the grace that ISOSCELES can show. 2007 stands out on its own. This is a wine that rewards cellaring and is only just starting to open up in the glass. Rich and complex with beautiful cinnamon/chocolate-like spice highlights that Joe described as being similar to Mexican Chocolate. The 2008 was the pup of the group, but considering its youth, it is already showing beautifully with nice black fruit and spice apparent.
Unfortunately time passed all too quickly, and with Joe eager to check out the highly recommended Paso dining scene, we said our goodbyes on the stairs of the ISOSCELES center. Joe’s parting comment was that he was sorry he waited so long to visit Paso Robles and if his first few hours were any indication of what was to come in the next few days, he would definitely be back here for next year’s Hospice du Rhone! See you then Joe!
Drink wines you like, but understand why you like them!