Three unusual events here, I am featuring wines I sell, they are from a single winery and they are from California. I rarely find true value in the wines from the gold rush state. Sure, riveting wines that weave beguiling spells on my palate exist, but they are few and far between under $30. I was lucky enough to spend a few days this past week with a man who produces a strong stable of wines in that category.
Gary Eberle has been making wine nearly as long as I have been breathing. He began making wine at the family winery, Estrella River Winery, in 1973, it later became Meridian. His first vintage at his own winery was 1979. He planted the first Syrah in California in 1974, was the sixth producer of Viognier and co-founded the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area).
He lives as large as his ample frame. He flies his own plane, produces (and sells out - an impressive feat in this day and age) 25,000 cases a year, enjoys searching for the perfect Sazerac and is generous in sharing his love of wine and food. Eberle is German for 'small boar' and that explains the logo.
Paso Robles is a warm area and averages a mere 13 inches of rain a year making some level of irrigation a necessity. In a region best known for its reds, especially Syrah and Cabernet, Gary manages to make bright, clean whites. He pointed out that while we conceive of Paso Robles as being hot, especially east of 101, parts of Napa actually get hotter. That little tidbit might explain my disappointment with many Napa Chardonnays. As heat increases, the growing season shortens leading to ripe grapes without full flavor development. If left to hang to develop more complexity, acidity can be lowered to the point that whites are thick and heavy on the palate and nearly useless at the table. Paso Robles also has huge fluctuations in temperature with the nighttime lows being an average of 40 degrees cooler than daytime highs. That big swing essentially shuts down the vine at night, both lengthening the hang time for the grapes and preserving acidity.
Viognier 2008, Paso Robles - Exotic stone fruits on the nose and an unctuous entry can lead people to mistakenly assume it will be sweet. My first taste of this wine a number of vintages ago reminded me that some people producing Viognier actually know what they're doing. Too many make versions that remind me of canned fruit cocktail syrup. But Gary's is fresh and delicious. Perhaps it should be the standard bearer for California Viognier. Fermentation in stainless steel, with one third remaining there for aging, while the remainder spends time in neutral oak (4 and 5 year old barrels) with some lees stirring helps maintain that balance. Red wine drinkers often find that Viognier is a white wine they love. $20-$22.
Chardonnay 2008, Paso Robles - This is almost always the wine that makes me stand up and take notice. How he makes such a clean, balanced style from this region is completely baffling, but I wish other producers would take notes. Again stainless steel fermented, with one third remaining there, the rest is split between neutral and 25% new French oak. Pear and some green apple mingle with subtle tropical notes, but there is no banana and no buttered popcorn aroma. I love popcorn with butter, it shouldn't be served any other way, but I never want it in my glass. The acids are fresh and focused and not aggressive. I refer to this style of Chardonnay as sneaky to my restaurant clientele. They can serve it to customers that want all that big Chardonnay flavor, they will be happy, but the clean style and bright acids allow it to work with their food. A remarkable wine. $18-$20.
Syrah Rose 2007, Paso Robles - Fermentation here takes place in neutral oak and the wine is a true saignee (bleeding of the tank) that produces a lovely hue without extracting much tannin. The palate has weight and texture and the wine is dry, but does not need food to be enjoyable. It apparently makes for great drinking in the acre and a half pond that serves as a pool and provides irrigation water. Roses are among my favorite wines on the planet for their refreshing nature and their versatility with food. They also serve to provide a bit of summer in a glass even in the depths of winter dreariness. $18-$20.
Cabernet Vineyard Selection 2007, Paso Robles - Gary contracts for most of these grapes from new vineyards, especially one to three year old vines. These young vines offer bigger grapes, producing wines with big fruit and lower tannin levels. It offers remarkable Cabernet fruit but offers early drinkability. This 2007 is one of the best I have tasted from him. No surprise, as Gary raves about the vintage. "2007 is the finest vintage since 1971." $20-$22.
He also produces a noteworthy Cotes du Robles blend of Rhone varieties that screams for grilled meats and a Barbera with a nose so intriguing that it commands attention. It also sold out at a dinner last Monday night. I am not always a fan of Cal-Ital wines, but this one is worth seeking out. Cabernet fans should also be on the lookout for his Estate and Reserve, especially the 2007s, which will be released over the next year or two.
If you have not experienced any of Gary's wines, go try some. All winemakers brag about their production, but when Gary speaks about not bottling anything he's not proud of, I believe.