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A tasting of Rhone styles from Paso Robles

Though Paso Robles is striving to be known for its Syrahs, in a blind tasting of 18 Rhone-style wines from the region at The Times last week, we were much more impressed with Paso Robles’ Rhone-style blends. On the tasting panel were Times columnists Russ Parsons and David Shaw, Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila and food editor Leslie Brenner.

The panel’s favorite was a white Rhone-style blend from Tablas Creek, which sells at the vineyard for $22.

The red blends, which included Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and sometimes Counoise, were big, rich, spicy and likeable. They ranged in price from $18 to $50 per bottle; at the higher end, we felt they were overpriced.

The panel found most of the Syrahs to be very tannic, overly alcoholic and one-dimensional, with none of the gamey interest you find in Syrahs from the northern Rhone. “Cranked to the max,” was the way one panelist put it. And they’re expensive, to boot: Although those we tasted ranged from $15 to $60, the only one we could recommend was $42, which we felt was seriously overpriced.

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Too overbearing to be food-friendly, the Syrahs are certainly too alcoholic to sip without food. “It would be a fight to the finish between these wines and a steak au poivre smothered in a rich cognac sauce,” said one panelist. We felt the blends, however, would be more enjoyable with food.

Listed below, in order of the tasting panel’s preference, are the nine Paso Robles wines we would recommend. Most have a very limited production and are sold directly through wineries (all of which have websites); several are available through the Wilmot Market (725 13th St.; [805] 227-0148) and Wine Attic (822 13th St.; [805] 227-4107), both in downtown Paso Robles.

2000 Tablas Creek Vineyard Cotes de Tablas Blanc. A blend of Viognier (36%), Marsanne (30%), Grenache Blanc (26%) and Roussane (8%). A medium-weight, well-balanced white, with a hint of apricot on the nose and a velvety texture. About $22.

2001 Summerwood Diosa. A red Rhone-style blend of Syrah (81%), Mourvedre (15%) and Grenache (4%). Intriguing ripe plum and cherry aromas, with a hint of leather. Delicious and drinkable, with some of the wildness you want from a Rhone blend; this would pair wonderfully with roast turkey. About $50.

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2002 Austin Hope Westside Red. Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre make up this deep red blend with generous roasted black fruit and blueberry aromas and prune and green peppercorn flavors. About $18.

2000 Linne Calodo LC Red. A deep, dark red blend of Syrah (37%), Grenache (33%) and Mourvedre (30%), with appealing black cherry and roasted red fruit aromas and a long, sweet finish. Would go well with roasted meats. About $45.

2002 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel. A purply red blend of Mourvedre (57%), Syrah (27%), Grenache (10%) and Counoise (6%). A simple but lively wine, with a blackberry nose and flavors of roasty fruits. Should be great with short ribs. About $35.

2002 Villa Creek Avenger. A rich blend of Syrah (40%), Grenache (30%) and Mourvedre (30%), with lush fruit and aromas of chocolate, prunes and black cherry. To one panelist, it screamed lievre a la royale (a rich hare dish with a dense wine sauce). About $24.

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2002 Austin Hope Syrah, Hope Family Vineyard. The panel’s favorite of the Syrahs, well-balanced, with a sweet, black fruit nose, lively acidity and generous fruit. About $42.

2003 Eberle Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard. Rich and viscous, if a little heavy. A pretty apricot and litchi nose, citrus and tropical fruit flavors; some complexity. About $18.

2001 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas. A garnet-colored blend of Mourvedre (38%), Syrah (34%), Grenache (24%) and Counoise (4%). Pretty red fruit aromas, cassis flavor and lighter body than most of these blends. Well-balanced, with some nice acid. Would pair well with barbecue ribs, braised pork or grilled pork chops. About $22.

-- Corie Brown

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