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A Peek at Paso Robles Wines

Cowboys and fine wine definitely go together. In Paso Robles, the Wild West of California wine, they especially do! Here you'll find a spirited mix of ranches, outlaw lore and some killer wines for criminally good prices. And it goes without saying, Paso Robles reds pair excellently with summer barbecue feasts.

Rhymes with "lasso"

Locals call Paso Robles simply "Paso," which rhymes with "lasso." How perfect for a region that's held fast to its colorful western identity. In this area where ranches thrive aside vineyards, campfire talk could easily turn from talk of prize steers to praise for the region's latest, greatest Petite Sirah.

Pass the oaks, please

Lying along California's Central Coast, nearly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles' landscape gently melds vineyards, orchards and rolling ranch lands. Oak trees dotting the vista lend their name to the region, once called "El Paso de Robles," or, The Pass of the Oaks.

By the numbers

These days, Paso ranks as California's fastest growing wine area, and one of its most diverse and innovative, as well. Over the past 10 years, the number of wineries stampeded from just 35 to almost 170. And Paso's star-studded lineup of grape varieties numbers more than 40.

Paso bucks the climate trend

While most of California's Central Coast sports a chilly climate, Paso takes the road less traveled with summer days that edge toward branding-iron hot. Yet, heat alone does not make fine wine. Paso keeps its cool with phenomenal 40- to 50-degree overnight temperature drops throughout the main growing season -- the largest swing of any California wine region.

This hot day/cool night two-step means that Paso's grapes luxuriate on the vine for an exceptionally long time before picking. Grapes develop opulently distinctive flavors while maintaining plenty of crisp acidity.

Wines to watch

Jesse James reportedly hid out in Paso, relaxing his bones between robberies at the sulfur hot springs in town. Today, however, the good guys thrive: The Rhône Rangers.

Rhône varieties

These dynamic winemakers seized the area's potential for producing rich, satisfying wines from grapes traditionally grown in France's Rhône region -- notably, Syrah, Viognier and Roussanne. From 1994 to 2006, the number of acres planted leapt from 100 to 2,200 as wine lovers everywhere started to raise their glass and say, "fill 'er up, pardner!"

Uncommon commoners

Rhône varietals, however, are not the only cards on the table. Aficionados have adored Paso's plush, satisfying Zinfandels for years. Cabernet Sauvignon claims top spot as the most widely planted in the region, helping to slake the world's thirst for this ever-popular style. Keep your eye out for Petite Sirah as well -- Paso winemakers pride themselves on their bright and lusciously fruity takes on this grape.

Beautiful blends

Exciting Bordeaux- and Rhône-style red wine blends also corral their share of praise. Yet true to the area's outlaw heritage, winemakers gladly push boundaries -- and make names for themselves -- by blending uncommon partners, such as Syrah and Zinfandel, into head-turning bottles too.

Best of all, while quality ranks consistently high, the area remains under the radar for many consumers. That means prices haven't jumped into the ultra-premium territory claimed by regions such as Napa and Bordeaux.

Go to and get the skinny on Paso Robles wines.

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