The square in rural downtown Paso Robles, California (pronounced “ROBE-less” by purists, “RO-bulls” by locals), is often covered with lush green grass and a sea of smiling tourists during harvest. It’s difficult to believe this sleepy, virtually unknown wine region has been producing wine for a quarter century, but when you taste the quality, you quickly realize this former cow town isn’t hokey-pokey. An extremely warm climate area with the widest swings in daily temperature on earth, Paso specializes in grapes that bask in heat: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and other French Rhône-origin grapes.
One night recently, my husband and I grilled out steaks and I grabbed this unfamiliar label, Ancient Peaks Renegade, from the “samples rack” — which we affectionately dub our wine play area. I’ve found some gems amongst the army of bottles perched in our family room over the years and when I tasted this wine for the first time, the eyebrows raised.
Ancient Peaks — which sounds like a corporate winery doesn’t it? — is owned by the Wittstrom, Filipponi, Rossi families rooted in Paso Robles. The land where the grapes grow, Margarita Vineyard, has plenty of history dating back to the Franciscan missionaries in the 1770s. (Read Immigrant Vines: The Rise and Fall of the American Wine Industry). There’s a great section on the Ancient Peaks website which talks about the soil structure of the vineyard and how the layers of different types of dirt affect the flavor of the wine.
This is the inaugural vintage of the Renegade red blend. Made from Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes, it’s got serious oomph but some class as well. Concentrated and stewed black fruits with good acid and a whiff of menthol. Not like the cigs but the Luden’s cough drops Mom used to think actually did something for you. The swath of oak doesn’t suck the life out of your tongue but bathes it in soft woodiness then melds into coffee, dusty cherry and even some chocolate. Pretty impressive for a first time effort. I really look forward to tasting more from them.
Sweetness: 1 out of 10
Occasion: A sample sent from the winery
Availability: High end retailers, on restaurant wine lists and on the Ancient Peaks website
Food pairing: Grilled beef, Beef Short Ribs, Beef Stroganoff, Barbecue-Rubbed Pork Chops