California’s fastest-growing wine region might surprise you. Located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with more than 200 wineries, most of which are family-owned, it’s Paso Robles.
Here you’ll find a community of cowboys, surfers, and trailblazing winemakers (or, oftentimes, a combination of all three), an unpretentious attitude, and a unique terroir (it has a temperature swing from day to night unseen in other parts of the state and a long growing season) that plays a hand in creating some truly dynamic wines. And while there are over 40 varietals of grapes grown in the region, including Syrah, Viognier, and Grenache, one reigns supreme: Zinfandel.
I’d heard that Zinfandel has had a long history in the region, though in recent years innovative winemakers have reinvented the versatile red wine, but wanted to learn more about what that meant. However, as a Cicerone and certified beer judge, I’m much more knowledgeable about the world of hops than the world of grapes and needed a little bit of hand-holding. Enter The Zinfandel Trail. The website made it easy to find wineries whose mission was the same as mine: Celebrating quality zinfandels. Read on for my stops along the way.
There is no shortage of vines at Opolo Vineyard. You’ll see them the moment you turn onto the property — they’ll line the drive up to the restaurant and tasting room. But that’s far from all of them. They extend back throughout the vineyard’s rolling hills, encompassing nearly 300 acres.
Though if you’re only focusing on what has been bottled, a good place to start is the Opolo Experience, a tasting of five wines in the tasting room. And if you’re not in a hurry, stick around afterward for a full glass and a woodfired pizza on their patio. Their 2019 Mountain Zinfandel is particularly pleasing, with tart red fruits and smoky flavors on the tongue, and earthy aromas.
Turley Wine Cellars
What you see in Turley Wine Cellars’ Paso Robles estate isn’t what you get — or at least, it’s not all of what you get. Turley Wine Cellars makes a staggering 47 wines from more than 50 vineyards, though the majority as single-vineyard Zinfandels. All of their vineyards are certified organic (or are in the process of earning that designation). Some of the vines date back to the late 1900s.
Ask for the Ueberroth Vineyard Zinfandel, a bold, dark, and stone fruit-forward beverage. The grapes are grown in one of their oldest hilltop vineyards and benefit from the Pacific Ocean air.
Glunz Family Winery
Located on 20 rolling acres, roughly half of the brand’s grapes are Zinfandels. At any given time they have four versions on offer, though my favorites included: the 2018 Paper Street Vineyard, with its berry, clove, and cinnamon flavor profile; the 2019 Bunzer’s Blend, with black cherry and vanilla notes; and the 2018 Zinfandel Dante Dusi Vineyard, which layers cherry and raspberry with cinnamon and spice. I’m not the only one who thinks they’re great — Wine Enthusiast ranked each at 90 points or above.
There are no bad seats at J Dusi. From the tasting room, you can gaze out the picture windows and watch the Zinfandel vines disappear over a rolling hill. Or you can grab a spot on the shaded patio for equally stunning views of the grapes, some of which were planted as long ago as 1945.
Zinfindel was the first varietal planted on the property and remains their mainstay today, so you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to indulge in one. We particularly enjoyed the flagship 2019 Dante Dusi Zinfandel, with easily recognizable berry, chocolate, plum, and pomegranate notes, as well as the juicy and spicy 2017 Paper Street Zinfandel.
At Peachy Canyon, wine flights are served in tiny mason jars on picnic tables before a 135-year-old schoolhouse-turned-tasting room. While there are myriad options for potent potables, it’s their flagship Estate Zinfandels that put Peachy Canyon on the map (many have been ranked with 90-point or higher scores) as they run the flavor gamut.
Try Nancy’s View, named for the winemaker’s mother — it has lovely notes of blueberry, cocoa, and grilled pineapple. Alternatively, opt for the D Block Zinfandel, crafted from 18 prized Zinfandel clones, that come together to give the wine a subtly spicy flavor profile.
Epoch Estate Wines
Epoch’s vineyard might be the most atmospheric in all of Paso Robles. In recent years, the owners have reconfigured an 1898 farmhouse and saved the historic York Mountain Winery from being condemned, creating a one-of-a-kind space to enjoy a glass or two.
Many of their wines have received accolades, but it was the Zinfandel we were here for and they delivered. Go for the complex and wondrous 2017 Zinfandel, complete with layered notes of lavender, blackberries, mandarin orange, vanilla, clove, and more.
The Zinfandel Trail made it easy to build an itinerary around vineyards that provided a stellar experience. I left knowing more about terroir, tannins, and traditions and am excited to hit the Trail again someday soon.