The highlight of my day in Paso Robles was discovering the wines of Whalebone Vineyard.
Never heard of it? Neither had I before I came across their tasting barn. But after trying their delicious red wines I’m a huge fan.
When I arrived at Whalebone I met Jan Simpson who, along with her husband Bob, bought the property in 1986 to farm and raise cattle. They planted their first grapes ahead of the Paso Robles boom in 1989 and were soon selling the fruit to nearby wineries for top dollar. Starting in 1994 the Simpsons saved grapes to make their own wine. “Bob Wine,” as they affectionately called it, soon became a hit among their friends. Jan explained that they got into winemaking full time after Bob (who was also a doctor), lost a couple of fingers in a hunting accident, effectively ending his medical career. The Simpsons released their first wine under the Whalebone label in 2001. They came up with the name after finding numerous whale and marine fossils on the property.
Today, with the help of winemaker Dan Kleck, the Simpsons produce their cult favorite Bob Wine, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel.
If you like big, bold and spicy reds, you’ll want to order one (or more) of each right away. You won’t be disappointed.
The first wine Jan poured for me was the 2006 Zinfandel, their first vintage of this varietal. It’s a blend of 79% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Sirah, 7% Tempranillo and 7% Counoise. The wine is bright and zesty with flavors of cherry, vanilla and spice with dried herbs and white pepper on the finish. Well-integrated tannins give it a velvety mouthfeel. It’s a great wine for grilled steak or lamb. The 2006 Zinfandel costs $30.
Next Jan poured the 2005 and 2006 Syrah. Both are really, really good. The 2005, which I prefered slightly more, is 95% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah. Deep purple in color, the wine has lush flavors of cherry and blueberry with a hint of toasted walnuts. The 2006 is 100% Syrah and has intense flavors of blackberry, vanilla, black pepper and smoke. Both the 2005 and 2006 Syrah cost $30.
After the Syrah came two vintages of Bob Wine. Tasting both I could see why these have always been such a big hit. The 2005 Bob Wine is 76% Estate Cabernet, 18% Syrah and 6% Zinfandel. Dark crimson in color, the wine has jammy flavors of blackberries and raspberries with crushed black pepper. The finish is long and fruity. The 2006 Bob Wine is 61% Estate Cabernet, 19% Petit Verdot, 13% Zinfandel and 7% Syrah. Ripe flavors of plum and raspberry are complemented with a hint of cedar and spice and rounded out by soft tannins. Both are $30 so buy one of each to compare the flavors.
The tasting concluded with a trio of Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 and 2006 vintages are 100% Estate Cabernet, while the 2005 vintage has 93% Estate Cabernet and 7% Petite Sirah. All the Cabs have delicious full-bodied flavors of ripe black cherry, blackberry, sage, cedar and clove. You can’t go wrong with any vintage, though the 2004 is slightly more elegant and refined because of its age. The 2004, 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon cost $35.
Having been to many tasting rooms, I always prefer the more intimate ones where you get to meet the owners or the winemaker, or chat with friendly and knowledgeable staff. The wine seems to taste better when you’re able to interact with the people who help craft it. By the time I left Whalebone’s tasting room I felt like I was part of the Simpson family. Jan was so warm and welcoming that it was impossible not to fall in love with their wine.
If you can’t visit Whalebone, be sure to order some of their wines online at www.whalebonevineyard.com (I’m not sure if the wines are available at stores outside of California). But if you can visit, it will surely be a great experience you won’t soon forget.