Category Archives: Barrel 27 Winery

Wine and the Millennials


Jug wine, including those that come in a box, is officially on the endangered list, thanks, in no small part, to young adults, surrounding thirty, affectionately known as “Millennials,” the offspring of maturing Baby Boomers.

pic_vyd_pisoni2A recent study by Rob McMillan, from Silicon Valley Bank wine division, predicts the unthinkable, the first decline in wine consumption per capita in 20 years, attributed, in part, to a steady decline in sales of high-volume, budget table wine.  Correspondingly, the industry has enjoyed an increase of sales in the $10-25 market and they recognize the trend toward high-end, boutique wines as they prepare to ride the wave of the Millennials, 80 million strong, for the next 30 years.

On a weekly basis I am reading of acquisitions of smaller, high-end wineries by larger corporations.  Beringer Wine Estate recently purchased the esteemed Gary Farrell Winery, a fine pinot noir producer in the Russian River Valley, E&J Gallo, our nation’s largest producer, now owns multiple boutique wineries in the Healdsburg



area, a trend expanding throughout California.

Likewise, Heineken International is now a 50% partner with the Petaluma-based Laguinitas Brewing Co., among the fastest growing boutique breweries, valued a $1 billion.

The larger corporations are not interested in inquiring new vineyards, they are investing in the high-end future, one that will be dictated by the “Millennials” discerning palates and thirst for nice things.  Technology is also connecting this new generation to European wines, with apps providing unprecedented access to research on new vintages.

So, for those “Millennials” or anyone from twenty-one to ninety, let me offer some recommendations for quality wines of character, $20 or less, that could be fine additions to any cellar. Although I list some wines by their current vintage, they are consistently good, year to year.  Prices do vary and the one listed is the lowest that I could find.

2014 Bonny Doon “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache ($20)

As a long-standing member of Bonny Doon’s Distinguished Esoteric Wine Network, I am familiar with and often recommend this wine as a great value.  It has been described by winemaker/founder Randall Grahm as “The wine

Bonny Doon "Clos de Gilroy" Grenache

Bonny Doon “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache

formerly know as Clos De Gilroy” because it now sources grapes from Monterey County and the Sacramento Delta, adding some syrah and mourvedre for extra flavor and structure.  It expresses “jammy” fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry combined with white pepper and herbs. Prepare yourself for a screw top bottle, a change that Grahm made for all his wines years ago, claiming more reliability in maintaining freshness.

Those preferring white wines will also enjoy the 2014 Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Rieslings” ($13), both sweet and tart with a nicely balanced acidity and a

Bonny Doon "The Heart Has Its Riesling"

Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Riesling”

very fun label.

2014 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel ($20)

There are some good choices among value-priced zinfandel, none better than Seghesio’s Sonoma County Zinfandel.  Most of their releases fall into the $35-50 price range, but this wine, from vineyards in Sonoma’a warmest regions, is no stranger to critical acclaim. Be prepared for a food-friendly “fruit bomb” with rich, blueberry flavors, 14.8% alcohol and a nice hint of black pepper.

I recently enjoyed a glass of the 2013 vintage with grilled salmon and found the soft, perfumed bouquet with

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

young, but luscious flavors a suitable pair. Fairly accessible, I have seen other vintages of this wine at local outlets, wine wholesalers and online.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier ($13)

Yalumba Y Series Viognier ($13)

Yalumba, south Australia’s oldest family winery, produces a plethora of red and white wines that are all good values, none better than the Y Series Shiraz-Viognier with very interesting aromas, ripe, velvety cherries and the signature Aussie touch of adding a bit of viognier for taste.  The Y Series Viognier has significant citrus on the nose and palate with a soft, rich texture from

2014 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier

2014 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier

aging “sur lie.”

Once familiar with the Yalumba label, I have seen it in local wine outlets and high end markets.

2013 Columbia Crest “H3” Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($12-15)

Washington State’s Columbia Crest has been producing high quality, mid-priced wines for decades and their “H3” Series highlights the vineyards within the Horse Heaven Hills appellation in eastern Washington.  I have not tried this wine as yet, but it has been rated as a “Best Buy” with ratings in the 90s by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. With full malolactic fermentation, the reviews speak of rich, layered flavors with a bit of cocoa on the finish

Columbia Crest "H3" Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Crest “H3” Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Crest wines are readily accessible at many local wine outlets, markets and membership stores.  However, their “H3” Series wines, especially one with these reviews, may require some research online.

2013 Hahn Estates Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($20-25)

The Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in Monterey County has become the source of much of the state’e finest pinot noir in this decade. Producers of fine pinot noir from Sonoma to Santa Barbara County are securing grapes from the “Highlands” for their consistent quality and reputation.  Hahn Winery has had a presence in the California wine industry for several years and their 2013 Hahn Estates Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir has received high accolades from all the major

Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir

Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir

reviewers, describing its floral nose, highly dense, layered flavors and a strong finish, all qualities of a nice pinot noir.

The “perfect storm” of this quality/price ratio has rendered this wine a bit rare, but I did find stock at K&L wines.

2014 Ponzi “Tavola” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Ponzi Winery is a staple among Oregon’s Willamette Valley, focusing primarily on

2012 Ponzi "Tavola" Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

2012 Ponzi “Tavola” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

pinot noir and chardonnay.  Their premium pinot noir, vintage to vintage, earns high praises and commands  a lofty price tag.  However, the 2014 Ponzi “Tavola”  Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($20), their introduction to the “heartbreak” varietal, has the attention of many wine critics, named by many periodicals as one of the best values-priced pinots with grapes sourced from 11 different sustainable vineyards.  For a young wine, it is very aromatic and expresses pleasantly rich flavors.

I have seen this wine online at multiple prices.  The best price was at K&L Wines, that also has outlets in Hollywood and San Francisco.

Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Syrah ($20-25)

Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” White Rhone Blend ($14-18)

For good wines within the $20 or less level, I always recommend a range of varietals from Barrel 27 Winery in Paso Robles.  A highly rated vintage of their “High On The Hog” classic Rhone blend of grenache, viognier,

Barrel 27 "Right Hand Man" Central Coast Syrah

Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Central Coast Syrah

roussanne and marsanne first led me to Barrel 27.  Vintage to vintage, this wine has always delivered rich, creamy texture and flavors with a nice minerality on the finish.

All of Barrel 27 red wines are good values, but the “Right Hand Man” Syrah, sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles, the Arroyo Grande Valley and Santa Ynez Valley, is typically balanced with significant aromas and accessible soft, rich flavors.  These wines are both available in wine outlets and online, but the best place to acquire  them is their Paso Robles tasting room.

A very deserving quick mention Lincourt Winery in Santa Ynez Valley and Buehler Winery in Sonoma/Napa Counties as resources for consistently good value releases and the readily available Greg Norman Cabernet-Merlot ($15) is always a good option.

So all current, parents or grandparents of Millennials, start building your cellar of “good value” wines that maintain the high standards we all deserve.  Be aware, this may lead to bigger and better things.


The Value of “Barrel 27”

On our way to attend an event called, “Wine, Women and Song” at the quaint Hotel Cheval in downtown Paso Robles, we received a text that our friends, Rosemary and David, were going to be in town for the last few nights of their month-long “No Reservation Road Trip.”  This two night get-a-way just got busier.

As friends, our serious interest in wine began in the mid-eighties.  Discovering new eating establishments and wines is what we are about when our paths cross in Paso.  During lunch, I explained my plans to visit Barrel 27, a new winery that recently has received recognition for producing good value-priced Rhone-style blends. With everyone game after lunch, we headed east from town to hopefully, discover some new releases.

Reviews from two major periodicals led me to the Barrel 27 ’08 “High On The Hog” White blend ($15) with ratings well into the nineties, medium-dry with layers of flavor.  Aside from comparing “Hog” vintages ’08 and ’09, the plan was to taste their entire palate of single-varietal and blended wines.

Barrel 27 Winery is located approximately one mile east of Highway 101, in the old industrial condo building that once housed Garretson Winery.  It’s visible from Highway 46, but only accessible from Golden Hill and Union Roads   Winemakers and friends, McPrice Myers and Russell From, drawn together by fate, are very upfront about their mission to respect the fact that hard working people should be able to drink high quality wine and still pay for the mortgage, car, kids and pets.  With two whites, five reds and a moscato dessert wine, we set about to make our own judgments.

From 100% Santa Barbara County vineyards, their second release of “Sittin’ Pretty” Viognier 2010 ($18) delivered a nice blend of tropical and orchard fruits, but the rich, dense texture embodied the softer flavors of honey and melon. Although its price is average, this wine surpasses the standard in bouquet and taste.

I was not surprised that the 2009 “High On The Hog” White ($16), primarily Grenache Blanc and Viognier, stood up to its predecessor in overall quality.  Strong floral hints on the nose led to complex orchard fruit, honey and softened mineral flavors through a nice finish.  This is a great food wine.

Only their second vintage, Barrel 27’s single-varietal release of Grenache, a grape that, when done properly, can push the fruit forward without becoming overpowering.  Exhibiting a beautiful deep, ruby color, the 2008 ‘Rock and a Hard Place”  Grenache” ($18) was superbly balanced and full-bodied, delivering jammy fruit and spice on the palate.  The wine was rated in the high eighties by Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.

The winery’s signature release, sourced from Santa Barbara County vineyards exclusively, is poised to deliver the highest quality at value price of any Syrah in California. Consumer interest in Syrah from our central coast has driven starting costs above $30 per bottle.  The 2007 “Right Hand Man” Syrah ($18) is bold, both in bouquet and taste, with complexity and richness of wines twice the price.  Simply stated, this wine is a wonderful “find.”

The next wines are special, illustrating the winery’s ability to create single-varietals and blends with texture and complexity.  The costs are higher, but very competitive with similar high-end wines. Three wines before us, a bold Syrah, a classic Rhone-style and a “bullish” blend that promises to, possibly, be “the great steak wine of all-time.”

Smelling the bouquet of the 2007 “Head Honcho” Syrah($28) is a sensual task in itself.  The longer you do it, the more aromas you discover. The texture (heavy on the tongue) and the balance of sweet and savory flavors, to be expected from quality syrah, combine with typical spice influences to signify a compelling wine even before you experience floral hints on the finish.  A few bottles will rest in my wine cabinet for 6-12 months because everything about this exceptional wine signals that it will get better with time.

After discovering Barrel 27 through their white Rhone-style blend, the moment has come to taste their only classic Rhone-style red blend, unavoidably mindful of comparisons with wines tasted during my recent trip to Chateaunef-du-Pape.  The 2008 “Hand Over Fist” ($30) is Barrel 27’s highest rated wine, a classic Rhone-style blend of syrah (60%), Grenache (30%) and mourvedre (10%), nearly identical to those in the southern Rhone Valley.  Quoting some knowledgable person, “this wine is big and bold from nose to finish.”  The flavors are perfectly balanced, very jammy and liqueur-type in their intensity.  I agree with the winery’s recommendation to decant the wine for at least an hour, thinking maybe two is better.  A wine like this must have time to breathe and adjust to a new environment before it begins to “open up” to strangers.

I propose another historical event, a blind tasting to be held in Avignon, pitting new Paso Robles Rhone-style whites and reds against legendary, century-old wines from Gigondas, Chateaunef-du-Pape and other southern Rhone Valley appellations.  California is at the same stage in Rhone-style blend development as the Napa Valley was with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay during the 1976 Paris Tastings.  How we would compare is still a question, but my instincts see us performing better than expected.

Visualize the “Hand Over Fist,” The Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007 ($67), Wine spectator’s 2010 Wine of the Year, the Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel Paso Robles 2007 ($50) representing California going head-to-head with France’s Chateau de Beaucastel Chateaunef-du-Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvee’ 2007 ($535), Domaine les Pallieres Gigondas Terrasse du Diable 2007 ($28) and others.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from such a contest.

In conversations within French people about California, they always inquire how far I live from the Napa Valley.  Paso Robles, as a winegrowing region, was not on their radar at all.  A good showing from our stealth Paso wines would send shock waves through the world wine business.

The previously referenced “monster wine” is a powerful, multi-regional blend of Petit Verdot, representing Bordeaux, Syrah, from the Rhone Valley and Tempranillo, originating from the Roija region of Spain.  Concentrated fruit and berries, exotic spices, vanilla and, even chocolate are up-front on the nose through the finish of the 2007 “Bull By The Horns” Red Wine ($32).  This is a wine that needs that to be tamed by some extra time in the bottle, at proper temperature, with regular turnings.  This investment will result in a mature wine that will enjoy the company of a Filet Mignon with “Diana Sauce,” a favorite recipe from the “Wine Lover’s Cookbook.”

The tasting concluded with the 2008 “Head Over Heels” Moscato ($23), Barrel 27’s sweet, slightly sparkling, dessert wine. To me, an apéritif or dessert wine must stand on its own, shine with or without the accompaniment of everything from crème brulee to sharp cheeses.  The “Head Over Heels” has complex flavors of orchard fruits(peach), honey and melons. However, minerality and nice floral hints on the finish build a case that it can be THE dessert if necessary.

I wrote about all Barrel 27’s releases because I like them all.  For those beginning to research and target wines, they offer very good quality at a decent value.  My recommendation is to discover and enjoy their wines before the entire area does. Real or perceived scarcity can result in higher prices.

Our rendezvous with friends also led to some “catching up” over a nice lunch at Thomas Hill Organics and another memorable dinner at “Artisan,” arguably Paso Robles best restaurant, accompanied by a 2005 Leona Valley Winery “I+L+Y=O” Bordeaux blend from my cellar.  As for the “Wine, Women and Song” event, that’s another story.