By James Laube
Tasting Highlights bring the best wines from our editors’ most recent tastings to WineSpectator.com members.
One way to approach the growing number of California Rhône-style red blends is to taste different wines from different appellations. This week’s list of recommended bottlings extends from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. A second sampling method may involve tasting through the offerings of a single producer, such as ONX.
ONX is a new label, owned by Steve Olson and his wife, Brenda. The couple farms 31 acres in the Templeton Gap region of west Paso Robles. They initially planted Rhône stalwarts like Syrah and Grenache, and have since expanded to 13 different varieties.
ONX produces a collection of unconventional blends, such as Reckoning, a mix of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Grenache, and Mad Crush, which is predominantly Grenache with touches of Tempranillo and Mourvèdre. The Olsons released their first wines from the 2008 vintage with Brian Brown of Napa’s Round Pond as winemaker.
BRIAN BENSON S & M The Bang Bang Caliza Vineyard Paso Robles 2011 Score: 90 | $55
Vibrant, rich and juicy, with layers of dark berry, licorice, boysenberry and cedar-hazelnut aromas, this is tight, focused, deep and persistent, ending with a long, engaging finish. Syrah and Mourvèdre. Drink now through 2023. 120 cases made. —J.L.
ONX Reckoning Paso Robles 2011 Score: 90 | $45
A tasty Southern Rhône interpretation, this offers tiers of roasted herb, hot brick, crushed rock and dried berry notes in a tightly knit style. Firmly tannic, maintaining the core flavors throughout. Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Grenache. Drink now through 2022. 164 cases made. —J.L.
STEPHAN L'Aventure Estate Cuvée Paso Robles 2011 Score: 90 | $74
Offers a claretlike mix of structure and flavor, tight, tannic and dense, with dark berry, mocha, cigar box and tobacco leaf flavors, veering toward dried herb and sage notes. The fruit pushes through in the end. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Drink now through 2022. 1,250 cases made. —J.L.
FOXEN Syrah Santa Maria Valley Tinaquaic Vineyard 2011 Score: 89 | $48
Tightly wound, focused on pure, dense dark berry, roasted herb and hot brick notes, showing hints of espresso, anise and dill. Needs time, but hints at the complexity to come. Drink now through 2024. 350 cases made. —J.L.
STEPHAN L'Aventure Optimus Paso Robles 2011 Score: 89 | $45
A touch grainy with tannins, this features dried herb and berry notes, with touches of sage and mineral, pulling together on the finish, where the flavors weave together and end with a lingering aftertaste. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Drink now through 2022. 2,000 cases made. — J.L.
EBERLE Syrah Paso Robles Steinbeck Vineyard 2011 Score: 88 | $26
Offers aromas of dried herb and sage, with dusty cedar and dried berry scents reflecting a cooler vintage. More complex and complete on the finish. A solid bet for the cellar. Best from 2014 through 2024. 1,410 cases made. —J.L.
FOXEN Cuvée Jeanne Marie Williamson-Doré Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley 2011 Score: 88 | $44
Zeros in on firm, tart wild berry and blackberry flavors, with a dash of raspberry. Maintains a tight focus, ending with gripping tannins and a juicy aftertaste. Grenache and Mourvèdre. Drink now through 2022. 425 cases made. —J.L.
ONX Crux Paso Robles 2011 Score: 88 | $45
Pleasantly rustic and chewy, offering a mix of road tar, tobacco, cedar and dried herb flavors, veering toward drying tannins on the finish. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink now through 2021. 177 cases made. —J.L.
ONX Mad Crush Paso Robles 2011 Score: 88 | $45
Exhibits a tight core of red berry, raspberry, huckleberry and boysenberry, framed by firm, gripping tannins that impart a rustic personality. Grenache, Tempranillo and Mourvèdre. Drink now through 2022. 175 cases made. —J.L.
STEPHAN L'Aventure Côte A Côte Estate Paso Robles 2011 Score: 88 | $74
Offers rustic, earth-laced berry and dried herb notes, with a supple texture and subtle nuances that maintain interest through the finish. Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. Drink now through 2021. 1,100 cases made. —J.L.
FESS PARKER Syrah Santa Barbara County 2011 Score: 87 | $28
Exhibits a complex mix of ripe red berry, roasted coffee, dried herb and cedar flavors. Glides to the finish despite the firm tannins. Drink now through 2022. 3,037 cases made. —J.L.