Wine Time: J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2014, Paso Robles

The J. Lohr South Ridge syrah is a lush, soft wine, with plenty of structure on the back end. It is a gorgeous deep purple, almost opaque in the glass, with pleasant aromas of blueberry and black tea. DENNIS SODOMKA/SPECIAL

Cost: $14-$16

 

What: Things are constantly changing in the wine business. But some of the best things remain the same.

That describes J. Lohr, one of the pioneers in Paso Robles. For decades, whenever wine drinkers talked about Paso Robles, the conversation always started with J. Lohr. And they continue to make top quality wine year after year. Thankfully, they have not tweaked too much.

The South Ridge is an outstanding syrah, a great example of how certain French varietals thrive in the Paso Robles region.

It is a lush, soft wine, with plenty of structure on the back end. It is a gorgeous deep purple, almost opaque in the glass, with pleasant aromas of blueberry and black tea. On the palate, you taste black plum, black cherry jam and strawberries, with a touch of baking spices, pomegranate and white pepper. The mellow tannins come through in the smooth finish.

The 2014 vintage is the 40th anniversary of J. Lohr Vineyards, one of the best known names in Central Coast wines.

Founder Jerry Lohr started planting Rhone varietals in the late 1980s when he saw another Paso Robles pioneer, Gary Eberle, producing memorable wine with syrah. Lohr planted his own syrah and his first vintage in 1993 was a success. It has become one of the winery’s most popular wines. At this price, it’s easy to see why wine lovers embrace it.

The 2014 vintage was marked by the third straight year of low rainfall in Paso Robles. A warm summer pushed tannin levels up and led to some of the earliest picking dates on record.

After harvest, the grapes were destemmed and the berries fermented whole, helping to preserve the fruit characteristics.

The grapes for this wine are grown on a combination of lime-laden and gravelly soils, which hold back some of syrah’s potential for wild growth. Much of this fruit was grown in the Estrella and Creston districts, which provides the plum base. The balance is from cooler districts, including Willow Creek, which add the spicy white pepper.

The grapes are 99 percent syrah and 1 percent viognier. They are fermented in 20-ton stainless steel fermenters and all the wine goes through malolactic fermentation to smooth out the overall oak influence. It spends 12 months in oak barrels, 20 percent new barrels from American (60 percent) and French (40 percent) origin.

The wine drinks beautifully now, but the texture should get better over the next two years. It’s likely the wine will continue to get better for at least another three years after that.

Winery: Jerry Lohr was raised on a South Dakota farm, so his agricultural roots served him well when he decided he wanted a winery. He started searching for the ideal location for his first vineyard in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1972 and 1973 that he planted his first vineyards in Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco appellation.

His first release was from the 1974 vintage.

When Lohr started searching for his perfect location, the Central Coast was a gamble. It had little history in grape growing and had not emerged as one of North America’s prime wine regions. He was one of a handful of pioneers who recognized the potential of Monterey and Paso Robles for producing high quality grapes.

He chose Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco district for its cool, windy climate and rocky soils as ideal for chardonnay. In the 1980s, he recognized the potential of Paso Robles for growing Bordeaux varietals, especially cabernet sauvignon – given the area’s rich soils and dramatic temperature swings between warm days and cool nights. Paso Robles also turned out to be a great place to grow Rhone varietals.

J. Lohr Vineyards &Wines now includes more than 1,300 acres of cool-climate estate vineyards in the Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands regions of Monterey County, with an emphasis on chardonnay, riesling, valdiguié and pinot noir. J. Lohr farms more than 2,300 acres of vineyards in Paso Robles, now recognized as one of the world’s best spots for cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. Nearly all the red wines in the J. Lohr portfolio come from here, affirming the foresight of Jerry’s original vision.

The winery also owns 33 acres in Napa Valley at their Carol’s Vineyard, planted to cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot.

From this rich and diverse palette of sustainably farmed estate fruit, J. Lohr crafts wines showcasing bold, concentrated flavors and a vibrant sense of place. The winery offers four tiers of award-winning wines – J. Lohr Estates, J. Lohr Vineyard Series, J. Lohr Cuvée Series and J. Lohr Gesture, limited-release wines available solely to tasting room visitors, wine club members, and online. In 2017, J. Lohr Signature Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced to honor Jerry’s 80th birthday.

J. Lohr has state-of-the art winemaking facilities in San Jose, Greenfield, and Paso Robles. The J. Lohr Wine Centers in San Jose and Paso Robles are open daily for sampling and host thousands of visitors and fans each year.

Jerry Lohr’s career continues in close, hands-on partnership with his children and co-owners Steve, Cynthia and Lawrence.

Goes With: I had a busy day when we tried this wine. I had given a speech and made a big pot of soup for church. As I was preparing to make dinner, my wife, Teri, gave me a big present. She suggested we get pizza instead of cooking. I never say no when she suggests pizza, so that settled it. And there’s never a question of where we will get that pizza. It’s always Giuseppe’s.

Teri and my son, Michael, split a half pepperoni, half pepperoni and black olive pizza while I had a sausage and tomato mostly to myself. We were all happy. We all like leftovers.

The J. Lohr syrah was a perfect match for the spicy sausage in my pizza. The mellow fruit flavors were great with the tangy tomato and sausage. I usually like zinfandel with pizza, but syrah is quickly moving to the top of the pizza list.

The wine also would pair well with a slow-roasted pork shoulder with herbed potatoes, roast lamb or venison, barbecue chicken, turkey with hoisin sauce, beef stew, hamburgers, a classic BLT sandwich, blue cheese, or Peking duck. This is a versatile wine that will improve a lot of meals.

wine events

Wine tasting: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; French wines selected by Michael Simmons of Republic National Distributing; $25; (803) 279-9522 for reservations

Wine tasting: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, Kroger, 435 Lewiston Road, Grovetown; free; (706) 619-3420

Wine and beer tasting: 5-7 p.m. Sept. 29-30, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

Wine tasting: 5-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three whites, three reds and cheeses; $5; (803) 279-9522

 

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