Tasting Report: 2008 Denner The Dirt Worshipper

Saturday, April 16, 2011

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The most notable "buy" indicators coming out of Wine Spectator the past six months have been for big Rhône-styled reds from Paso Robles, California.

The 2007 Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles was named the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year for 2010. With a $67 release point and a 98 point rating it would seem to be one to seek out. But it was sold almost entirely via mailing list and combined with a 100 point score from Robert Parker (calling it "utter perfection") it was never really in play unless you were on the mailing list. It sells north of $300 at auction these days.

But just behind this wine were a fleet of 95+ pointers from other winemakers in Paso Robles. Some of the names were vaguely familiar - Booker, Jaffurs, Justin. Others I'd never heard of like Herman Story, Epoch, and Torrin. I always enjoy Spectator's pieces featuring up and coming producers. Like this article by MaryAnn Worobiec highlighting seven up and coming Paso Robles producers (subscription required).

Articles like this have provided me with a way of becoming familiar with winemakers when they're small enough to handle customer interactions themselves, their mailing lists are open, and best of all their prices are relatively low. None of these high scoring wines carry a release price more than $100 and many sell for $50 or less. Compare this with Napa and Paso Robles is a value play.

Back in 2007 a similar article about 12 Hot New California Pinot Noir Producers turned me on to Clary Ranch, Zepaltas, and Black Kite. As I look back at that list now - guess which name is there? Rhys! It was right there in front of me for 4 years and I didn't make the connection until just now.  Amazing.

When the 2008 vintage of Paso Robles wines came to market two caught my eye for their quality to price ratio: The 2008 Herman Story Nuts & Bolts (95WS/$36) and the 2008 Denner The Dirt Worshipper (97WS/$45).

My efforts to find some of the Herman Story weren't fruitful (though reading their website is time well spent). I was able to obtain a half-case of the Denner directly from the winery.

The Spectator article identifies Denner as the epicenter of the west Paso wine scene. They produce grapes purchased by other producers like Epoch and Torrin and they also produce wines with their own label. Rob and Marilyn Denner own over 100 acres in Paso Robles and 25-year-old (!) Anthony Yount is their winemaker.

I cracked open one of the The Dirt Worshippers last night. It was a winner. 

What they said:

The Dirt Worshipper is a wine whose sole focus is the expression of cool climate terroir through a Syrah medium. This wine is a blend of 42% Syrah from the frigid, coastal Bassetti Vineyard near Cambria, 53% Denner Estate Syrah from the coolest, latest ripening blocks, and 5% Denner Estate Viognier to perfume this beastly hedonistic wine. Please enjoy! (from the back label)

This hedonistic beauty has upfront aromas of sarsaparilla, vanilla bean and black raspberries. Undertones of eucalyptus and white pepper come through on second emanation. Coffee crusted steak, huckleberry compote and dried Provencial herbs pioneer a precise finish with chalky tannins and great length. 95% Syrah, 5% Viognier. (from winery website) 

What I thought:

2008 Denner The Dirt Worshipper
95% Syrah 5% Viognier
15.6% alcohol
810 cases produced

A massive wine with a silty, muddy appearance. Aromatically complex with dried blueberries, bacon cooking on a Saturday morning, and white pepper. Stunning depth and density. High alcohol and I had some concerns about it being overripe. But it keeps thing under control and I enjoyed it.

Hard to stop drinking. Quite nice. 

93/100 WWP: Outstanding 


Based on this experience I'm looking forward to trying more wines from Paso Robles. The 2008 Dirt Worshipper is selling for north of $100 at auction now but the 2009s are coming to market at attainable price points. I'd recommend checking a couple of them out if the style sounds at all appealing to you.

Question of the Day: What do you think of big Paso Robles reds? Is this the next big category in California wine?


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