We had the good fortune to spend some time recently visiting with Antonio Pasos of Pasos Vineyards. His tasting room is located in Vino Piazza, The Winery Plaza in Lockeford, California. Lockeford is eight miles East of Lodi. We have had Antonio’s wines several times over the past few years, thanks to our friend Dave, who is a big fan of Antonio’s wines. We in turn, would like to introduce you to the wines Antonio makes.
Vino Piazza is a 1940s era distillery that has been converted to winery, art and entertainment space. The name, Vino Piazza, loosely translates to “wine plaza” which indicates its current use by independently owned wineries. It is an interesting space to explore. The Pasos tasting room even has a resident artist, David John Foster, with his gallery upstairs.
Antonio’s dream to make wine and have his own winery began with his work in the family vineyards in Madera, located in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Lupe, Antonio’s father, has managed vineyards for many years, and continues to do so today. After completing his formal education in wine making at CSU Fresno, Antonio worked for E & J Gallo and Fenestra Winery. Eventually Antonio moved to Lodi and established Pasos Vineyards.
Antonio prefers to use Rhone, Bordeaux and Italian varietals in his wines. And while all wines Antonio makes are aged in wood, he believes the flavor of the fruit should never be over run by the wood. He wants to taste the true character of the grapes. While many wine makers in the Lodi Appellation produce a very ripe style of wine, this does not describe Antonio’s style. His wines are flavorful, elegant and age very well. Even with the ripe warm weather fruit from the Lodi area he produces wines that allow you to taste the varietal characteristics, not jammy fruit.
Antonio sources grapes from Contra Costa County, the Umpqua Valley in Oregon, Lodi and Alta Mesa (located within the Lodi American Viticultural Area). He produces small-lot wines from a number of varietals and blends. Some of the varietals he uses are Viognier, Chardonnay, Albariño, Charbono, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. The varietals vary by vintage depending on the quality of the grapes, so there is always something new to try. In fact, Antonio was pouring a 2011 Dolcetto on the day we visited. Antonio is not afraid to try different, unusual blends. His Chardonnay/Albariño blend took me by surprise but it was excellent.
We particularly enjoyed two white wines we tasted:
2010 Pasos Vineyards Albariño Alta Mesa was crisp and a bit floral with great acidity. He also has an Albariño made with native yeasts that had a little rounder feel and was very good, too.
2010 Pasos Vineyards Chardonnay/Albariño blend sourced from the Alta Mesa and Lodi Appellations is 75% Chardonnay and 25% Albariño. This blend has the great acid of the Albariño, along with fruit flavors of the Chardonnay. This wine spends time in American and Hungarian oak which lends a round mouth-feel.
Among our favorite reds:
2007 Pasos Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon/Old Vine Shiraz blend from the Lodi Appellation. This very dark wine had complex dark fruit flavors, significant tannins and good acid. If we can keep our hands off this bottle, it will age nicely.
2007 Pasos Vineyards Reserve Dastarte Red Wine from the Lodi Appellation. This signature wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. This wine shows scents of cocoa and dark fruit. Flavors of leather and dark fruit accompany significant drying tannins. This wine cries out for a steak.
We had the good fortune to taste a 2002 Pasos Vineyards Dastarte when we visited the winery. Lupe was kind enough to share a bottle he had been saving. This light-bodied wine has great tannin structure, complex berry fruit and spice flavors. This wine is aging well, and has a lot of life left in it. Just one example of how well Antonio’s wines age.
2008 Pasos Vineyards Charbono Lodi Appellation. We bought this wine on the strength of prior tastings. We have always enjoyed the rich dark fruit flavors and tannin structure of this wine. Antonio has very few bottles left.
Vino Piazza is a lovely location with courtyards and tables outside the tasting rooms. Often, Antonio’s father, Lupe is tending the barbecue. The day we visited we enjoyed snacking on smoked chicken sausage, salami and Compté cheese. Lupe is just as enthusiastic about Antonio’s wine as Antonio is. He is knowledgeable about vineyard management and is full of wonderful stories. He is quite the character.
With the weather improving, it is a great time to head out for a visit to Pasos Vineyards tasting room. You will enjoy sampling Antonio’s well-made wines, a welcome change from the over ripe, jammy wines many in Lodi make. Bring a lunch and sit in the courtyard enjoying good wine and good friends.