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Paul Lato: Central Coast Pinot Maestro

After last year’s World of Pinot Noir, I stopped by Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria to taste barrel samples of Paul’s 2008 Pinot Noirs, shortly before they were scheduled to be bottled. Paul said the 2008 wines were the best he has made to date and likened them to Julia Roberts: charming but plenty of structure in the right places. Now, after a year in bottle, I have re-tasted the wines, and they have certainly fulfilled their promise of potential greatness. Each wine is distinctive and reflective of its site.

Paul makes very small lots of distinguished vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs (in 2008 he also crafted “Matinee,” a blended, inexpensive bottling), Syrah and Chardonnay. The wines are highly allocated through a mailing list at The Lato style epitomizes elegance, restraint, sophistication and Pinot realism in the Chambolle vein. One of my favorite California producers.

2008 Paul Lato “Duende” Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 100 cases, $60. 14-year-old Martini clone vines. Aged in 50% new French oak barrels. Unfiltered. · Subdued aromas of cherries, red berries and balsam which build in intensity over time in the glass. A cherry bombast in the mouth that makes one pause and wonder how a liquid could deliver such luscious flavor. Elegant, soft in the mouth, with powdery fine grain tannins and an endless echo of scent and fruit on the dry finish.

2008 Paul Lato “Suerte” Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley PInot Noir

14.8% alc., 175 cases, $65. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Unfiltered. · Alluring aromas of nicely spiced cherries and strawberries echoed on the palate with an appealing earth, savory herb and oak undertone. Soft and smooth, with supple, grainy tannins and a refreshing juiciness on the finish. Very good.

2008 Paul Lato “Sine Cera” Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 125 cases, $70. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Unfiltered. · Gorgeous aromas of black cherries and Grandma’s fresh berry preserves with a hint of spice box including cardamom. The showy dark berry and plum fruit really sings on the palate. A man’s Pinot with plenty of sinewy tannin framing the lush fruit, but not at all jammy. The finish has plenty of length. Softer and even more expressive the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. I have three words for this wine: delicious, seductive and beguiling. An All-American.

2008 Paul Lato “Lancelot” Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 100 cases, $75. Unfiltered. · Subdued aromas of black fruits, herbs and a trace of sweet oak. Earth-kissed red plum and boysenberry fruits with a slight candied cherry note and a subtle underpinning of herbs and oak. Velvety in the mouth with excellent length on the explosive finish. The wine grows on you over time in the glass, and shows beautifully the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Pisoni unplugged.

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