Carl Kanowsky: Booker| Its wine and its story

Carl Kanowsky

So, how is the “Force of Nature,” Eric Jensen of Paso Robles’ Booker Wines, at making wines?

Well, if you’re to believe what other wine critics say about him, not too shabby. Robert Parker wrote about Booker in 2008, “The red wines are nearly off the chart in terms of their aromatic complexity with stacked and packed personalities as well as brilliant balance.” 

And Jeb Dunnuck, writing for Parker’s “Wine Advocate” in 2016, said, “As I’ve commented in the past, the wines from Eric Jensen at Booker are some of the most impressive releases coming out of California… they possess layered, elegant and complex characters paired with serious depth, richness and structure.”

“Wine Spectator” couldn’t have been more effusive in its praise of Jensen. “Eric Jensen of Paso Robles proved the value of fantastic, fanatic farming with stellar wines. Jensen makes a variety of fascinating, exceptional-quality cuvées.”

Eric’s wines are assertive. Other reviews I’ve read have all recommended decanting for at least an hour or longer. A common refrain is, “Better the second day.”

Macy O’Grady of Booker. Photo courtesy of Carl Kanowsky.

Our experience mirrored that perception. When wines have tremendous structure and deeply dense fruit, the tannins or the wine’s muscles (not the same thing) can be off-putting at first. But, when you give the wine a couple of years (sometimes as many as five or more), the tannins recede, the fruit stops fighting with itself, and everything blends together to present a marvelous drinking experience.

The challenge is discerning what is a wine with potential versus one that’s simply overwrought. 

Booker’s 2017 Oublié possesses amazing strength. The aroma reminds me of a forest floor on a cool autumn day, kinda like well-tended compost. Composed of grenache, counoise and mourvedre, it features dark fruit and is one of the Booker wines that’s approachable early.

Next up was the 2016 Fulldraw Twenty-Two, made with grenache, syrah and mourvedre, all coming from Eric’s neighbor Fulldraw Vineyard. Fulldraw is owned by Connor McMahon, a former assistant winemaker at Booker. It’s in barrel for 18 months, then one-third of it is held in cellar for an additional four months. The nose features meat, blackberry, cherry and baking spices, much of which is mirrored in the taste. There’s also leather and black pepper. 

Terry enjoyed the 2016 Vertigo, with its mild nose of berry, cherry and pepper. She found it to have excellent balance and a long, smooth finish. There is some stem inclusion with the fruit, which hails entirely from Booker. For me the result is a muscular wine that needs to rest for a couple of years before it reaches maturity. And, that’s one of the many reasons why it’s so rewarding and enjoyable to taste with Terry. She has a more refined sense of smell and taste – she can detect notes (like specific spices) that elude me. So, if she says it’s good now, it’s going to be excellent in about three years.

Eric then went into full diplomatic mode, pouring some of his latest My Favorite Neighbor (“MFN”), the 2017. As you’ll recall, Eric loves Paso Robles and champions all it has to offer. He promotes the good neighbor philosophy and lauds all who respond. This is the second vintage of MFN with its own label. Eric sources the cabernet sauvignon fruit from vineyards in the Westside Hill of Paso, vineyards heavy with clay soil, just like Napa and Bordeaux. The vineyards include Alta Colina, Denner, Frogtown and others. Visit MFN’s website and see how Eric raves about each vineyard and its owner. 

The wine, 70-75% cabernet, is a revelation, especially when it compares so favorably to Napa competitors that cost three to five times as much. Deep, dark fruit, with notes of mint and baking spices, this is one to cellar for a few years and come back to it. Open then with your MFN for a memorable evening.

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.

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