Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 3 - A Day of Wining

On our final full day in Paso, we sprung out of bed (really!), grabbed breakfast, & headed out onto Highway 46 West.   We were going to find Four Vines, damn it!

Well....it was only 9:30 when we found it, & the tasting room opened at 11:00, not 10:00 like we were hoping.  So we drove farther down 46 & saw some spectacular scenery.   Admittedly, it was much like what we saw the day before, so just go back to the last post to take a peek if you missed it.  It's just so different from what  I see here in Missouri, or anywhere else I've been for that matter.

We were heading back towards the wineries when we saw a guy putting up his "Open" sign on a small winery, & we thought that was perfect timing.  Well, we thought wrong.  That winery - which shall remain nameless (unless you are planning a trip to the area, then feel free to email me) - was a total bust.  Blech.  We ended up buying a bottle...Doug said that he hated to lose the tasting fee, & we could always pour it as, oh, a 4th or 5th bottle.  Or perhaps as a gag.

Redemption was just up the road at a little winery called Lone Madrone.


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(It didn't hurt that the wisteria smelled so nice!)

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We hadn't even made it inside yet, & we were already completely taken with the place!  We thought it was cool that they had chickens & baby goats...

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Finally, we walked inside.  What an oasis!  We were welcomed with the faint scent of lavender when we walked in, & the tasting room was gorgeous.

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At this point, the wine could've completely sucked & we wouldn't have cared.  The joint just oozed goodness.  Had I done my research, I would've known that the owner is the winemaker at Tablas Creek!  Hearing that simple fact was a promise in itself - we knew great things were coming!

We were right!  Everything we tasted was outstanding.   Our favorite was their Zinfandel, Petite Sirah,  & Barbera blend, the 2006 Barfandel.   I know, I know....they really could have come up with a better name.  I mean, really -  Barfandel?   In the end, a name is just a name, & this wine proved that.  It's delightful, & we're looking forward to actually drinking it.  Now, the issues are when, what food to pair it with, & who to share it with (if anyone!).

I could go on & on, but there are other places to talk about!

Like Four Vines... It turned out that it was very easy to spot from the road, & we were excited to be there.  I've talked about Four Vines a lot on this blog.  If you love Zin (& oh, do I ever!) or other big reds, you should always have something from this winery on hand.  They not only produce superb wine, but the prices are very reasonable, so there's no excuse.

The tasting room was in the process of being renovated, so it wasn't that impressive to look at.  BIG DEAL.  (It will be, by the way, once it's finished!)  All that meant to us was that we didn't have too much to take photos of (& therefore less to show you).  We were able to revisit our favorites like "The Biker" & "The Maverick", & taste the harder-to-find-in-St. Louis "Anarchy" (a Rhone blend) & "Heretic" (Petite Sirah).  Mmmmmmm.....  There are also a bunch of others that we don't get at all here; for example, their Tempranillo "Loco", the "Phoenix" Syrah, & the "Monarchy", a blend of Petite Verdot, Malbec, & Tempranillo.  If I only had 1 word to describe all of them?  Sublime

They had soil samples from their 4 different areas.  Not your usual garden soil, that's for sure, but that's to be expected.  The vines produce higher quality grapes if they have to struggle.

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Sorry, I only remember which ones were from Paso - the ones on the end.




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Just imagine trying to grow anything in that soil!

Even though the tasting room was in transition, it was still a party! We had fun glasses. We got tattoos...


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Ok, fake ones, but they lasted for several days!

Our tasting room hostess-with-the-mostest Holly was so much fun.  We hope that she'll be there when we go back next time.

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In the end, we brought back "Monarchy" & the 2006 "Los Alamos Vineyard" One Tree Hill Block Syrah.  That 92-point Syrah won the 2009 Hospice du Rhone Syrah Shoot-Out, & it's truly fantastic. 

Believe it or not, there's still more to go, but I'll end this post here.  Sorry it's taking me so long!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 2 - Far Out & Then Some

As I said before, Doug & I didn't have a rigid agenda for our trip. We had a few wineries that we really wanted to go to, & then we were going to trust recommendations from there.

One of those recommendations was Tolo Cellars. In a very rustic setting on Adelaida Road, Tolo is a very tiny winery, but big on personality. Tolo is a one-man operation, so obviously, we were able to meet winemaker Josh Gibson.

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His tasting room is such a charming place! We felt like we were in a small farmhouse in Provence (even though we've never been to such a thing).

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What French farmhouse would be complete without a cat?

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Like his tasting room, his wines were also very captivating. Josh didn't have a lot of wines, but the quality more than made up for the quantity. After much consideration, we bought the 2001 Asini...largely because of Josh's tasting notes: Be practical for just a moment: You’ve always wanted to age a wine, but you never do. Oh, you mean well, & no sooner has that kindly salesperson said, “Lay it down for a few years & you’ll earn your just rewards,” than you have popped the cork for a taste that you so richly deserve! No need to worry here: We cellared this wine 7 years & 4 months before bottling. How utterly impractical! The result is a wine with as much youthful exuberance as a Jonas Brothers entourage. Like the thick cherry compote that jumps off the nose, you want to spread it all over your scones. Think big viscosity, rich red fruits - berries, berries & very cherry – a dollop of cola, dried herbs & sweet leather. How did we arrive at this sock hop? And did we mention this wine is nearly 8 years old?

And no, he didn't have me at the Jonas Brothers reference.

Tablas Creek Vineyards intrigued us because of its heavy French roots. The original vines were imported from the owners' property in France, Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel, & they chose Paso Robles because of its similarity to Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape. We're fans, so we had to check it out!

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It's sad to say, but my photos hardly do justice to reality.

Inside, the wine list was extensive, & many of those wines were available to taste. We at least liked every single one of them, but as Doug was often quick to point out, we couldn't buy everything or join every club. Boo. Tough choices had to be made!

The tasting room had references to Tablas Creek's "sister" labels:

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This one should look familiar to readers of Lucy's blog...

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(Yes, I miss her too, & no, I don't know when she'll write again.)

While we were contemplating what to buy, we had to pet Millie.

millie tablas

We made a stop at Whalebone Winery, once again off of a recommendation. Why is it called Whalebone? Because whale fossils were found in the vineyards. Pretty cool, huh? Anyway, we couldn't resist picking up a bottle of the cult favorite, Bob Wine. Bob is a former Ob-Gyn doc (& rumored to be one-handed) & now the owner & winemaker, & the wine is a delicious blend of 61% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Petite Verdot, 13% Zinfandel, 7% Syrah.

Here's Bob's wife, Jan.

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We hit 1 or 2 other places, & then decided to try finding our beloved Four Vines. We entered it into our rented Garmin...& we either took a very wrong turn or it led us astray. We ended up taking a mysterious & scenic drive.

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We drove along the narrow dirt road that seemingly led to nowhere, & I popped out to take the photos above....until I remembered rattlesnakes, & that was that!

We had plans with Angie for the evening, so we met her at Villa Creek for a most delicious (& potent) margarita before going back to Pianetta. We met Caitlyn Pianetta, the winemaker's daughter, & from there, we all decided to go to Bernick's for some grub & more cocktails (again, feel free to judge). Here's the only picture from that night I'm willing to share with you...& it's of Angie & Caitlyn, not us!

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The food & atmosphere at Bernick's are outstanding, so if you ever find yourself in downtown Paso, do yourself a favor & stop in.

With that, our second day in Paso Robles came to a close, & we were happy to head to bed with hopes of having a day that would be just as great the next day!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 2 - JUSTINcredible

After a great day in the downtown tasting rooms of Paso Robles, we headed out to the "Far Out Wineries". We drove out Naciemento Lake Road to Chimney Rock & were amazed at how much it looked like the Old West...it was as though outlaws could come riding out at any minute! Luckily, that didn't happen & we made it to our first winery safely.

Doug & I had heard such great things about Justin Vineyards & had tasted a couple of their wines that we put this at the top of our list for the day. Well, that & it looked like the farthest out, so it just made sense.

We arrived a little early, so we walked around the beautiful garden.

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Such a nice contrast when compared to all of the brown grass we'd been seeing!

Once the tasting room opened, we were welcomed by Sunny.

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Justin's tasting room is gorgeous, just like everything else about the place.

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Enough pretty stuff already -- let's get to the wine!

We started out with the Sauvignon Blanc, which was a surprisingly gentle way to start wine tasting at 10 a.m. (Feel free to judge if you feel the need.) We'd never had Justin's before, & we really enjoyed it! It wasn't the typical zinger - & I do love those, too - & it was very refreshing. Their Chard is the only white I've seen in St. Louis, but I'd love to see the Sauvignon Blanc here -- I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

We didn't go to Justin to try their whites, though, so we happily moved on to their reds. Wow, wow, wow... every single one that we tried knocked it out of the park! All of them were so smooth & luscious (which, by the way, is one of the reasons that we love Paso wines so much).

Several wines later, we were able to try what I've always wanted to try -- the Isosceles! Seriously, I've been chomping at the bit to taste this wine for several years & anytime I'd seen it on a wine list...they didn't have it (which makes me wonder if they only bought a few bottles of it just to get it on the list). It was fabulous! A wonderful blend of Merlot, Cab Franc , & Cab, it's a gorgeous wine, albeit very young. Rumor has it that it'll just get better & better until about 2025. I don't think I can wait that long!!

Remember what I said in my last post about regretting not joining Pianetta's wine club? Well, I don't have to deal with any regrets here... They were offering 6 bottles of wine, 2 of which were the Isosceles, for a really great price -- for the love of all that's holy, how could we refuse? Yes, we joined the Justin Wine Society, & it's such a great deal!

This was our first actual winery that we visited during our trip, & it was our first wine club that we joined. Now, there were other firsts as well! It was our tasting guide's first day working on her own in the tasting room, we were her very first people, & we were her first customers to join the Wine Society. I'd say it was a great start to a great day, not only for us, but for Rebecca, too!

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After we joined, Rebecca took us on a mini tour, showing us the restaurant, Deborah's Room. What a charming place! It's very intimate with only 4 tables.

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Who wouldn't want to have dinner in such a quaint, cozy space?

Churchill accompanied us.

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After we checked out the restaurant & chatted a bit more, our first visit to Justin ended. Notice I said "our first visit"...

We'll be back!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paso Robles, Day 1 - Downtown Deliciousness

If you want to hit the wineries in Paso Robles, you have options. You can go 46 East, 46 West, the "Far Out" wineries, Templeton...you get the idea. Our plan was to hit 1 or 2 wineries a day that we thought we absolutely had to go to, & then go on recommendations from there. For the most part, we stuck to that plan....but on our first day in Paso Robles, we had to take a detour.

The morning that we were headed to Monterey, my phone found itself marinating in coffee. Someone was really tired & wasn't paying attention to the coffeemaker. Now, I don't drink bad coffee, & I consider the coffee found in 99% of all hotel rooms to be just that -- bad. I'll do without, but Doug cannot. The man is the love of my life, but he is flawed (somewhat). For this, I forgive him...& now I have a new phone.

Since we'd lost a little bit of time, we decided to start our adventure in the tasting rooms downtown. There were quite a few options & we didn't know where we should begin...& then we saw this:

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It had our very favorite kind of sign on the door...

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What a wonderful place to start! Unlike the usual tasting room that features wines from only one winery, the Paso Wine Centre has many local wines available to taste, many of which are from small wineries without their own tasting rooms.

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Look familiar? Those are Enomatic machines like the ones at St. Louis' own ill-fated wine tasting bar, Bella Vita. I have much more confidence in the Paso Wine Centre's success - the staff is very well versed in the area's wine, & they are more than willing to suggest their favorites. Bottles are available for purchase at reasonable prices, & California law allows self-service in this case. We were impressed with the whole operation, & that was before we found out that 100% of the profits go to Wine For Water. Throughout our stay in Paso Robles, we got the sense that the entire wine community fully supported this idea...click that link & you will, too!

After we left the Paso Wine Centre, we had lunch at Berry Hill Bistro (one of Adam's suggestions) & then wandered around downtown & hit several tasting rooms. Doug & I had good experiences everywhere we went, but I'm only hitting the highlights here or I'll be writing for days!

We really enjoyed Clayhouse Vineyards - they have a very nice tasting room! Their employees were a lot of fun too, & very helpful. In fact, that was how it was every place we visited! But hey, let's not forget why we were there...the wine. Clayhouse delivered.

Our hands-down favorite downtown tasting room was Pianetta Winery. Pianetta is a small boutique winery with a production of about 2200 cases. Red wine only. Yum. Our friend Angie suggested that we go there, & we weren't sorry! She even called ahead to let them know we were coming. That was a very nice touch!

We had a very special experience at Pianetta. Winemaker John Pianetta was there to greet us & he guided us through his lineup of extraordinary wines.

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There wasn't a single wine that we tasted that we didn't adore. Like their beautiful Sangiovese, for example. Bright red fruit with maybe a little cinnamon or clove on the nose, silky mouthfeel, & a plethora of loveliness on the palate. I also love the fact that it's aged in neutral oak, so it's definitely more fruit than barrel. We're big fans of Cal Itals (among a zillion others!), so yeah...we bought it.

Of course, their other wines are terrific as well. The Bilancio, which is the winery's signature blend of Syrah & Cab, the Cab, the Syrah, the Rosato...I could go on & on, but I say just go there...or find a bottle online & order it! Since Pianetta is so small, it's not widely distributed but we are hoping to be able to buy it locally someday soon. I really wanted to join the wine club, but Doug pointed out that it was very early in our trip & we couldn't join everything, & we couldn't buy every bottle... He was right, but I do have my regrets.

John made a point to show us their blackboard that hangs next to the bar. His daughter Caitlin updates it with words that Pianetta fans use to describe the wines. I not only thought it was a lot of fun but very pretty, too!

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Gotta love "Skirt Flipper".

And so ended our first day in Paso....& we went to bed - after I played with my new phone!

Central Coast Superstar

After the Winemakers' Celebration, Doug & I had the pleasure of meeting our friends Adam & Angie at a charity tasting in Seaside. Now, you've heard me talk about Adam before....Adam LaZarre, our favorite winemaker, & the former head winemaker at Hahn Estates.

Adam's got a new gig...he's now the winemaker for Villa San-Juliette, just outside of Paso Robles. You might not recognize the name, so I'll clue you in. The American Idol producers, Nigel Lythgoe & Ken Warwick, bought the place in 2006 & had that reality show "Corkscrewed: The Wrath Of Grapes". I didn't watch it, & the fact that the AI guys bought it holds little to no merit for me. I mean no offense - I'd feel the same way if Jeff Probst, Tim Gunn, or even Kenny Chesney decided to own a vineyard. Having said that, they obviously either did their research or Bacchus was smiling on them because hiring Adam as their winemaker was the smartest thing they could've done! (And hello, 6 degrees of separation!)

After tasting his new wines at the Seaside tasting, I, for one, am completely on board.

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We sampled the Sauvignon Blanc, Cab, Merlot, & Petite Sirah, & we loved every one of them. If I have to choose a favorite, I'm torn between the Petite Sirah & the Merlot. They're both terrific. Adam describes the Petite Sirah as "blueberry motor oil", & that just makes me laugh, so I guess that puts it over the top for me...but I reserve the right to change my mind! Let's face it, though -- I'll buy all of them often & be proud to share with my friends.

I'm happy to report that these wines are yet another incredible value, perhaps one of the best. Most of the wines are under $20! Unfortunately for us & everyone else in the St. Louis area, Villa San-Juliette wines aren't available to us yet...but they WILL be, once distribution gets settled. This should be soon, especially now that these wines are making big waves everywhere else in the country.

As a special bonus, Adam also had 2 wines from his LaZarre label at the tasting - the Pinot Blanc & one of his 2 Pinot Noirs. Delectable stuff & hard to find...in fact, he gave us a bottle of the Pinot Blanc, & we are the only people in the freakin' state to have it. (I know, we're that cool, thanks for acknowledging it.)

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(I love that picture!)

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(That one...not so much. But it did inspire me to change my hair!)

Adam had to leave for Nashville the next morning, so we headed back to our hotel & got ready for the next day -- in Paso Robles!

More on that in a bit...