(The Long Overdue) Paso Robles Part 2

We’ve been so busy enjoying the wines from Paso Robles, I’ve been quite remiss in posting Part 2 of our travels. So much wine, so little time to drink and post at once.

When last we were together you might remember that I said I always learn something new on wine tasting trips. In Paso Robles, I learned of some new-to-me varietals thus expanding my repertoire of California wines.

Tablas Creek

Show of hands: How many of you have heard of Counoise? Tannat?

Tablas Creek Counoise and Tannat

Although a name you might not recognize, Counoise (pronounced Coon-wahz) is used in many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. Tablas Creek has been growing Counoise since the early-1990s. 

Counoise is a medium intensity wine with a bit of spiciness and plenty of fruit. Think of it as a Syrah with the volume turned down a few notches.

In particularly noteworthy vintages, Tablas Creek bottles Counoise as a single varietal wine but more often it is used in red blends to soften and complement bolder wines.

Tannat came to Tablas Creek purely by chance when their French supplier decided to throw some of the vines in with others that had been ordered. A happy accident that has resulted in a very successful and relatively easy to grow wine.

Tannat can be pretty intense. In fact, in Europe Tannat is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to calm it down. But this bold wine loves the growing conditions and climate of Paso Robles which allow it to more fully ripen, releasing its beautiful true self.

The Tablas Creek tasting room is worth the stop to explore a wide range of varietals. Plus, they have a killer gift shop.

L’Aventure

L'Aventure Tasting Room

How gorgeous is this place?

At L’Aventure we tasted a wonderful Rosé (made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot) and three additional blends from some combination of these same red wines with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

L'Aventure Estate Cuvee

This 2014 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and 15% Petit Verdot) convinced us to join the wine club.

If you are keeping score, that is wine club number 14 for us – the first, but not last, wine club we joined on this trip.

The stop at L’Aventure was also educational as they displayed this sample of bark showing how corks are born.

Cork bark

Pretty cool, right?

Caliza

We quickly learned that wine tasting in Paso Robles is all about fun and wine blends and more fun.

Caliza

At Caliza we started with yet another Rosé, this time a blend of Grenache and Syrah. It has taken me a while but I can honestly say that after this trip I am firmly on board the “Rosé all day!” train.

Next, we enjoyed a series of red wine blends – combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.

Caliza’s wines have garnered some great and well-deserved scores from the experts.

Thatcher

Our visit to Thatcher on this gorgeous day started with a taste of – what else? – Rosé. Thatcher didn’t make much of this wine, only 90 cases, and I’m sure it sold out fast!

Thatcher Winery

Thatcher also poured two single varietal wines: a Syrah and a Zinfandel. After tasting so many blends, it was interesting to get back to a couple of wines in their “pure form”. I’m a big fan of both Syrah and Zinfandel. These did not disappoint!

Of course, we also sampled some of Thatcher’s blends (combinations of Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Grenache).

Thatcher is serious about their wine making but has a great sense of humor in naming the wines. Oxymorons are their game.

“Controlled Chaos”

“Constant Variable”

“Original Copy”

“Normal Deviation”

“Resident Alien”

You get the idea. Well played, Thatcher.

Our visit to Thatcher also coincided serendipitously with the occasional visit from our most beloved, the sentimental favorite, will always be #1 in our hearts, Paso Robles wine producer:

The Farm

The Farm

The Farm winery is tiny; proudly boasting a mere 4 employees. They do not have their own tasting room nor really enough wine to supply a full-time tasting room so twice a year or so they set up a folding table on the patio at Thatcher and share their magnificent wines.

The Farm’s stated goal is

“to make small amounts of fine red wines with the very best fruit from Westside Paso Robles (Adelaida and Willow Creek Districts).”

And YES they do!

The Farm Wines

We first met Jim and Azmina at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event. The Farm was brand new – this was their first or second vintage. My husband had not heard of The Farm before and he was curious. Because they were so new, their table wasn’t mobbed with fans so we had the opportunity to chat with Jim and Azmina and hear their story.

Their partner/winemaker is Santiago Achaval, the legendary winemaker from Argentina.

The wine was love at first taste. Big, bold reds beautifully crafted, expertly decanted, a joy to drink.

Jim and Azmina

Since that first meeting we have (of course) joined the wine club and introduced The Farm to friends and family who have joined as well.

By the way, if you are in the Paso Robles area, there are a couple of places you can taste The Farm’s wine by appointment and I would enthusiastically encourage you to do so.

We always look forward to crossing paths with Jim and Azmina. Seeing them reminds us why we love to visit wineries and attend wine tasting events, particularly the Family Winemakers of California event.

Having the opportunity to meet the people responsible for the wine and to learn about their journey and their passion adds so much to the enjoyment of the wine.

Well, not only was this post long overdue, it is LONG. I will save the rest of our Paso Robles tales for Part 3. Look for more fun, more wine blends, a craft project and a character. I’ll be back soon!

 

No one paid me to say this.

Do not drink and drive!

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Wine Tasting At Binny’s – You’ll Want To Try These Wines

Mo Wine Please

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a good old wine tasting roundup. So let’s do this!

Last night, Peter and I met up with my folks and sister-in-law, Kate, for an evening of wine tasting at the brand new Binny’s Beverage Depot in Lincolnwood.

Binny's Beverage Depot Lincolnwood

The theme for the night was “California Wines” so this was right up my alley.

Binny’s set up 7 tasting stations throughout the store with six to eight different wines being poured at each station. There were lots of fellow tasters present but it didn’t feel crowded because of the fabulous setup.

Now the wines.

Chardonnay

My step-dad who, by the way, turned 98 on the 4th of July, was in search of a new Chardonnay to add to his list of favorite wines.

Wine tasting at 98

The favorites among the Chardonnays were:

2013 DuMol Chardonnay

The 2013 DuMol Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($55) is a wonderfully complex wine with layers of flavor. It has great body and a pleasing finish. The winemaker says that the 2013 vintage is very strong in this coastal region of Sonoma County. He feels that this wine could age for five to seven years.

2014 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Another favorite was the 2014 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($45). This wine, made from grapes sourced from several of the Flowers vineyards literally right on the Pacific Coast, has a bit more minerality while still providing plenty of the honey and citrus notes that Chardonnay lovers love.

2014 Stags Leap Chardonnay If you are looking for something at a more modest price point, try the 2014 Stags Leap Napa Valley Chardonnay ($20). A bit less complex that the two wines above, the Stags Leap still provides lots of flavor and quality for the price. It is crisp and clean and quite good.

2014 Chalk Hill Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

The 2014 Chalk Hill Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($18) has a bit more of a creamy flavor but still with enough acidity to provide good balance. This could be a nice choice for a house Chardonnay.

Other White Wines

2015 Cade Sauvignon Blanc

The 2015 Cade Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($33) was a big hit. Cade is a member of the wonderful PlumpJack family of wines. I love a Sauvignon Blanc that is crisp and refreshing without being too citrusy. The Cade Sauvignon Blanc delivered this profile beautifully.

2014 Jaffurs Viognier

I was drawn to taste the 2014 Jaffurs Bien Nacido Vineyard Viognier ($27) based on two things: I love Viognier and I love any wine that comes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara.

Remember what I’ve said, if you ever see a wine with “Bien Nacido Vineyard” on the label, you can be pretty certain it will be awesome.

Red Wines

Because we are experiencing a heat wave here and temperatures are hovering around a zillion degrees, we were all inclined to try more white wines than red wines.

Still, I am a red wine gal so I soldiered on.

2012 The Pairing Red Blend

The Pairing is what you might call the younger sibling of Jonata and The Hilt, two ridiculously outstanding wine producers. The same winemaker is responsible for all three members of the family and the quality shows.

While the 2012 The Pairing Red Blend ($25) contains some Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, the highest percentage of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine tastes like a classic Napa Cabernet but at a fraction of the price.

2013 Emmolo Merlot

Merlot, unfairly criticized in the movie, Sideways, can be the perfect wine for folks who want a bold red but prefer slightly softer tanins than what is usually found in Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2013 Emmolo Merlot ($56) comes from the Oak Knoll region of Napa Valley which has both the best soil and best climate for growing Merlot grapes. This lovely wine is smooth and has all the great flavors of luscious fruit balanced by a touch of earthiness.

By the way, Emmolo is part of the Wagner Family Wines which include Caymus and Conundrum.

2014 Cane and Fable Cabernet 373

We first discovered this wine on a trip to Solvang and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. Then the winery was called Cane & Fable but they have rebranded as The Fableist. Either way, the wine is quite recognizable because of the grasshopper on the label.

The 2014 The Fableist (Cane & Fable) Cabernet Sauvignon 373 ($23) is produced in Paso Robles and drinks like a Napa Cabernet at more than twice the price. This gem of a wine is a real bargain and could absolutely be a great choice for a red house wine.

I love the description by the winemaker:

“Every little sip leaves you comfortable, content and just feelin’ lucky.”

We did, indeed, feel lucky to have had the opportunity to try so many great wines at Binny’s. And, hopefully, our research will give you a few suggestions for new wines to try.

Do you have any new favorites to share with me?


Please note:

  • I received no compensation from Binny’s or the wineries. The wine tasting was complimentary for anyone with a Binny’s loyalty card.
  • The prices listed are Binny’s. You should be able to find these wines at your local stores but the price may vary.

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What Is Your House Wine?

Hi folks! Today let’s talk about choosing your very own house wine.

How to choose your house wineA house wine is your “go to” bottle of choice: the wine that you know you enjoy drinking, is at a price point you are comfortable with and one you don’t mind sharing with others.

It’s the reliable wine you always have on hand and can pull out and serve without a second thought.

Consider these factors:

Price point

Determining a price range is a good place to start.

Some people choose “4 Buck Chuck” as their house wine.  They are delighted with the cost and happily stock up on cases of Charles Shaw wines at Trader Joe’s.

On the other end of the spectrum super oenophiles, lovers of all things fine in the wine department, would rather pass (literally, as in they’d rather die) than drink “cheap” wine.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

In deciding what you are comfortable with, think about a price you would be willing to spend on a bottle of wine for a random Tuesday night dinner.

Your house wine should be your everyday wine, not necessarily your “special occasion/using the fancy china” wine.

Pick A Type

Pinot Noir is a great choice for a red house wine. It pairs really well with most foods from meat to fish. There are lots of Pinot Noirs out there at virtually every price point.

Many wineries make a red blend. They take several different types of grapes (Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah, etc.) and combine them in one way or another to create something new.

Red blends go by all sorts of names. You might see Proprietary Red, some clever signature name chosen by the winery or simply Red Blend.

Choosing a red blend as your house wine might be the perfect way to please all and to expand your wine repertoire.

If you are going with white wine, you might choose a Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Both quite popular; they are wines that people know and understand.

Pinot Grigio is light and easy to drink. Many people think of it as a summer wine to be consumed ice cold on a hot day. That’s an excellent plan but Pinot Grigio can also be a great year-round option for those looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Chardonnay.

I used to think I didn’t like Chardonnay. But I started forcing myself (it’s a tough job, right?) to try selections from different wineries and different countries and found I have a preference for certain styles and flavor profiles.

I prefer French Chardonnay

How about other white wine options?

What about a Viognier as your house wine? Viognier is like the white wine version of Pinot Noir in that it pairs very well with a variety of foods and drinks well on its own.

Many wineries also make a white blend. The same rules apply – an infinite variety of combinations make for an infinite variety in flavors. If you like the idea of a Chardonnay and a Viognier, look for a blend that combines the two.

Of course you could have both a house white and a house red. Something to think about…

Choose A Crowd Pleaser

Your house wine should definitely be something that you love but should also be kind of mainstream.  You may LOVE a big, juicy cabernet but it may be way too much for the every day palate.

Remember, the idea of a house wine is to have something that is easy for everyone to drink.

Storing Your House Wine

Once you choose a house wine, you will want to stock up. But don’t go crazy.

Plan ahead. Make sure you don’t buy more wine than you have storage space.

A wine refrigerator is ideal but, in a pinch, your wine can be stored, on its side, in a cool, dark place (closet, basement, kitchen cupboard away from the oven).

Wine can be stored for short periods of time in a kitchen refrigerator. But Dr. Vinny at Wine Spectator explains why it’s not a good idea for the long term health of your wine.

The short story is that your food refrigerator is too cold and too dry for wine. Read Dr. Vinny’s complete analysis here.

Making The Selection

Once you have decided on your budget and narrowed down some idea of your preferences, it is time for research.

Of course the best way to research wine is to taste it.

Make a trip to your grocery store, wine & liquor shop or warehouse store and start experimenting!

Wine at the Grocery Store

Seek advice from the staff. Even grocery stores and places like Costco have wine department managers who are quite knowledgeable about the wines they stock.

Tell the wine department expert that you are looking for a house wine. Describe your general wine preferences, mention a few of your favorite wines and let them know your budget.

Be adventurous and try new things!

The research process will lead you to find your “house wine” and might introduce you to some new, special, favorites.

One last thing to consider when deciding on a house wine is its availability.

You wouldn’t want to have your heart set on a particular brand and not have a ready supply of that specific wine. With the help of the wine department staff, choose something that is likely to always be on the shelf when you need to replenish your supply.

Variety is the spice of life.  But it’s also wonderful to have a wine you know you can always count on.

Your very own “House Wine”.

Do you have a house wine? How did you choose the wine? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas!

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Warm Soup And A Red Wine Blend

Once a month I host a Girls’ Night In with my moms and tots group.

Please note that the youngest “tot” is in college and many of the “tots” have tots of their own.

This month’s get together fell on one of our cold January nights.

I know, cold temperatures in Chicago in January?!?! Shocking!

Anyway…

The deal for these monthly parties is that everyone brings an appetizer or a salad to share and I supply the wine and other beverages.

This month, though, seemed to call for some warm soup. So I enlisted my personal chef (aka my retired husband) to whip up a batch of his mom’s Sausage & Tortellini Soup.

Sausage and tortellini soup

You are going to want this recipe.

Sausage & Tortellini Soup

  • 1 Pound Italian sausage
  • 1 Large onion, chopped
  • 1 Garlic clove, pressed
  • 3 Cans of beef broth (14 1/2 ounces each)
  • 2 Cans of diced tomatoes, undrained (14 1/2 ounces each)
  • 1 Can of tomato sauce (8 ounces)
  • 1 Cup dry red wine
  • 2 Carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 2 Small zucchini, cubed
  • 1 Package refrigerated cheese filled tortellini (8 ounces)
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese

Discard sausage casings. Cook sausage, onion and garlic in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring until sausage crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Return mixture to pan. Stir in broth and next 6 ingredients, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes. Skim off fat. Stir in zucchini and tortellini; simmer 10 minutes.

Sprinkle each serving with cheese. Yield: 10 cups

Peter says it was easy to make. The ladies and I all said it was delicious!

Peter paired this soup with a red blend: 2007 Facets of Gemstone.

2007 Facets of Gemstone

This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (48%) and Merlot (42%), rounded out with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

It features a lovely, full body and lots of juicy, dark berry fruit.

The Gemstone Vineyard has changed hands since this wine was produced. The new owners continue to produce a red blend like this in very small quantities.

But don’t be discouraged because you can’t find this particular wine to pair with a bowl of Sausage & Tortellini Soup. There are other red blends that will do just fine.

First let’s talk a bit about red blends. What are they? Why should we drink them?

Red blends have historically had the reputation for being the wine soup made up of all the grapes that a vineyard couldn’t figure out what else to do with.

Sometimes that is the case. But there are lots and lots of great red wine blends made with thought and intention by very skilled winemakers.

Red wine blends tend to be a bit less expensive than single varietal wines by the same producer. They also tend to be a bit easier to drink – blended for smoothness. In general, red blends are more approachable even for the rookie wine drinker.

Here are a couple more I like.

First of all, my “go-to” red blend, The Prisoner.

The Prisoner

The Prisoner is widely acknowledged as the wine that brought credibility to the concept of a red wine blend worth buying.

I find it to be a very reliable wine, well worth the $40ish price tag. It is smooth and flavorful but not overpowering or too spicy.

Check out my review of The Prisoner here.

Another red blend that I like is the Rancho Sisquoc Flood Family Vineyard Sisquoc River Red from Santa Barbara County. ($20 per bottle)

This blend is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah.

Pretty much you name it, it’s in there. OK, not really, but definitely a true blend of many different reds.

Rancho Sisquoc River Red

Interestingly enough, some wine makers do not disclose the blend of grapes that go into their wine. For some it is a proprietary secret, others are concerned about judgements being made about the wine without tasting.

For instance, a red blend containing even the mention of Zinfandel might be passed over by someone who doesn’t care for Zin. While the truth of the matter might be that the Zin is a tiny fraction of the blend, included for just a tiny bit of zest.

Just the other night we enjoyed a Sans Liege The Offering Red Blend. ($29 per bottle)

The Offering

This winemaker proudly displays the make up of the blend on the front label.

This lovely GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) from Santa Barbara County includes a splash of Viognier, a white wine often used to smooth out red blends.

Check out these blends and others at your local wine store.

And definitely try the soup!

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a red wine blend to recommend?

No one paid me to say this.

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