(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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My Favorite Wine Tasting Event

Recently, Peter and I traveled to southern California to visit family and to attend our favorite annual wine tasting event.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event brochure

Sponsored by The Family Winemakers of California, this fabulous event showcases small, family owned wineries from throughout California.

Often, the people pouring the wine are the owners and their family members.

Peter and I have spoken so highly of this event from our past visits that we were able to rally a group of about a dozen family members and friends (mostly California folks) to join us at the tasting.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Let me share three tips for those attending the Family Winemakers of California event.

Buy your tickets as soon as they go on sale and spend the extra dollars to snag one of the limited number of “For the Trade” passes that are offered to consumers.

For the extra money, you get two additional hours of tasting for a much more leisurely pace. You are allowed in at the very start of the event when it is less crowded and you have greater opportunity to chat with the winemakers. And, the pass gives you access to the “iSip Lounge” where wineries pour their very best selections (minimum $75 per bottle) giving attendees the chance to try wines they might not otherwise have access to.

The full access pass is well worth every extra penny.

While the point of this event is tasting wine and not consuming all you can in 4 hours, no one who was drinking should drive home from this event.

There are several solutions to this.

Bring along a designated driver. The event allows designated drivers in for free. They will be given a special wristband and, understandably, kicked out if they are seen drinking any wine.

Hire a car, taxi or Uber to take you to and from the event.

Or, you can stay at a hotel within walking distance of the event. We stayed at the Hilton Del Mar directly across the street from the Del Mar Fairgrounds at which the tasting took place. It was perfect.

Do not drink and drive!

Plan your strategy wisely.

Over 90 wineries were offering tastes of their wines. There is no way, in 4 hours, to responsibly make even a dent in that wide of a selection.

The entire list of participating wineries is available on the website of the Family Winemakers of California. Do a little homework. Find some wineries that look interesting to you, perhaps some you have heard of or some from a region you love.

We came armed with a list of “must try” wineries leaving room to discover some new favorites.

 

These wineries poured my favorite wines of the day:

The Farm Winery

Mocadeaux - The Farm Winery at Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Peter and I discovered this fabulous gem the first time we attended the Family Winemakers of California event.

The Farm Winery is located in Paso Robles where they make red wines from Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Big, beautiful, bold and monumentally awesome red wines.

Fun fact: The Farm is owned by Jim and Azmina Madsen and Mercedes and Santiago Achaval who became friends while attending MBA school at Stanford. Santiago Achaval is a world renowned winemaker and producer of Malbec in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

The Farm’s 2012 Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon was our group’s unanimous choice for Best Wine Of The Day.

Showing the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of The Farm’s wine, Jim was up at 3am to decant The Cardinal so it would have time to open up before being served.

Yeah…that’s how they roll at The Farm.

Oakville Cross

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Oakville Cross

This tiny Napa Valley winery makes just one wine – Cabernet Sauvignon. And a delicious Cabernet it is!

Oakville Cross holds their wine back for longer aging which is why they were pouring a 2010 vintage while most everyone else was serving their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another fun fact about Oakville Cross wines is that, because they find the 3% failure rate of corks unacceptable, their bottles are sealed with glass stoppers. Interesting, eh?

Vineyard 511

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Vineyard 511

I was drawn to this wine because I LOVE Cabernet Sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

Owned by Ed and Irene Ojdana, Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is all that Vineyard 511 produces.

Fun fact (at least for me): Ed Ojdana is a graduate of Notre Dame. Go Irish!

Vineyard 511 poured their older vintages in the iSip Lounge, but it was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon shared with all attendees that I liked best.

Mira

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event 2016 - Mira

Also located in Napa Valley, Mira is on the opposite end of the spectrum making a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and both a Rosé of Syrah and a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Fun fact: Mira operates the Napa Valley Education and Tasting Center in Charleston, South Carolina, where they offer wine tasting, seminars, speakers and other activities. The Center was built as an homage to the colonists who brought grape vines to the Charleston area around 1669. The climate made their winemaking attempts fail but kudos to those intrepid colonists for trying.

Peter put Mira on our list because they source grapes for some of their wines from the legendary Hyde Vineyard.

Other fabulous winemakers who create great wines from Hyde Vineyard grapes: Paul Hobbs, Kistler, Ramey, Miner and, of course…

Hyde Wines

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event - Hyde Wines

Larry Hyde has been farming his vineyards in the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley since 1979.

For decades, he and his family focused on the farming, selling grapes to a couple dozen premier winemakers. Many of these relationships continue to this day, secured by a handshake.

Eventually, Larry and his sons decided to make some of their own wine, a tiny, tiny bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Delicious!

Fun fact: Well, not so much a fun fact as a piece of advice. If you ever see a wine noting that the grapes came from the Hyde Vineyard in Napa, give it a try. I’m quite sure that you won’t be disappointed.

Cheers!

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Looking for Gifts At The San Diego Wine And Food Festival

Welcome to day two of

“Partners in a Pair Tree – Kelly and Mo Celebrate December”.

Tis the season of gift giving and party going.

Peter and I are looking forward to spending time with friends and family at parties, quiet dinners and holiday celebrations. We enjoy sharing our love of wine with people both by serving it to our guests and by giving it as gifts.

2013 San Diego Wine and Food Festival

Last weekend we had the good fortune to attend the San Diego Wine and Food Festival.

Or, as Peter called it, Heaven.

Our brother-in-law, PJ, works for one of the big sponsors and he was kind enough to treat us to some tickets.

Peter and I really got in the holiday spirit as, armed with our shopping list, we toured the festival looking for some ideas to help us celebrate the season.

Here are a few gems we found. (FYI – this is not a sponsored post. We selected and tasted all of these wines ourselves.)

GIFTS FOR COLLEAGUES

Peter likes to pick up bottles of wine to give to a few key people on his team – folks who work very hard and enjoy great wine. Spoiler alert – it’s possible that this year these colleagues will be getting some wine from Daou Vineyards.

2012 Daou Chemin de Fleurs

At $36 per bottle their 2012 Chemin de Fleurs white wine blend will be perfect. It is a wine that will appeal to both white and red wine drinkers because it has many of the yummy white wine notes (honey, cloves, orange blossom and a touch of vanilla) but has a nice long finish and medium body that red wine drinkers will appreciate.

Check!

HOSTESS GIFTS

Don’t we all love to have some hostess gifts stashed away that we can pull out as needed?

As you might imagine, we often bring wine to parties but after sampling some port from Hunt Cellars, I might vary that theme a little.

Fortified wine like port is great as an after dinner drink or dessert wine.

Hunt Cellars makes port from many of the different types of grapes they grow. At the festival I tasted their 2003 Zinful Delight port made from (obviously) zinfandel grapes. Although that wine is sold out, Hunt Cellars offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Port (“Good Vibrations”) and a Petite Sirah Port (Sweet Serenade Le Petite”).

At $50 per bottle, this may not be a port that I buy in bulk but the Hunt Cellars port might be good for that special hostess on our list.

Check!

WINE FANATICS

We have a couple of friends on our gift list to whom we send wine each year. These are folks who appreciate learning about new and different wineries – and we sure have fun searching for something new!

This year, that something new will probably be The Farm.  We first discovered this wine at The California Family Winemakers event last spring. Once again we had the chance to visit with two of the owners of the winery, Jim and Az Madsen. Peter was delighted to get the inside scoop on The Farm’s 2010 Big Game and Cardinal wines which are spectacular.

The Farm produces a tiny amount of big, big red wines. To us that means the perfect “very special wine” gift.

Check!

WINE FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER

We will be spending Christmas this year in Nashville with PJ and his family. So, wine tasting at the festival was the perfect opportunity for Peter, PJ and I to select some wines we can enjoy at the family gathering.

We found a winner in the array of wines produced by Cholame Vineyards. Pronounced “Show-Lamb”, this is a new winery in the Paso Robles area of California.

In its very first year, their 2010 Cross Country Rhone Style Blend ($28) won a gold medal at the Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition.

Cholame Vineyards 2010 Cross Country Rhone Style Blend

Look at all those shiny medals!

Actually the list of awards won by Cholamb’s red and white wines is pretty impressive! Great selections for everyone!

We liked these wines so much that we bid on and “won” eight bottles in the Festival’s silent auction. Those bottles were sent home with PJ to serve when the family is in town for Christmas.

Check!

What a great way to kick off the month. Peter and I got to enjoy an amazing wine tasting festival with our brother-in-law and we got a great head start on our holiday shopping list.

I call that: Win-Win-Cheers! And add another ornament to our Partners in a Pair Tree!

Partners in a Pair Tree

What about you? Have any favorite holiday season wines?

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Choosing A Wine Based On The Name

Mo Wine Please

 What’s In A Name?

Do you ever choose a wine just because of the name?

Maybe it’s something amusing like Fat Bastard or Mommy’s Time Out. Perhaps it’s a funny take on the name of a varietal like Pinot Evil or Marilyn Merlot.

Peter has dreams of owning a winery in Italy. He would produce only Barbera wine and call the winery Hanna. Get it? Hanna Barbera? This is definitely a pun that will play better to the older crowd…

He was crushed (no pun intended there) to discover that his other hilarious idea was taken: Dirty Laundry Winery has already nabbed the name “Kay Syrah”.

Silver Oak Cellars

Sometimes we select a wine to serve because we know the particular winery is meaningful to our guests. We always like to have a bottle of Silver Oak on hand when certain special pals are over because we know it is their very favorite.

Last weekend we were at Notre Dame with our college posse. Peter brought a couple of bottles of wine he had picked up on our trip to Oregon in June specifically to share with this group.  The wines were from Brick House Vineyards.

Thirty four years ago, or so, we were all hanging out at Senior Bar on campus when the Commodores 1977 hit “Brick House” came on the juke box. Arthur grabbed the hand of the nearest gal, who happened to be Elizabeth, and they danced the hell out of the song. It was a an epic performance that is legendary among our group, still.  Peter purchased the Brick House Chardonnay and the Brick House Gamay Noir to celebrate that fabulous dance and the friendships that have enriched our lives.

Wineries often get creative and put great care into the names of their wines, referencing some aspect of the winemaker’s personal life.

I was immediately drawn to Wallis Estate’s “Little Sister” as a great wine to give to our daughter, Annie.  I’m not sure if the wine is named after the winery owners’ second daughter or if it is meant to be the “little sister” to their signature Cabernet but either way, after I tasted the wine I was drawn to stock up on some for myself, too!

The Farm Winery The Big Game

Stanford University graduates might be drawn to The Farm’s wines “The Cardinal” and “The Big Game” named by the winery owners as an homage to their days at business school where they met.

But the grand-daddy of all wine name tales is that of the Owen Roe Sinister Hand red wine. As the story goes, in the 17th century, Owen Roe’s ancestors, the O’Neills and another Irish family, the O’Reillys entered into a rowing competition to see which clan would gain ownership of some very important land. They agreed that whichever team touched land first would win. The O’Neill’s boat was lagging a bit behind so one of the rowers in the boat took a sword, lopped off his hand, and threw it to shore. Since his hand “touched” land first, the O’Neills won the title to rule the land which remains in the family today.

How’s that for a story?!

The story, along with great reviews, convinced Peter to serve Sinister Hand at our wine tasting party a few years ago. It was a big hit.

Are there any wines that you have chosen simply based on the name? Did they turn out to be a pleasant surprise or a one amusement and done?

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