(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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Paso Robles Wine Tasting – Part 1

Each time I go on a wine tasting trip I learn something new.

For instance, on our recent trip to Paso Robles, California, I learned that I have been mispronouncing “Paso Robles”. Rather than using the Spanish pronunciation of “Paw-so Row-blays” locals go with “Paw-so Row-bulls”.

Or you can just stick with “Paso”.

Paso Robles

We have been trying to schedule this Paso Robles wine tasting trip with family and friends from California for quite some time. The California gang made a few reconnaissance trips without us, diligently doing research for this excursion and compiling a list of favorites for us to visit.

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been in the wine-making business since the late 1800s. Paso grows over 40 different types of grapes some of which, I have to admit, are completely new to me.

See? Wine tasting is educational!

Paso Robles Wine Festival

Paso Robles Wine Tasting Festival

Serendipitously, the dates chosen for our trip coincided with the Paso Robles Wine Festival. This four-day event takes place in the park in the middle of downtown Paso Robles and features wine and food from local businesses.

We chose to sign up for only the Reserve Tasting Event on Friday afternoon figuring the crowds would be at the festival all weekend and we would have wineries’ tasting rooms to ourselves.

Paso wine festival reserve tasting

The Reserve Tasting featured the best wines from a limited number of wineries along with tasty bites from local restaurants. It was a great Paso Robles introduction.

EPOCH ESTATE WINES

Epoch Estate’s tasting room is a gorgeous blend of old and new.

Epoch tasting room

Originally the home of York Mountain Winery –  the very first winery in the Central Coast, dating back to 1882 – this structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.  Seven years later, the owners of Epoch Estate, purchased the land and the rubble and set out to reconstruct the historic building using all of the original materials, painstakingly, piece by piece.

Epoch even managed to bring back York Mountain’s 100+ year-old wine press which now holds a place of honor in the open loft of the tasting room.

Epoch wine press

Our tasting flight included a lovely Rosé (made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah grapes), a white blend (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne), three red blends (varying combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) and one 100% Syrah.

Epoch White and Rose

I brought these two bottles home for Girls’ Night In.

Guyomar

In 1996, modern day pioneers Mareeni and Ishka Stanislaus moved west to Paso Robles. Mareeni was recruited to be the area’s first OB/GYN and Ishka set his sights on starting a winery.

While we didn’t get to see Mareeni or Ishka on this visit – he was out of town and she was on call at the hospital – we did enjoy a lovely tasting, complete with a cheese and charcuterie platter, in the dining room of their home.

Guyomar tasting

We enjoyed tastes of Guyomar’s Rosé (made from Grenache grapes) and four different red blends (varying combinations of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah).

Guyomar The Editor

Given the fact that the majority of our group was made up of journalists and English majors, Guyomar’s delicious blend (69% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, and 4% Petite Sirah), “The Editor”, was a fan favorite.

Law Estate

Law Estate

The California gang discovered this fabulous place on their first visit to Paso Robles and have been anxious for us to meet Law’s yummy wines.

Law Estate barrel roomOur young winery guide, Maggie, impressed us with her knowledge and delighted us with her stories about discovering her passion for wine at the family dinner table and her dad’s help in furthering her wine education. Maggie’s dad is being rewarded now with the family discount at his daughter’s place of work and access to some incredible wines.

While nestled in the gorgeous room just beyond the barrels, Maggie poured us an array of red blends with descriptive names like “Audacious” and “Sagacious” (combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon) and”Intrepid”, of 100% Syrah.

The names of these blends prompted us to imagine what we might name our own signature wines. As you might guess, the English majors and writers among us were more skilled at this game than we accountants.

The best I could come up with was “In The Red” which doesn’t have the greatest connotation although it does describe the financial situation of many who try to start a vineyard.

Still, I think I will leave the wine naming and winemaking business to talented and experienced professionals like those crafting the delicious wines at Law.

mocadeauxFolks, we are just getting started on our tour of Paso Robles.

Up next, some wine varietals you may have never heard of and our #1 sentimental Paso Robles favorite.

Stay tuned!

 

No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

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Baby Sister And Retirement – Take 3

Recently, our family has experienced two momentous events.

A few weeks ago we welcomed our fifth grandchild and first granddaughter!!!

Baby sister

To say that girls are scarce in our family would be an understatement. Baby sister is the first female to be born on either side of our family in almost 25 years.

She’s kind of a big deal. And she is beautiful.

Her twin older brothers, Chip and Dale, are quite besotted with her. The household is settling in nicely; that is to say, they will be once the wee darling gets a little better grasp on night vs. day.

To celebrate her arrival, we opened a bottle of 2009 Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Wine from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

2009 Wallis Family Estate Little Sister Proprietary Red

Perfect, right?

We discovered Wallis Family Estate at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event about 5 years ago. Pouring wine at their booth on that day were both Mr. Wallis and his younger daughter, AKA the Little Sister.

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Shortly after Baby Sister’s arrival, Peter started retirement.

For the third time.
Peter Begins Retirement

Retirement #1 never really happened even though the date was set and we completed the planned relocation.

You see, Peter is a team player. When the company came to him saying, “We’ve had a bit of a situation and we really, really, really need to have you stick around for another six months or so. Pretty please???”, he couldn’t say no.

Retirement #2 proceeded swimmingly for a grand total of three months.

During that time we packed in all sorts of fun activities like concerts and wine events.

I became quite accustomed to having Peter cook dinner, pairing it with the perfect wine, as I perused my People Magazine.

Well, that arrangement came to a screeching halt when Peter received a call asking if he could help out on a teeny, tiny project  – “should last no longer than a couple of months” – which turned into a big, big project consuming about fifteen months.

Now, finally, all is as it should be in Maison Lux. Peter is home and splitting his time, once again, between his two happy places: the kitchen and the wine cellar.

Wine Spectator magazine’s website has a series called “8 & $20” which features wonderful recipes (with suggested wine pairings) serving up to 8 people for $20 or less (not including wine, obviously).

One, in particular, caught Peter’s eye and he decided to give it a whirl.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce

Braised chicken thighs in mushroom sauce.

Now I was a little wary of this dish for two reasons: I don’t like dark meat chicken and I REALLY don’t like mushrooms. Other than that, it sounded great…

But, if Peter was doing the cooking I figured the least I could do was to be a good sport and try the dish without complaining. Besides, I knew it would be served with a great wine so not a total fail.

I may not have instantly become a dark meat/mushroom convert, but I will tell you that this combination was delicious! Check out the recipe here.

Peter paired this yummy gem with a 2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir.

2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir

Located in Santa Barbara County, Foxen makes a wide variety of wines including single-vineyard Pinot Noirs like this one, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and red blends.

The Foxen tasting room in Santa Maria is a simple and rustic but beautiful place and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting Santa Barbara County. Just a tiny bit down the road is their second tasting room, known as The Shack, where visitors can enjoy selections from Foxen 7200 which focuses on Italian style and Bordeaux wines.

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Now that Peter has more free time, I’m looking forward to many delicious meals, great adventures and lots of time to spend with the five grandchildren: Baby Sister, brothers Chip and Dale and cousins Andy and Harry.

Life is, indeed, good!

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Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay With Crab Cakes

I have such fond memories of the three-month period during which my husband, Peter, was retired.

We went on great adventures together and he cooked dinner nearly every night.

That was before he accepted a consulting gig which was to last 3 months and has turned out to be more like 14. Alas, the project will eventually end and Peter will retire again;, perhaps more successfully this time.

But bless his heart, over the weekend he rolled up his sleeves, temporarily stepped back in the kitchen, and made delicious crab cakes.

Not only is Peter a pretty darn good cook, he also takes great pride in finding just the right wine from our cellar to pair with the dish he is making.

I’m a lucky gal.

crab cakes with Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay

Peter prepared crab cakes (see recipe below) over a bed of arugula and roasted carrots seasoned with sumac and cumin. He paired this with a 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills area of Santa Barbara County.

Brewer-Clifton’s tasting room is a “must stop” place when visiting Santa Barbara County. Located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (really just an industrial park), the Brewer-Clifton tasting room is hip, sleek and modern. A cheese board was available at our tasting which showed that the folks at Brewer-Clifton ascribe to the adage:

Taste wine with bread

Visits to the vineyard and barrel room are available by appointment.

The vineyard sits on a relatively small, very specific part of the Santa Rita Hills, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The impact of this location on the soil and the effect of the salt air are used to their greatest advantage in making this delicious wine.

Its deep, golden color suggests a richness that is present in every sip.

2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay

Here is what the winemaker has to say about the 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay:

“The 2012 Hapgood Chardonnay displays bright golden color. A clonal selection from the Mount Eden vineyard, the wine supports bright and explosive aromas with hints of petrol. On the palate, the wine broadens to give full and voluptuous flavors of exotic fruits with beautiful acidity.”

For a long time, I was not much of a fan of Chardonnay. Visits to places like Brewer-Clifton, Lewis Cellars, and Sojourn have made me realize that I was just drinking the wrong Chardonnays.

Say it with me: “Life is too short to drink crappy wine.”

And now, for your dining pleasure, is the crab cake recipe (adapted from winespectator.com). Peter insists it is quite simple. I wouldn’t know since I was blissfully surfing the internet the entire time he was chopping, mixing and cooking.

Crab Cakes With Old Bay Tartar Sauce

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon of yellow mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon of butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
  • Cooking oil (vegetable)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Arugula 
  • Tartar sauce
  • Another couple of teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning
  • Lemon wedges for serving

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, mayo, mustard, melted butter, lemon juice and Old Bay seasoning.

In a large bowl, combine crabmeat, parsley, panko and a pinch of pepper. Combine these ingredients by folding, rather than mixing, to keep the crabmeat in nice big chunks.

Fold the wet ingredients into the crabmeat mixture. Once combined, shape into the desired size of patties.

Heat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add oil, place patties in the pan and cook 6 minutes per side until golden brown.

Combine 2/3 cup of tartar sauce with 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning. Serve alongside the crab cakes over arugula with lemon wedges on each plate.

Serves 4

Stay tuned for more of Peter’s wine pairings in the future.

Cheers!

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