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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Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine Drinkers

 

Mo Wine Please! Wine Vintage

Does wine vintage matter?

While the reasons may be different depending on if you are a serious collector,  a wine dabbler, or someone who buys wine to drink right away,  the answer is “YES”.

Wine vintage matters.

The quality, quantity, and flavor profile of wine can vary greatly from year to year, vintage to vintage.

Some wine vintages are just better than others. And, for collectors, some wine vintages can be aged longer than others.

Why is one year different than another?

Remember that wineries are in the agriculture business. The vineyards are the farms and grapes are the crops. Magical, wonderful crops.

As farmers, wine growers are at the mercy of weather and climate. Too much rain – no good. Too little rain – no good. The same can be said for heat. And coolness and fog.

Each of these things – factors that only Mother Nature controls – can make or break a wine vintage.

Napa Vineyard

Throw in things like earthquakes, forest fires, fungus, parasites and disease and you have to imagine that winemakers and vineyard managers must do a whole lot of worrying. And praying.

Vineyard managers and winemakers are in the field every day checking on their crops and doing whatever they can to overcome the challenges thrown at them by Mother Nature.

And they do it all for us so that we can enjoy the delicious nectar of the vine.

Why do I care if I plan to drink my wine right away?

Studies show that 80 – 90% of wine purchased is consumed within 24 hours. And 90 – 95% is consumed within a week.

So why does wine vintage matter if you are not going to keep the bottle for very long?

Because some vintages are simply better than others. Going to the store armed with a little bit of knowledge can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the wine you purchase.

Do yourself a favor and check out this super-helpful vintage chart from Wine Enthusiast.

 

Let’s take the example of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.

According to the Wine Enthusiast chart, the Napa Cabernet vintage of 2011 is rated 89 while the 2012 and 2013 vintages are rated 95. Quite the difference, eh?

When you are in the grocery store picking up a bottle of wine for tonight’s dinner, you might look at the vast number of choices and have no idea where to start. Maybe you don’t recognize any of the wineries or you want to try something new.

First, you narrow down the choices based on price point. Next, perhaps you pick out a few based on the wine label (38% of wine buyers do).

But what next? How do you make the final selection?

Wine vintage, of course.

Again, let’s use Napa Cabernet as an example.You will likely see some 2011s, some 2012s and some 2013s on the shelf.

We know the 2011 is out. Both the 2012 and 2013 are rated the same and will be great. But, if presented with both, I’d go with the 2012 because it has had a chance to age a bit just relaxing there in the bottle on the shelf.

The same rule applies if you are out to dinner and ordering a glass or bottle of wine. Given the choice, pick the better vintage. And the older vintage as long as you know it is of equal quality.

But be absolutely certain that you are served the vintage you selected. Sometimes restaurants are slow to update their wine menu when they run out of a vintage.

Binny's Beverage Depot Lincolnwood

And, by the way, watch out for this when looking at “shelf talkers” at your wine store.

Shelf talkers are the little cards hanging from the shelf showing recommendations and noting high scores. If the shelf talker says that the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet is rated a 95, be sure that it is the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet you are buying.

Wine vintage matters.

And what about those who hold bottles longer?

If you are someone who wants to stock up on wine to save for a little bit of time or for serious aging, you will want to focus on the best vintages.

You are going to want to search out Napa Cabernet from 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2013 rather than from 2011.

Sidenote: Even though it was a tougher wine vintage, that’s not to say that all 2011’s are inferior. We have some bottles from that vintage in our cellar. But, we only have wines from winemakers we know and trust. It was a challenging year, for sure, but not impossible.

wine cellar

In addition to affecting the quality, wine vintage can also affect the ageability.

The Wine Enthusiast chart has a nifty color-coded system that shows if a wine is past its prime or right in the sweet spot for drinking.

Wine vintages that show up as “Hold” can certainly be consumed now if you want. The “Hold” designation just means that the wine will get even better with age.

The ageablity information helps collectors keep track of when wines should be consumed. You certainly wouldn’t want to invest in a fabulous bottle of wine from an excellent vintage only to stash it away for too long and miss the peak flavor.

That’s what we call a wine collector’s/first world problem/gut-wrenching nightmare.

As with everything, knowledge is power. Bookmark this post and download the Wine Enthusiast vintage chart to help with your wine purchasing choices. You will be glad you did!

Cheers!

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