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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Thanksgiving Dinner Wine – Tips and Types

So you’ve drawn the lucky straw and all you have been asked to bring is the Thanksgiving dinner wine. Or you are hosting and have already made your last trip to the store for potatoes and butter but now need to focus on the beverages you will serve.

Mo Wine Please

~ Thanksgiving Dinner Wine ~

There are several factors you will want to consider before heading out to your local wine shop.

Quantity

Are you the only person supplying the wine? Can you get a rough idea of how many at the table will be wine drinkers?

A bottle of wine will generally yield four glasses of wine.

If you are providing wine for 10 moderate drinkers and you assume they will each drink two glasses, you will go through about 5 bottles of wine.

Ten people times two glasses each, equals twenty glasses. Divide that by four glasses per bottle: five bottles.  (Aren’t math word problems fun?!)

You might want to buy a little extra because I don’t know about you, but I’d ALWAYS prefer to have too much than too little.

Price Point

The price point you choose for each bottle of wine will likely depend on how many bottles you will be bringing. If you are contributing ten bottles you might not splurge on $50 per bottle wine.

Unless you want to. In that case, send me your address so I can come over.

You might also want to take a mental survey of who will be drinking the wine. If most people in the group tell you that they can’t tell the difference between a good wine and a less good wine, you might want to get a few moderately priced bottles for them and then splurge a teensy bit on a bottle or two to share with those you know will appreciate it.

Does that sound horrible and snobby?

I hope not. I like to think of it as being sensible in your purchases.

The bottom line: determine how many bottles you will need and how much, in total, you are willing to spend.  Then you can decide what combination of low, moderate and higher priced bottles fits your budgeted amount.  Another math word problem! Woohoo!

Red or White

I’m more of a red wine drinker, myself, but many folks prefer white. In fact I would probably skew my Thanksgiving purchases to be 2/3 white wine and 1/3 red wine. This may be a gross generalization but I think most red wine drinkers will drink white but many white wine drinkers will not drink red.

Remember, some folks prefer that only white wine be served in their home because of the potential for red wine stains on their carpet or upholstery. Everyone is entitled to make the rules in their own house, right?

Before bringing wine to someone’s house you should determine if they are this type of control freak concerned homeowner.

Temperature

Be a pal. Put both your red and white wine in the refrigerator for a while before heading over to grandma’s. If you are hosting, try to save some refrigerator space for the wine or if it is chilly outside, store it on your back porch.

Now no one is going to test you by sticking a thermometer in your wine glass, but just as a general guide here is what Wine Spectator suggests for the serving temperature of wines:

  • Light white wine, Rosé, sparkling wine – 40 to 50 degrees
  • Heartier white wine, light red wine – 50 to 60 degrees
  • Full-bodied red wine – 60-65 degrees

Just use common sense. The lighter the wine, the cooler it should be served.

Pull your reds out of the cooler earlier so they warm up a titch. Pull out your white wines maybe 15 minutes before serving.

It is always better to pour a wine a little on the cool side because the glass will warm it up a bit. Pour warm wine into a glass and you will end up with warmer wine.

And that’s just a crime.

Particular Varietals

Experts are all across the board on this one. There is no right answer to the question “what wine pairs best with Thanksgiving dinner”.

Here are a few suggestions:

WHITE WINES

spyglass

Sauvignon Blanc – A nice, light, palette friendly wine. Its citrusy flavor provides a nice balance with turkey and gravy.

Riesling – This wine is usually noted for its honey or apple notes. For this reason, it’s a great match with the sweet/savory combination of dishes.

Viognier – As I’ve said before, this wine is like the Pinot Noir of white wines. It has enough body to stand up to hearty food but it will not overpower more delicate selection.

RED WINES

Pinot Noir – You knew I was going to pick this one, right? Pinot Noir is just the perfect food wine. More and more people are jumping on the bandwagon. Folks who formerly swore off of red wine are finding they really love this wine. If you are not sure of the preferences of your guests, Pinot Noir is a safe pick.

Cabernet Franc – I hadn’t really thought about this one until I read this article from the LA Times food section. It makes sense, though. Especially for the guests who enjoy a heartier red wine, the cherry notes that are generally associated with a Cabernet Franc would pair well with stuffing and cranberries.

Zinfandel – Many folks think of this as the spiciest of red wines. It often has notes of pepper and red berries. This is a great wine for people for folks who enjoy a big wine that will stand up to spicier, heartier dishes.

Hendry zin

Byff – this one’s for you:

Please, please, please remember to be responsible on Thanksgiving Day and every day. Be safe. Don’t drink and drive.

I want you to come back and visit me here so you can tell me what wines you served with Thanksgiving dinner!

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Hendry Zinfandel

Mo Wine Please

Mo Wine Review – Hendry Zinfandel

The cover story of this month’s Wine Enthusiast Magazine features what they call California’s most iconic grape – Zinfandel.

According to the article, Zin is “in”… as in it is currently enjoying huge popularity. Not to be confused with (although it often is) “white zinfandel”, this varietal is a hearty wine that pairs very well with lots of different types of food.

One of our very, very favorite Zinfandel producers is Hendry Wines of Napa Valley.

Hendry makes a couple of different variations, designated by the specific block within the vineyard from which the grapes come.

This week we enjoyed the 2010 Hendry Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel.

Hendry zin

One night we enjoyed the wine with an Italian sausage, red pepper and spinach risotto.  The wine was equally delicious the next night when we paired it with chicken breasts smothered in barbecue sauce.

Perhaps you have heard the term “Old Vine Zinfandel”.  Although there is no legal definition of “Old Vine” most folks agree that the label describes vines that are at least 50 years old, some even say 100 years is the magic number. By comparison, most vines have a useful life of only 25 years before they are dug up and replaced. Although Block 7, planted in 1975 and Block 22, planted in 1995, are old-ish, in the wine world they are only considered “middle-aged”.

But, just like those of us who describe ourselves as “middle-aged”, these vines have been around long enough to mellow and to become even better versions of their younger selves. Their roots have dug deep, making them able to benefit from the minerals in the soil from the surface down to the really ancient layers.  See, there are good things about getting older!

Expertly blended, the grapes from these two blocks combine to make a wine that is a beautiful dark color with deep berry flavors with a little lingering smokiness at the finish.

The tasting notes for the 2010 Hendry Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel say that the wine pairs well with “tomato-based Italian plates…simple pastas, as well as just about anything on the barbecue.” And we would agree!

If you travel to Napa Valley, especially if you are looking for a wine tasting experience that is low key and different than most others, I recommend you visit Hendry Wines.

Their tours and tastings are by appointment only. The tasting fee is $20, a tour and tasting costs $40 but both will be refunded if you make a wine purchase of equivalent cost. I’m betting you will.

We had been impressed by a Hendry wine in a restaurant so on one of our trips to Napa, Peter and I decided to visit the winery to check it out.  I called to make an appointment and was given directions to the ranch and told that our tour guide would be George.

“Ok, sounds great!”

hendry sign

It took us a couple of drive-bys to find the place. This modest sign, the only indication that we had arrived at our destination, was a symbol of the laid back feeling of the place.  Nothing flashy, nothing showy, just a ranch where they happened to grow grapes and make kick-ass wine.

One other couple joined us for the tour and tasting. And it was, in fact led by George – as in George Hendry, winery owner.  The land has been in the Hendry family for over 100 years and George has spent his whole life there – oh, except for when he went to college and grad school to become a nuclear physicist. Now George splits his time between winemaking and the design and manufacture of particle accelerators.

He is the most unassuming, gentle (and obviously brilliant) man who is absolutely passionate about the wine he makes. George had us tromping through the vineyards and tasting grapes. Once we got back to the farmhouse (aka tasting room) George started pouring and talking. With each wine we tried, George described a mouthwateringly delicious dish he likes to make to pair with the wine.  Before long we were trying to figure out how to wrangle an invitation to dinner.

(Seriously, Mr. Hendry – you need to write a cookbook.)

After each taste, George would say, “Oh, I want you to try this!” and he’d open yet another bottle.  By the end of our 4 hour (was supposed to be 2 hour) visit we had sipped and spit our way though 11 different wines and heard story after story about the family, the winery and what George likes to cook.  It was incredible. George’s obvious pride in his product made this one of the most memorable tasting experiences we have ever had in Napa.

I’m not saying that you will be able to replicate our experience – I really think ours was one of those serendipitous moments. But I will guarantee that the tour and tasting will be very different from the more scripted and polished ones you will experience on the main highways of Napa Valley. You will learn a lot, taste some wonderful wine and truly get a feel for the land.

If you see George, please tell him we say hi!

Note: This is not a paid review. It’s just little old me talking about a wine I love.

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