The Sommelier Update is an educational blog on wine, beer, spirits and food. It started in conjunction with the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiast club, but has rapidly gained an international following from those interested in learning, enjoying and having fun with food and wine. Weekly articles on advice, service, pairing ideas, recipes, education and consultation, from a Certified Sommelier and wine educator.
September is typically harvest time for grape growers in
California. This year, we looked forward to visiting Paso Robles, in the
Central Coast, and experience the flurry of activity that is grape harvest.
Plans had been made back in March, to experience our eleventh season of wine
tasting as the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts Club. Group reservations were made
for a hotel, restaurants were arranged, and a list of wineries was put together
We left Southern California early on Friday morning, and
headed up Highway 5 to the Highway 46 exit. As we approached Paso Robles, the
temperature began rising. By the time we got to the center of town, and met up
with a portion of our group for lunch, it was 100 degrees. The weekend promised
to be on the warm (or should I say “hot”) side. We grabbed a not-so-quick bite
at Good Ol’ Burgers, and then headed to The Oaks Hotel.
Our group of 22 people were all to meet at 3:00, at a
pre-scheduled winery. We had a bit of time before meeting up, so we headed to
Broken Earth Winery, located on the east side, just off Hwy 46. The tasting
room is located in a large leased building. They produce estate grown wines,
but their vineyard is on the far northeast side of Paso Robles. The tasting
room offers cheese and chocolate pairings with their wines (at an additional
cost). There is also a café located on the property. This all may change in the
future, as we learned they will be moving to the Tin City area with a new
tasting room. Maury was pouring wines for us, and was a wealth of knowledge;
not only about the wines he was serving, but about local wineries we needed to
visit. The tasting included numerous varieties and styles. In general, I found
the wines as good, but nothing really outstanding. I did purchase two of their
limited release wines: 2012 Petit Sirah and 2015 Grenache.
Our arranged tasting was at Barr Estates. I had met Greg
and Tealy Barr years before, and have kept in touch over the years. There was
some concern about a large group coming in during harvest, but as it turned
out, most of the harvest had been delayed two to three weeks, due to the
excessive heat. Above 98 degrees, the vines shut down, and ripening comes to a
halt. So, only some white wine grapes had been harvested, and the staff had
plenty of time to spend with us in the vineyard and the winery.
Barr Estates is a family-owned and operated vineyard,
located on about 60 acres. They grow seven different grape varieties, produce well-crafted
wines. From a crisp, aromatic Albarino, to the dark and spicy Primitivo, to the
smooth and sexy Petit Verdot…you can’t go wrong with wine purchases at Barr. We
coaxed a couple extra tastings of Petit Verdot and Sangiovese when the group
thinned out a bit. All wines are priced under $30, and are great values. I walked
out with a mixed case of Albarino, Jubilado, Petit Verdot, Cabernet, and
Primitivo. Great wine, and even nicer people. Check out Barr Estates.
It was now late afternoon, and all 22 of our group had
safely arrived in Paso Robles. We broke up into groups for the dinners. Some
headed off to Firestone Brewery for dinner, and my group of eight headed to
Cello Ristorante, located in the Ayres Allegretto Vineyard Resort. This is a
gorgeous hotel restaurant. The atmosphere was Mediterranean. A guitarist was
strumming and singing songs at the entrance. The dinner menu met all the
requirements of our group, from vegetarians to meat lovers. The wine list
included wines by the glass, and bottle from both the Old World, and a nice
selection of local wines. The only common complaint from the group was that the
food was over seasoned. I’d still recommend checking them out.
Saturday morning came, and many of us met for the
included breakfast, at the hotel restaurant. By 9:45 our tour bus from
Breakaway Tours met us in front of the hotel, and we were loaded in, and headed
to our 10:00 appointment at Alta Colina Winery.
Alta Colina is located along Adelaida Road, and is only a
short drive from the hotel. The wines are all produced from estate grown vineyards.
Of the 130 acres owned, only 31 are planted with vines.The vineyards above the winery (out of site),
on steep slopes. So steep, that they could only be hand-harvested. The Tillman
family grows 8 Rhone grape varieties (4 white and 4 red). Production is small:
less than 5,000 cases. The red wines are full bodied, and luscious. I picked up
their Grenache and GSM.
Grafting vines at Tablas Creek
The next stop was at Tablas Creek Vineyards. I am always
a little wary of the large wineries. Sometimes I find larger producers lose
focus. So, I was pleasantly surprised at Tablas Creek. Not only did we get a
wonderful tour of the winery and vineyards, we were educated on grafting, and
the historical role that Tablas Creek had on the entire Rhone movement in Paso
Robles. Many of the “mother vines” from the original vine cuttings from France
are visible in the pots around the tasting room. The wines were extraordinary
examples of Rhone style wines. Wine lovers can taste traditional blends, or
individual varieties, including such unusual grapes as Counoise, Picardan,
Picpoul, and Terret Noir. I had been hearing about their Tannat wine, but
unfortunately they were out.
We had lunch on their open patio, outfitted with tables,
chairs and umbrellas. The winery offers reusable canteens of chilled water for
those visiting the property.
Wine tasting at Brecon
Our next stop was at a small winery run by a Welsh man,
and Australian: Brecon Estate. Our group met out on the lawn area, a bit away
from the tasting room. While many in our group didn’t feel they were given much
attention, I had long conversations with Amanda, learning about her and her
husband; their caving passion, and love for wine. The Albarino was crisp and
aromatic, and the Rhone white was heavier and more complex. The Red were big,
bold and age worthy. One unusual blend was Zinfandel with Tannat. A nice blend.
Our last stop for the day was at Four Lanterns. For those
of you who have been tasting in Paso Robles for a while, you will recognize
their tasting room as the old location for Lone Madrone and Kenneth Volk. Here
again, we were at a family run winery. The specialty at Four Lanterns is both
Rhone and Bordeaux style wines. After a day of heavier wines, the wines here
were lighter in style. The Grenache was lighter with a bit more acidity than
other wineries of the day. We also encountered our first dessert wine of the
day: a late harvest Viognier. The owner, Jackie Gleason was pouring for our
group, and two other groups that followed us in.
We arrived back at the hotel around 5:00, and dinner
reservations were for ten people at 6:30. So, we had a little time to spend
after getting all our wine purchase back to the room. The hotel offers wine and
olive oil tastings in the lobby on Friday and Saturday afternoons. This
evening, the owner of Four Sisters winery was pouring her wines. While I didn’t
do a full tasting of her wines, I did try the Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Cabernet
Blend. She was unable to sell wines directly, but they were available at the
hotel bar, and the winery.
Dinner was in downtown Paso Robles at the Fish Gaucho.
This is where the younger crowd hangs out. We were seated next to bridesmaid
party, and the entire restaurant was hopping with activity. The fresh seafood
was excellent and served quickly…maybe too quickly, as we felt they were trying
move everyone along. Beware that this Mexican style restaurant doesn’t include
chips and salsa when you sit down, and be prepared – a side of guacamole will
cost you. It is noisy too. Very good seafood, but I’d recommend sitting on the
outside porch is noisy, crowded restaurants aren’t your thing.
Check back for the continuation to days three and four, as we discover some outstanding new wineries in the Paso Robles area.