I usually shy away from Cabs when choosing a dinner wine, unless we were pulling a steak off the grill that is. I am not sure why, if it’s a bias I have because of its reputation or if I am concerned it would over power whatever I just spent hours creating or I did not feel the meal warrants a wine that is usually one of the pricier in the collection. I do not shy away from it when out tasting, and we often purchase a few as well, but then they just sit there waiting for the “perfect meal”. Recently, however, we were out with friends and purchased a bottle to drink with our meal. It happened rather quickly and I was not able to give my input and before I knew it we had a bottle of Cab at our table and I had just ordered Mahi-mahi. Great, I thought, now I am not going to be able to enjoy my meal because the wine will totally dominate the fish, and I probably will not even like it that much. Much to my surprise they paired wonderfully. Since then I have paired Cabs with several other non-traditional Cab dishes. I have been intrigued that these big wines can become chameleons and pair with many dishes with very subtle flavors without losing any of their own appeal. They are not the bully I thought they were. I guess I have a little bit of a cab crush now. Try it out for yourself and I think you will be surprised how a Cab can stand up to just about any big flavor yet not overpower some of the more subtle flavors. Let me know what you come up with.
Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in”
― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
While the rest of the country has been under a barrage of storms this winter, so much so that it effecting the national economy, we here in California have had one of the best summers this winter that many of us can remember. It was on one of these memorable weekends, mid 70’s, light wind, clear skies-in MARCH, that we found ourselves back in Carmel. True to our form, our first day was spent catching up with some of our favorite wineries in the square, Wrath Wines and Scheid Vineyards. Paired with some of the incredible cheese’s found right next to Wrath at the Carmel Cheese Shop and the weekend was getting kicked off in the best way possible. With over 10 tasting room’s right in the heart of Carmel by the Sea we decided to try a few new ones as well. While looking for Galante Vineyards we stumbled upon Dawn’s Dream Winery. Newly located in town after moving from the valley we soon found out that it was started by Dawn, the wife of Jack Galante. Focusing on mostly Pinot Noir, in contrast to her husband, and naming most of the wines after her daughters, our pour guild took us though the tasting list that included an ’11 “Rachael” from the Santa Lucia Highlands, an ’11 “Nicole” from Monterey and an ’09 Carneros Pinot. All of these wines had a soft pleasant aroma, were light at first and then built in flavor on the back end. They all had a nice balance of fruit and mineral, but with the exception of the ’09 Carneros were a little rough. They do have all the right characteristics and my guess is that in a year or two they will soften a bit. Unfortunately they were out of the ’11 “Alyssa” Santa Lucia, which we were told was the most popular. All Dawn’s wines are $30 which after another year or so I think will be a fair price point.
With some land mark tips from our pour guild at Dawn’s we did find our way to Galante Vineyards, tucked in behind a small park on Dolores street. Contrary to Dawn’s, the new kid on the block, Galante has been making wine since the mid ‘90’s and claims to be the first tasting room in Carmel. Also in contrast with Dawn’s is the varietals, likely by design and harmonic matrimony. While she focuses on the Burgundy styles, his is primarily on the Bordeaux style. These wines were all very big, as you would imagine, with my favorites being the ’10 Rancho Galante and the ’07 Blackjack Pasture. Both of these are your classic big Cabs with a lot of dark fruit and some tannins but overall very smooth. At $25 the Rancho is a very good deal but you double that with the Blackjack which is not twice the wine. Our final stop of the day was another new find Silvestri Vineyards. Representing what we all hope to do, make millions doing something we love and then start a winery and do something else we love, owner Alan Silvestri is very well known for his film music and his list of contributions is very long and accomplished. I am not sure what it was exactly, but with the exception of the ’12 Estate Pinot Noir, which I liked a lot, all of these wines seemed to have a very similar flavor characteristic to them that I could not help but think was some additive.
Unfortunately we were late trying to make dinner reservations to one of our favorite restaurants in Carmel, Demetra Café, but were told a new restaurant, Yafa, was owned and run by the same family. They were very friendly and welcoming, even giving us all a glass of wine while we waited for our table to be ready. While the food was good, the salmon ravioli especially standing out, it did not stand up to Demetra and I am not sure we will return given all the options in the area.
Day two started at Taste Morgan. While very well-known and having been in the area for a while, it’s a little bit off the usual “wine path” and we had not been before. Greeting us with a cheery “hello”, our pour guild here was very funny and energetic, as great way to start the day. They have quite a few wines on their list and while we did not taste them all, our pour guild was happy to let us taste several that were not on the list for the day. All of these wines were very clean and consistent, what you would expect for a larger but not huge production winery. I found them all very pleasant to drink but nothing really put me over the top. Then it was into Carmel Valley and on to the usual wine trail. After a quick stop at the new tasting room of Talbot (very cool with basically a motorcycle museum around the tasting area) we walked over to Cowgirl Winery. A stark contrast to the ritzy glamor of Talbot, the tasting room has a quaint, barn-ish feel to it. They have 4 wines here with the Rosѐ being my favorite. Light and refreshing and not too sweet. Everything about this place, including the wine, is light and fun and it does not seem like they take themselves too seriously. A walk across the street found us at the Twisted Roots tasting room, located in the Lyons Head Art Gallery which used to be the home of the Joyce Vineyard tasting room. This winery is actually located in Lodi and just opened this tasting room in Carmel Valley, I am guessing for the increased exposure. Here again I got a taste of some kind of additive from all the wines except the ’09 Petite Sirah which drank very nicely, not like a typical Petite but more like a blend, softer then you would expect. Our last stop, and as usual an almost missed stop due to time, was at Boёtё’s tasting room. Located in a very non-descript shopping center closer to highway 1, it’s easy to miss but one that should become a regular stop. On a small 7 acre vineyard they grow mostly Cab and Cab Franc and their grapes are considered by some to be some of the best in California. As you would expect, these wines are all very big, but not overpowering or rough, they have a very nice balance of fruit, mineral and tannins, and are all smooth on the tongue. Some are a bit more complex, which I like, and some are your typical CA style fruit bombs. Basically, if you enjoy Cabs, you will find one here to your liking.
For dinner that night we had made reservations to one of our favorite restaurants in the area, Passionfish in Pacific Grove. We had not been there in a while but it was remembered for its great selection of fresh fish and creative dishes, as well as an impressive wine cellar, and it did not disappoint. Carmel does have many very good restaurants all within walking distance, but nothing like Passionfish, and it’s worth the short drive.
Find of the weekend, Boёté. They have definitely made on to the list of must stops when we are in the area. Disappointment of the weekend, interestingly, was Talbot. Their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are usually consistently good. However they were a bit weak, almost watered down this time, and did not have their usual complexity.
I found a Sonoma getaway on Groupon and booked the date. With great anticipation, Hill and I loaded up the Monsters and headed up to Sonoma to experience their wines and hospitality. We stayed at the dog friendly Best Western Plus Sonoma Valley Inn. It was an above average room located within walking distance of the town square. There was a dog park and walking trail right off of 1st St. W., also within walking distance. You can spend the whole day at the tasting rooms just off the square. We found one of our favorites from Healdsburg had opened a tasting room of the square. MacLaren Tasting Lounge has some of the best Syrahs I have tasted.
On the drive up to Sonoma from the bay area our first stop was at Domaine Carneros. Hill loves the bubbly and Domaine Carneros was a recommended stop. I enjoyed the Brut rose. It was fruity, flora with a hint of tangerine on the finish.
We left Domaine Carneros and drove across the street to Cuvaison. What an unexpected surprise. Our Pour Guild was Pina, Patty, and Paul. They were awesome. Very attentive, knowledgeable, Personable. I learned a lot about Cuvaison wines from them and from tasting. Their 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay has aromas of citrus, popcorn and butter, with mineral, lite fruit and floral notes on the tongue. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was floral on the nose, with raspberry, strawberry and a little spice on the tongue. Tannins and acidity balanced remarkably. One of my favorites. The 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 85% Cab, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Cab Franc. It has good legs, nice black cherry color and lots of dark fruit on the tongue. It is well balanced with hints of caramel and toffee. 2011 Estate Syrah has long legs and deep dark color. It is smokey, peppery with hints of bacon and black cherry and supportive tannins. 2010 Estate Merlot is 86% melot, 14% cab. Jalapeno pepper on the nose and palate, long legs, dark color. Smooth and silky. The Noblesse Desert Wine has a nose of apricot and Meyers lemons. It is not overly sweet with a lite lemon finish. The price points for Cuvaison are right on. I enjoyed all of their wines and Cuvaison is now on our “To Join” wine club list.
We said goodbye to our new friends at Cuvaison and headed to one of favorites, Patz and Hall. They have just opened a beautiful tasting room in Sonoma. We were greeted by Ross who made us feel at home and set us up with a bowl of those delicious truffle oil almonds. We started with the 2011 Hyde Vineyard Carneros. It has aromas of orange and white flowers and a palate of crisp acidity and minerality. Lite oak and spice on the finish. $58. 2011 Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley Chardonnay has aromas of citrus and green apples. On the palate it is well balanced with acidity and minerality with a hint of butter and oak on the finish. $60.
After taking the doggies for a walk, we headed to Schug Winery. Schug Winery is a 50,000 case producer. The winemaker, Walter Schug, is a 3rd generation wine maker. His life story, growing up in Germany and emigrating to the US, is very interesting. We started with the 2012 Chardonnay Carneros. It was well balanced with a lite butter finish. The 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros is their Flagship. I found it to be fruit forward and lite tannins. Price points for both wines is acceptable. The 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros ”Schug Estate” was quite nice. I found it to be smokey, dark fruit notes, well balanced acidity and tannins. The 2010 Cabernet Franc is 70% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sav. On the palate it was a little dry with dark berry fruit. 2012 Late Harvest Riesling has aromas of honey suckle and bees wax. It is sweet but not over the top with notes of apricot and honey. Its also lite on the tongue and not syrupy. Price point a little high for the smaller size bottle. The 2010 Rouge De Noirs, Carneros, Sparkling Pinot Noir was a nice surprise. It reminded me of a bubbly version of the 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros with a little more character. I enjoyed all their wines and I think it id definitely worth a visit. Schug also has a self guided tour of the Estate which provides some really nice views. Gloria Ferrer was our next stop. Gloria Ferrer has a nice 2010 Brut rose that reminds me of citrus and raspberries. The 2008 Jose Ferrer Pinot Noir was my favorite. Its long legs and ruby color hinted of the complexity of the tannins and the flavors of raspberry and cherry. At $42 a bottle I could not resist.
We headed back to town to continue tasting on the town square. We wondered into Walt and it was a great find. Walt features Chardonnaya and Pinot Noir. Heaven…. Jerry was great. I felt like we were old friends hanging out at a barbeque. The 2012 “Blue Jay” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a four vineyard blend. It has a nice lite color, good legs and blue fruit, black cherry is smooth and easy on the palate. We did a side by side comparison of the “Blue Jay”, “Hein Family” and “Savoy”. The “Hein Family” vineyard is located closer to the coast. It gets less sun and cooler temperatures. The “Savoy” is mid-valley and has the best qualities of “Hein Family” and “Blue Jay”, which is the furthest from the coast. “Savoy” was definitely my favorite but out of my price range at $60. I enjoyed all the wines at Walt and are my recommended stop in Sonoma. Jerry suggested we stop by MacLaren Tasting Lounge. I remembered visiting him when he was pouring at Talty Winery in Healdsburg. By the time we got to MacLaren, they were closing up but, they were willing to pour for us. So, they unpacked the bottles and we got to taste some really good syrahs. We were poured four wines; 2010 Judge Family Vineyard, Bennet Valley, 2010 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County, 2009 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County and the 2010 Samantha’s Vineyard, Russian River. My favorite was the 2009 Drouthy Neebor. It had a big fruity nose and was well balanced. And, the price points are reasonable.
Sonoma was a really nice wine tasting experience. Everyone we met was really nice, engaging and more than willing to carry a conversation and joke with us. Can’t wait to go back.
I had never spent much time in Sonoma and it’s been many years since I’d been there so when Brax bought me a 2 night stay at the Best Western Sonoma for my birthday I was really excited.
On our drive into Sonoma on Sunday our first stop was Domaine Carneros for some sparkling wine. They offer several different sparkling wines as well as a Chardonnay and a few Pinot Noirs. I really enjoyed the Blanc de Noir, very fine bubbles, crisp fruit and dry. The tastings are done in flights and served out on the veranda of this beautiful estate.
Directly across from Domaine Carneros is Cuvaison which was our next stop since it was so conveniently located. Unbeknownst to us you’re supposed to make appointments…oopsie! The Pina, Patty, and Paul were great, more than happy to let us taste even though we didn’t have an appointment. This is a very modern tasting room with a great view overlooking a large pond and vineyards. This was quite a pleasant surprise, as we found some really nice wines. The Sauvignon Blanc Solitaire was wonderful!!! Very crisp with lots of tropical fruit, not sweet. As Paul, the very nice gentleman pouring for us, put it…the Solitaire pairs well with a bikini. The Kite Tail Chardonnay was good too, the nose reminded me a bit of Lucky Charms, slightly marshmallow with a bit of butter. This is a well-balanced wine, not to buttery. The Estate Pinot Noir is rich with lovely dark fruit. The Syrah is a bit smokey, with black fruit and a hint of bacon. Lastly is the Cab, lots of dark fruit with some black tea, moderate tannins. We will definitely be bringing Doc and Troya for a visit!!
Last stop for the day was visiting Patz & Hall in their new home. Gorgeous tasting room with a great patio overlooking the vineyard and staff couldn’t be nicer. Ross, poured for us and was very knowledgeable and friendly. P&H never disappoints, both the Hyde Vineyard and Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnays were nice. I am not a huge Chardonnay fan but Hyde Vineyard is crisp and citrusy with a bit of richness while the Zio Tony Ranch has hints of butter with apple. But oooohhhh how I love the Pinots!!! The Jenkins Ranch has lots of red berries with slightest hint of pepper, soft finish. The Moses-Hall has cherry and big red fruit, almost jammie with rich texture. The Pisoni was just fruity, velvety, yumminess.
We headed for the hotel after Patz & Hall. The Best Western is obviously not a fancy hotel but it was very clean, comfortable, in a great location and allows dogs. We had dinner at The Red Grape, a frequently recommended spot. Very low-key pizza joint with a good menu, not just pizza.
The next morning we walked the dogs to a nice little dog park a few blocks off the square before we started our day of tasting. Around the square is several tasting rooms, boutiques and restaurants all within walking distance from our hotel. We initially were trying to go to Sojourn but it is by appointment only so we called and left a message. It was a Monday so we figured they may have been closed. We then headed to Schug Carneros Estate where we tasted a sparkling wine which I bought, the Chardonnay was fairly well-balanced, a little buttery. The Carneros Pinot Noir was good, fruit forward but light, where as the Schug Estate Pinot had lots of fruit but was a bit smokey with more minerality and tannins. The Cab Franc was a big, dark berried wine with firm tannins. Lastly was the Late Harvest Riesling, not syrupy, hints of honeysuckle, apricot and lemon.
Gloria Ferrer was the next stop since it was down the street from Schug. We ordered from a list of flights, 2 are bubbly flights and one was a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flight. I, of course, did the bubbly. My flight consisted of 2005 Royal Cuvee, crisp with pear and apple; Blanc de Noir, slight blush, hints of berries, slightly sweet; Va di Vi, very sweet because of the Muscat with hints of lemon. This is a beautiful location with nice patio to relax and overlook the valley.
On our way back into town we stopped at a roadside store called Angelo’s where we bought homemade beef jerky, salami and bacon…the spicy beef jerky was the winner.
We decided to stop at the Walt Winery tasting room in town. So glad we stopped here!! Jerry who was helping us was awesome and the wines were great!! The Blue Jay and Savoy Pinot Noir were my favorite but really all of the wines were very good. We then walked over to Vino Alley on the opposite side of the square to see if we could find Maclaren. Jerry had recommended it but we had also had the wines a few years ago in Healdsburg. It was getting late but we found Steven and his wife in their tasting room getting ready to close up shop when we walked in, much to their dismay I am sure!! But they were very gracious, brought back out the wines and poured us their lovely Syrahs. Our last stop was Sigh, a bubbly bar. They offered lots of choices of sparkling wines as well as Champagne.
For dinner we went with the most recommended restaurant, The Girl and the Fig. Super cute restaurant and bar with nice outdoor tented dining area that was heated. The food was really good and nicely priced.
As we headed out for home the next morning we went to breakfast at Community Café, delish!!! Need I say more?
I really, really enjoyed Sonoma. It is so low-key and easy-going as are the people who live and work there. Everyone was so friendly and not snooty. Next time I definitely want to do more around the square, there is so much to see, shop, eat, drink. As much as I like Napa I love Sonoma!!!
Returning to a wine region you know and love but recognize has even more to offer poses a dilemma. So much wine, so little time. How do you balance returning to your old “fav’s” with continuing to explore the region. Our strategy for our 2 day trip was simple. We would have an old day, returning to our staple wineries and eating establishments, and a new day. As I am sure many already know, Terry Hoage and Kukkula are our go-to’s right now. Terry with his array of soft, incredibly balanced blends, and Kukkula with their blends, a bit bigger and not as soft but still very well balanced. Neither disappointed on our first Paso tasting day of 2014. The hardest part about tasting at Terry Hoage is picking a winner. Which would you pick if you could only have one. Fortunately we were not it that position. We left with a few. It has been fun watching Kukkula grow up these last couple years. They are now using only estate grown fruit and it shows. The consistency and balance, while always good from our perspective, is getting better and better. Same dilemma here resulting in the same solution. The trunk was already getting full. We also made a stop to Hearthstone. Our first trip here was during our GSM tour and we were very pleasantly surprised. This time our pour guild was Paul Ayers who was more than happy to deviate from the tasting list to ensure our questions and taste buds were satisfied. The GSM’s here are some of the best in the region and the 2012 Pearl was pouring very nice, a bright, clean Viognier blend with many layers of flavors both on the nose and on the tongue. I have a feeling we will be back soon and they will likely end up on our short “go-to” list. We also made a stop at Niner. When we first went to Niner we were impressed with several of the wines, especially the blends and the Malbec. Although on the larger side, something we often try to avoid, we were impressed with the member parties and cooking classes being offered to members. After allowing our usual cool down period and re-tasting the wine we decided to become members. Unfortunately we have not been pleased. Every time we try to sign up for the classes it seems they have already sold out before they even make the announcement. We have also been less than impressed with the wine the last couple times we have been down. We decided we would give it one more chance on this trip. Sufice it to say we were once again surprised and pleased. Maybe not enough to stay members, but we will be back for some of our favorites.
Our plan for day two was to have each one of the Four pick one new winery to try. That meant we had 4 we knew we would be going to and would maybe add one or two along the way depending on advice or tips we would get along the way. Once you get over 5 or 6 tastings in a day you reach pallet fatigue and everything either tastes great or bad. You really cannot discriminate. Our first stop on day 2 was at Robert Hall WineryRobert Hall. We usually stay away from the bigger production wineries, and have not spend a lot of time on the east side of Paso, so this was a big break from tradition. There is a lot of money here. From the big fountain in front to the state of the art tasting and banquet area, nothing is subtle about this place. They have even won a recent California State Winery of the Year award. One of the things that sets Paso apart from Napa is even at the bigger production places you will find hospitality that is a rarity in Napa. Christina, our pour guild, was all smiles and very personable. About half way through our tasting she offered to take us on a tour of the cellar and production area. We were impressed with several of the wines here, and the price point is hard to beat. Not the big fruit bombs or the mass production soul-less list of many, these wines had a lot of complexity and distinction. We especially liked the ’11 Select Granache, the ’11 Meritage and the ’12 Cuvée de Robles. The tour was also very impressive, and if anyone has the means and is looking for an impressive place to have a party or get married, I would recommend looking into what they have to offer.
On a recommendation from Christina we made a small detour from our itinerary to make a stop at Mitchella Vineyard. They have a big list of wines they pour, and with your tasting fee you get several cheese samples to pair with several of the wines. A couple of the wines here were nice and we especially liked the ’12 Viognier and the ’11 Cheap Bastard, a blend of Petite Sirah, Zin, Syrah and Cab. It had a nice smokey, big flavor to it with a clean finish, not big on the tannins. Our experience here was soured for a couple reasons. The first was we like to share tastings, allows us to taste more wine and limit the pallet fatigue, and the pours here were very small. It was nearly impossible for 2 people to get two small sips (one before the cheese pair and one after) from the pour they were giving. The second was we were there with one other couple, who were obviously members and were getting most if not all of the attention. After a short drive across the street we found ourselves at Vina Robles, another larger, out of character winery for the FTF. Bob, our pour guild here, despite being distracted by a celebrity author, did a great job of informing and entertaining us during the tasting. I was surprised at the complexity of the wines here as well, given the size. A big find was the ’12 Vermentino, a white wine that is almost like a Sauvignon/Viongier blend. It was very clean, with a lot of layers of both floral and fruit. It is also a steal at $18, a great everyday white that will pair nicely with a number of dishes. We also got to taste the ’08 and ’09 Syrée, a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend side by side. We were told that informal polling was at about 50:50 as to which people liked, but for me they were so different (interesting because they are essentially the same blend, just one year apart) that I could not compare them. I actually liked them both, the ’08 having some typical big Syrah characteristics, pepper, some leather, light tannin, while the ’09 was soft and smooth, what you expect for a blend.
From there we were off to our appointment at Denner Vineyards. A far cry from our morning tastings, not just because we were now in the heart of the west side, but also because it was much smaller. You also need an appointment and a pass key just to get through the gate. I found it interesting that the initial feeling of this place was that it was Denner Vineyards Tasting Roomgoing to be somewhat private and intimate, given the appointment and gate and such, but when you get to the tasting room it felt like any other tasting room with several groups around one table being served by a single host. I was not sure why the appointment was necessary. With the exception of their ’12 Viongier, the wines they were pouring here were all blends. As you would expect with names like Ditch Digger, Dirt Worshipper and Mother of Exiles, these were big, earthy blends, all with big flavors but well blended so they all had a softer component to them as well. We were also introduced to the concept of wine making using concrete tanks although it was too busy to get the complete low down on the process.
Our next planned visit was just off the square in Paso Robles, so with a little time left we decided to make another detour and go to Jada Vineyard, just up the road from Denner, and we are glad we did. Ari, our pour guild here, greeted us as we walked in and introduced us to the two tasting menus and let us know that each would also come with a cheese pairing, our second of the day. Offering a number of creatively named blends, the first on our list was a ’12 XVC. The only white on our list, this was a very nice Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Viognier blend, a lot of fruit without being sweet or syrup like. Another of my favorites here was the ’11 Strayts, a Merlot/Syrah blend. With about two thirds Merlot it had the dark cherry and other fruit flavors of a Merlot with the softer texture on the pallet but the Syrah gave it a bit of a punch in the middle. The cheese it was paired with did not change it much, but I will be interested to see how it pairs with something more substantial. Most of the wines here are very reasonably priced, my only disappointment was one of my favorites and one of the only single varietals on the list, a ’10 Estate Syrah, was a bit on the high end at $75. Although it was busy, and getting busier, Ari took the time to guild us through our tasting, answering all our questions and allowing us to deviate some off the list. He also explained their concrete aging process, which allow the wine to soften more than it would in steel, but does not add flavor to the wine as wood barrels will. Our experience at Jada epitomizes what we love about Paso Robles, tasting great wine, meeting great people and learning about wine and the wine making process in a relaxed setting.
Our final stop, Arroyo Robles Winery, is one of a hand full that are located right around the square in the heart of Paso. While I am generally a glass half full type of guy, I could not find anything redeeming about these wines. They all had a very similar taste, that of some additive that I could not put my finger on but had an artificial sweetener feel to it. Our pour guild here was very entertaining and did some very good impersonations, and without this we would have likely left before we got to the sparkling. I will say this, the Grand Cuvée was a nice sparling for $16, but not enough to make me want to return.
Dinner that night was not exactly a new experience, Brax and Hill had been there before but were more then up for a return visit to Buono Tavola. A small little Italian restaurant just off the square. We arrived early with the thought that we could enjoy a drink at the bar before dinner, but our table was ready. The drink menu had some interesting options, unfortunately none of us were impressed with the final product. The food on the other had was great, especially the pasta. My only complaint is that it was a bit Americanized. What do I mean by that, well if you have had authentic Italian you know that they do not put so much sauce on the pasta that you can barely taste the noodles. Here they had all the ingredients and flavor in the noodles and sauce to keep it authentic and achieve the balance between the two, instead they went the American rout and drowned the noodles with sauce.
Final thoughts. Our true favorites did not disappoint and their position remains unchanged. We may have some additions to the short list, stay tuned. Find of the weekend……Jada Vineyards. Exactly what we look for and love about Paso!
Well the fan 4 ventured out for our annual Paso Robles trip. This years theme day 1 old favorites day 2 all new wineries. As you know all of our different personalities by now I will not spend much time on each sip of wine I had and the detailed tasting notes. I’m here to speak to which ones were great, fun and interesting and which ones sucked (to put it bluntly). Of course these are only all of our opinions I leave it up to you to decide for yourselves.
Day 1- of course it was amazing! Hello! They are all of our favorites and must try places! The usual suspects Terry Hoage, Kukkula, and Hearthstone. This trip I enjoyed all three very much but Kukkula was actually my favorite. This is unusual because Terry Hoage always takes the cake when we visit, don’t get me wrong it was delicious per usual but Kukkula is really doing some fantastic things with their estate wines. My favorite at Kukkula was the 2008 and 2011 Sisu. It’s just so rich and smooth drink alone or could pair with food.
My must take away from Hearthstone was their 2012 Pearl a white blend (60% Roussanne, 40% Viognier) and 100% amazing! The creaminess and apricot accents of a good Viognier with just a little extra flavor from the Roussanne. Terry Hoage must take home was the 2011 5 Blocks this is always a favorite of mine regardless of the vintage.
As we were driving back into town Brax and Doc wanted to check out Whalebone. The server was funny and more pleasant then the wine I’ll say. I wasn’t a fan of their “Bob Wine” they did have a blend that was drinkable called Boneyard. I wouldn’t go back to this place. Doc like their Bob Wine and is convinced he is going to pull a fast one on me one night and thinks ill love it in a blind tasting. We shall see I say!
We decided to keep with our tradition of cheese and bread with pizza for dinner. We stopped at Pithy Little Wine Co. It was the only shop that had cheese and was open after 5pm. Well we were robbed I tell ya! 65$ for three cheeses, a buffalo salami and a small loaf of bread. We were silly enough to purchase instead of going to Trader Joes up the freeway (to our credit we didn’t realize there was one in Paso, nor did we check). The purchases were good but again 65$ was ridiculous.
Day 2- I’ll keep this short. The good: Jada. The bad-Robert Hall, Vino Robles, Mitchella, Denner. The ugly- (this pains me to say this because of course it was MY pick!) Arroyo Robles.
Jada was good. Ari was our tasting guide. He was great and very much so added to the positive experience. They are doing interesting things with their wines. They are using the Tannat grape for blending and a new process of using cement instead of barrels to age the wine. Whatever they are doing it’s working. My favorite was their 2012 XCV unfiltered White Rhone Blend. They are ones to keep an eye on and a must visit. Not in the same category as Kukkula or Terry but I can see them doing some great things.
The bad-well they were placed in this category for various reasons. Robert Hall is big production and we all knew this going in but Hill had heard good things and we were thinking we could taste and get things that were small production that maybe you can only get at the winery. I didn’t really like anything all that much, it all seemed to tart. Christina was our host and she was really great. She gave us a tour and was very knowledgable.
Mitchella- I remember tasting some of their wine and thinking it’s ok but I was distracted by the server who was far more friendly and interested in the wine clubs members that were there tasting. If this is how they treat their visitors I don’t see how they will get any additional members. She spent enough time to pour literally a sip of wine and would walk back over to entertain this couple who obviously were members. Maybe if she had been more attentive I would not have been so turned off and liked the wine better. The thing is even if the wine is amazing it’s all part of the experience the adds to the taste….in most cases because if the wine is take your shirt off amazing and the people suck I may still like the wine the opposite is true that if the wine is so horrible you can’t even stomach it but the server is fabulous it doesn’t mean the wine will be any better. In this case the wine was ok but the experience turned it into mediocre.
Vino Robles- Let me say the tasting room is very pretty. They have a huge fire place and beautiful wood furnishings. Bob was our tasting host. He was nice but once some guy who wrote a wine book came in and introduced himself we were put to the side. He forgot about us a little but was still nice and he was apologetic for making us wait. The wine was again ok. It was not worth the price. They were priced in the 40$ range not super expensive but not worth it. Nothing was God awful but nothing was knock your socks off either. I could have done without.
Denner- Denner is simply placed in this category because of price and the snobby Napa feel it gives off. The wine was actually pretty tasty. Bold with lots of flavor. I enjoyed all of them but my favorites were the 2011 Dirt Worshipper and 2010 Mother of Exiles. You have to make an appointment to go taste, you get a code and enter via a big steel gate. All the wines are expensive and priced in the 60$ range. They just give off the Napa attitude and while, yes I admit the wine is good, it’s not good enough for the snobby attitude you get when you are there.
Ok the last category-the ugly! Again this is so painful for me because due to my competitive nature I for sure thought (secretly to myself of course) my pick is going to be the highlight of the trip and a new favorite. Well I was so so so wrong. As I stated in my last blog I picked Arroyo Robles for their variety and the bubbly. They had interesting things such as an Albariño, Tempranillo and an almond sparkling. Well all I can say is that after the first few pours it was so bad that I had to ask the guy if these bottles had been opened for a while. I seriously was not intending for it to come out wrong but I just thought these have to be spoiled. But when he replied I just opened them yesterday and then opened a new bottle right in front of us and had us taste I knew that it was just the way the wine tasted. They all just tasted like they were open for way to long. The crazy thing is red or white they all had that distinct flavor to them. The bubbly was not bad at all, and after I had made the comment about the wine being open to long I bought two bottles of the sparkling because I felt so terrible! Definitely a skip.
Dinner was at Buena Tavola. Pretty decent Italian food. Not sure if I would go back on our next trip but it was good. We all pretty much had pasta. It was not store bought that’s for sure but nothing was exceptional.
So that’s the good the bad and ugly short of it all!
I was lucky enough to get to go to Greece with my bff, Jodi, to visit her friend Anna. The adventure started on our loooonng layover in Philly. We arrived in Philly in the morning so jumped on the subway to Washington Square to check out the Liberty Bell. We yelped a restaurant for breakfast and ended up at Talula’s Garden. OMG!! we had the best breakfast, a bit on the pricey side but well worth it!! Finally on our way to Athens that afternoon.
We arrived in Athens the next morning and made our way to Anna’s house where her mom cooked us breakfast…we thought we died and went to heaven. Nothin’ like a home cooked meal. Because Anna was in Crete until the next day we ventured off to see the Acropolis by ourselves. The Acropolis was amazing, so crazy to imagine what that time was like. I was saddened to see all the litter and cigarette butts all over the place. Such a lack of respect.
Greece in August is hot as hell, so we stopped for a refreshing cocktail and lunch after sweating our butts off walking around the Acropolis. We had a nice lunch at Oiwvos, nothin’ fancy except the most fabulous tzitziki. We were also introduced to ouzo and raki. I liked the ouzo but the raki was like drinking kerosene, no bueno.
Anna lives in Glyfada, a nice little town with lots of restaurants, bars and boutiques close to the beach. She sent us to dinner at place called Limon. It was very good, nice ombiance, delicious salads and gyros. The next morning Anna took us to The Project House. Basically a restaurant on the beach that looks like the inside of a house with couches and bookshelves throughout that looks out onto the beach. There we rented lounge chairs and an umbrella to hang out for the day. For dinner Anna took us to a place known for their fish dishes. She order several appetizers to try along with a greek salad and then our entrees that we all shared. The salads in Greece are amazing, everything is so fresh. I’ve never been on a vacation where I ate so many salads.
Jodi and I flew to Mykonos for 3 days after Athens. We wanted to stay on the beach versus in town and we totally lucked out on our hotel, Agios Ioannis Beach Resort. Small, family owned resort on the beach with a nice pool and restaurant/bar overlooking the water. Our room was spacious and clean but nothing fancy and for this time of the year reasonably priced.
Mykonos is a relatively small island but requires some sort of mode of transportation. Taxis are slim pickins so we rented a quad(scooters are also very popular) to get around. The scooter ride into town to get Bessy(our quad) was quite an adventure. I thought I was going to die several times. Think very narrow roads, large tourist buses and a maniac driving the scooter I was on the back of. When we finally got Bessy, off we went to explore the island. Mykonos beaches are beautiful, white sand and clear turquoise waters but windy. The land is actually quite barrin, fairly rocky and lots of brown shrubs.
Our first stop was Kavo Livadi beach to have lunch at Nice N Easy, a place owned by a friend of Anna’s. The food is all organic and local. We shared a delicious burger, watermelon salad and grilled octopus which was not so good. The passion fruit martini was awesome!!! This beach was particularly windy.
The next morning we headed out to Platis Gialos, another very popular beach with a few hotels around and several restaurants on the beach. We bellied up to one of the beach bars and made friends with the bartender. He took care of us:) All these beaches are covered with lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent from 9-12euros/day. This beach was very nice, not real windy with cool but comfortable, calm water. We hung out there for several hours then decided to head into town. Now there are no street signs in Mykonos just general directions so trying to find the road leading into town was interesting. Jodi was driving Bessy and I’m trying to read the map and make a best guess. We headed down a cobblestone road heading towards town only to come to stairs. Well Jodi opted to keep going…down the stairs. We finally made it to the bottom which did put us right into town only we needed to drive thru one of the restaurants outside seating area. Needless to say the manager/owner wasn’t very happy…oopsie!
The town is a maze of white stucco buildings and cobblestone walkways, very quaint. Tons of shopping and restaurants to be had. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant where the pasta was made fresh. I had a chicken gorganzola penne pasta dish the was very yummi.
Our last day in Mykonos we went to Super Paradise beach. It was quite a ride to get to but pretty cool. There we met Nick, a guy from Chicago, he and his wife and kids come every year because he has family that lives there. He filled us in on places to go on Mykonos and Santorini. Some of these beaches, Super Paradise and Paradise beach are known for their partying after the sun goes down. Being the party poopers that we are we passed on that experience. We went to dinner at a place Nick recommended for fresh fish. It was pretty amazing. Of course I can’t remember the name of it.
The next morning we hopped on the ferry to go meet up with Anna in Santorini. Santorini is like nothing I have ever seen. It is breathtaking. Anna has a little place in Megalohori where we stayed for 5 glorious days. Anna took us to her favorite beach in Perivolos. Beautiful black sand and dark green clear water. There we had lunch at her friend’s restaurant, Sea Side by Notos, right on the beach. Again because we’re with Anna she knows what to order. The grilled octopus was delicious as was the shrimp with tomatoes and of course the greek salad. On our way home we stopped at Santos Winery that is situated on the Caldera overlooking the sea to watch the sun set. It was incredible!! We watched the sunset every night, truly like nothing you’ve every seen.
The next day Anna took us to see the ancient city of Akrotiri that was covered in lava in 1600B.C. It was quite an experience, amazing how much was preserved. From there we headed to see the red beach but the road to it was closed unfortunately. We headed to Anna’s second favorite beach in Vlyhada. Another black sand beach with a cool bar that is situated above the beach giving it a great view. The beach here was a bit rocky but beautiful none the less. She then took us to her family’s cave house. It’s literally built into the side of the mountain just feet from the water, pretty cool.
Our third day we spent at a beautiful hotel on the Caldera overlooking the sea. Anna’s friend was the manager at let us hang out at the pool and enjoy some cocktails. We went to dinner in Thira and again watched a beautiful sunset. That evening we did some shopping in Oia. This is where the beautiful white washed buildings with blue roofs on the mountain side overlooking the ocean are found though we didn’t really get to appreciate that beauty because it was night time. Small cobblestone streets twist around thru this very quaint village. Unfortunately the crowds kinda kill the quaintness but it’s still gorgeous.
The following day we went back to Anna’s family’s cave house to have homemade lunch prepared by some of her relatives. Fresh cucumber and cherry tomatoes to start then a delicious pasta dish with homemade sauce….OMG!!!! After lunch we went to Anna’s favorite beach and wallowed in the water like a few elephant seals.
We had dinner that night at Senor Zorba’s, that’s right Mexican food in Greece. Besides paying a fortunate for dinner it was actually better than I thought.
For our last day on Santorini Anna arrange for us to go horseback riding with one of her distant cousins. We did a nice little ride through the vineyards and then back to the beach where we started. That afternoon we wanted to go to Oia since we didn’t get to see it during the day. HOLY hotness!! I felt so sorry for the donkeys and the hotel workers in that heat. Oia is very steep in places, there are no elevators or escalators to get to some of these hotels on the hillside. Luggage has to be carried by hand. The donkeys are used to pack out all the bags of garbage. None the less the views were absolutely breathtaking!!
For our last dinner there, Anna took us to a Cretian restaurant called Metaxi Mas which means “between us”. We sat outside on the patio, the weather was beautiful. The food as usual was delicious!!
The next morning we started early to make our way back to the states. I was sad to leave, Greece is such a magnificent place to visit. So much to see and do and eat and drink!!!! I can’t wait to go back!!!
This was a weekend I was really looking forward to, it’s been awhile since the four of us have been together. We spent 2 days in Paso, the first day we decided to hit our usual favorites and the 2nd day was all new wineries. We started off Saturday at one of my most favorites, Terry Hoage where we got to catch up with Evan, our fav tasting room pourer. I pretty much like everything here, nothing disappoints…oh wait I was disappointed because they were out of their Grenache, The Skins..boohoo!!! It was heaven!!!
Niner was our next stop where Doc and Troya are members. The tasting room and vineyards here are beautiful. The tasting had a cheese pairing option for $5 which we did. Over all for me I’m not a big fan of their wine, I did like the Twisted Spur which is a blend.
Next we went to Hearthstone. We’ve been here once before and liked their wines and the people working in the tasting room, Bob was great! Very friendly and inviting. They have a lovely white blend called The Pearl. They also have two Rose`s that we bought the previous visit that were very good. They were out of the Rose` this visit. They have a Pinot Noir along with several different red blends that are all good, very drinkable with decent price points.
Whalebone was a new one for us. They poured one white blend that was decent and several Cab and Cab blends. Since I am not a big Cab fan this wasn’t floatin’ my boat. I did like the Boneyard, a Mourvedre,Syrah,Petite Sirah, Granache,Merlot and Cab. They have a $30 price range.
Next was my other favorite that NEVER disappoints, Kukkula. We had just missed the bottling which would have been cool to see. A huge self-contained trailer that does everything is brought in to bottle the wine…a bottle a second!!! Kevin, owner/winemaker, showed us some video of the day, really an amazing process. So pretty much everything here is delish. My fav is the Pas de Deux and the Sisu, oh and Noir and Lagniappe and Lothario. Kevin’s making a Rose` for the first time this year, I am really looking forward to it.
Last of the day was Dubost. This was one of the places we came with Doc and Troya the first time we came to Paso. They had been members at the time but because of a tragic accident that took the life of the winemaker, the wine had since changed and they dropped their membership. So it had been a couple years and we wanted to try it again. For me I didn’t find anything that I liked.
We decided to do cheese/bread and pizza for dinner at the Sundance Bed and Breakfast that Doc and Troya stayed. It was a bit out in the sticks on the east side but it was beautiful! Marv’s pizza was delish! Doc and Troya got ripped off on the 3 cheeses, boar sausage and loaf of bread(see Troya’s blog, I’m SURE she commented on it).
Sunday we hired Andrew from A Safe Way Limos to drive our wino butts around, the best way to wine taste! Andrew was awesome!! We had not done any tasting on the east side of 46 so we started at Robert Hall. A large production winery with good price points.They offer a few whites and several reds. The Viognier was good as was the Meritage. Christina who helped us in the tasting room was very sweet and helpful. She offered to take us on a tour which was pretty cool.
Directly behind Robert Hall is Mitchella, a small family owned winery. Here they paired cheese with the wine tasting. They had a Grenache Blanc and Viognier as well as a Rose`. As for reds they had a Syrah, Cab, Zin and two different blends both of which I thought were decent. Prices ranged from $15-$45.
Vina Robles was next, this too is also a larger production winery. The tasting room was very impressive. They offered two tasting options, the Estate tasting and Reserve tasting which is smaller production wines. We did the Reserve tasting. There was one white wine on the list, a Vermentino, an Italian varietal which I have never tried before. It was good, crisp with hints of cantaloupe. The reds were a Cab/Petit Verdot, Syrah and two vintages of Syrah and Petite Sirah that they’ve named the Syree. Of the reds I liked the Ryan’s Road Syrah and 09 Syree. They also had a sparkling wine, a little on the sweet side for me. Price ranges from $18-$49.
We had an appointment at Denner next. Denner is on the west side and is by appointment only. The winery and tasting room was very nice and staff was friendly enough. They offered a Viognier and The Theresa(Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and Marsanne blend). I preferred the Viognier. They have 2 red blends and a Syrah. I liked the Ditch Digger and Mother of Exiles. Here they do some of the aging and fermenting in concrete. Apparently this is actually an old process but not widely used today though is starting to be put into practice again at some wineries. The wines here were decent but a bit on the pricey side, $63 for the reds and $38 for the whites. Denner also has a bed and breakfast, pictures of the rooms are impressive.
On a whim we stopped at Jada and what a pleasant surprise! They offered two tasting choices, we choose the Signature tasting which was paired with cheese. Ari, our pouring professional, was great! The XCV, a white Rhone blend, was really good!! The reds they pour are primarily blends with the exception of the Syrah. All of the reds were very good, my favorite being the Strayts and Malstria. Price points are decent, maybe a smidge on the pricey side but overall I’d say worth it.
Last was Arroyo Robles, they are located in town at their own tasting room. They have a few whites, an Albarino, Chardonnay and Viognier. Their reds are Tempranillo, Petit Sirah, a blend and a Cab. There was nothing here I cared for, the nose on all of them gave the impression of having been opened too long.
Buena Tavola was the dinner spot. Each time we come to Paso we try a new restaurant. Well…. Brax and I had dinner here the last time we came, so much for being a first, I forgot we had already eaten here….oopsie! We even had the same waitress who remembered us. I remember liking it the first time and wasn’t disappointed this time either.
I really like that several of the wineries offered cheese pairings along with the tasting either included in the tasting fee or for a small additional fee. It really gives you an idea of how the wine may taste with food.
Paso is truly one of my favorite places to explore food and wine. The tasting rooms range from rustic to very modern and people are generally very easy-going, welcoming and very willing to share knowledge and suggestions. The tasting fees are reasonable and most wineries apply your tasting fee to a purchase of a bottle.
Until our next adventure……
This weekend we were off to Paso Robles to explore some more of their 250+ wineries. Friday we re – visited some of our favorites. Terry Hoage, Kukkula, Hearthstone. We stopped in at Whalebone and Niner. Saturday we used A Safe Way Limousine Service as our designated driver. We wanted to spend the day exploring new wineries. We started at Robert Hall followers by Mitchella, Vino Robles, Denner, Jada, and Arroyo Robles.
Did I say I love Paso?? Well, I love Paso. I love the wines, the great people we have met and the wine tasting experience that is Paso. Robert Hall Winery was the first stop of the day and it didn’t disappoint. Christina welcomed us and introduced us to Robert Hall wines. When she found out it was our first visit to the winery, she gave us a tour of the their wine making process. Robert Hall has a 19,000 sq ft. cavern underneath the tasting room. There are 4,000 barrels of wine stored there. And, it is available for event rental. There are two tasting list. The House Tasting is $5 and the Reserve Tasting is $10. The fee is applied towards any wine you purchase. Since it was our first time, Hill and I decided to do both list. The House Tasting had reasonable priced quality wines. My favorites were the 2012 Viognier. The aromas of honeysuckle and orange gets your attention. But it is the flavors of tropical fruits, apricot and peach on your tongue that makes you think of summer. $20 retail. The 2012 Zinfindel, 2012 Cuvee de Robles and 2011 Syrah are all worth a taste. On the Reserve Tasting list there are 5 wines you have to try. I couldn’t decide between them so I ended up buying one of each. The 2011 Cavern Select Grenache is a even balanced, well structured wine full of flavors of plums, cherries and spice. The 2011 Pape de Robles is a GSM blend with a twist of Petite Sirah. Flavors of Blackberry, pepper and spice, made this my favorite on the list. The 2011 Meritage is a Bordeaux style blend. My tongue enjoyed the flavors of plum and lite tannins. Let’s not forget the 2010 Vintage Port. It is made from five traditional Portuguese grapes. It’s not heavy and syrupy. It is fruity with a velvety finish.
Christina was nice enough to suggest some of her favorite wineries. One of which was Mitchella. Mitchella just happened to be located right behind Robert Hall. Sherri and Laurie welcomed us in. They were fun and funny. I had fun talking about their wines and enjoying the day. I thought the wines at Mitchella were decent wines that were reasonably priced. I liked the 2011 Cheap Bastard, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2011 Rambunctious. The 2010 Innuendo Noir was my favorite but at $45, I thought it was a little too expensive.
Next on our list was Vina Robles. Vina Robles has a 2012 Vermentino on the tasting list. It is an Italian varietal that you don’t see very often. The bouquet of pears, cantaloupe and citrus was delicious. At $18 I couldn’t say no to a bottle.
Doc and Troya brought the cheese and crackers and I bought the Chemay (blue label). It was the perfect break from wine tasting and we finished just in time for our 2:30 appointment at Denner Vineyard. Denner has a “Comus” theme. I won’t ruin it for you. You will have to go and investigate on your own. Denner also has a four bedroom B & B where the rooms are named after their wines. Speaking of the wines, most of their wines are Rhone blends. The 2012 Theresa is a white varietal Rhone blend. The 2012 Viognier is 100% Viognier, 2011 Ditch Digger is a GSM with Cinsaut and Counoise. The 2011 Dirt Worshipper is Syrah and Viognier. I enjoyed their wines but I thought they were over priced. The Ditch Digger was my favorite but at $63 I had to pass.
On our way to Arroyo Robles we came upon Jada and decided to stop in. This is why I love Paso so much. Its like a box of chocolates……. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by Ari. Ari has a wealth of knowledge about Jada wines and he was very engaging and personable. Jada has two tasting list. The Reserve tasting is $10 and the ”Signature Series” is $15. Along with your tasting you get a cheese pairing with the wine. Ari brought me up to speed on the use of concrete in wine making. My favorites were their 2012 XCV is a white Rhone blend that is fermented in concrete. That’s right, no oak and no stainless steel, concrete. The 2011 Hell’s Kitchen is a GSM with the Spanish varietal Tannat added. 2011 Stratys is a Bordeaux style wine, the 2010 Malstria is also a Bordeaux style with a little Tannat added. I enjoyed all of their wines. I think they are priced a little towards the high end but I couldn’t leave without taking a few bottles home with me.
Last stop of our tour was at Arroyo Robles. There were seven wines on their tasting list. A 2011 Albarino, 2008 Chardonnay, 2009 Viognier, 2007 Tempranillo, 2007 Petite Sirah, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2007 Blend called “Little Star” made of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Merlot. Arroyo Robles also has a Grand Cuvee sparkling wine and an Almond flavored sparkling wine. I wasn’t a big fan of anything that was being poured.
Jada, Robert Hall and Mitchella Vineyard are the ”need to visit” wineries we discovered this weekend. I enjoyed the tasting room experience and the wines. Robert Hall’s 2011 Papa De Robles, 2001 Meritage and the 2011 Strayts from Jada were my favorites of the day. I’m always interested in hearing about your experiences
Ciao for now
We are on our way for our annual trip to our favorite place….Paso Robles! Today we are going to head to our most loved wineries Terry Hoage, Kukkula, and Hearthstone. Tomorrow we decided to try all new places. One winery picked by each of us. My pick is Arroyo Robles. I picked it because it has two sparklings and a decent variety but not too many where you wonder if they are picky with what they make or just putting everything out there that they can and hoping for a hit. We also are going to try a new restaurant for dinner to keep the theme going. Hopefully we will find new gems and new favorites to post about!