Paso….the good, the bad, the ugly

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!

1st Paso trip of 2014 for the 4

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……

Annual Paso Robles Trip



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.

The Nuggets

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



Paso Robles and Cambria June 2&3

IMG_0869Brax and I took a quick trip to Paso Robles on our way to stay at a cute little motel in Cambria I found thru Living Social. We had a wine pick up at Kukkula so of course we had to do some tasting, never a disappointment. Kevin gave us some suggestions for a couple other wineries to check out. From there we went to my other boyfriend(Troya’s BF too),Terry Hoage. Evan was pouring so he filled us in on some of the new stuff we hadn’t tasted the last time, one wine being the rose which was lovely. Needless to say we belong to another wine club. Caliza was our next stop, one of the recommendations from Kevin. Pam was great there, very informative and friendly and turned out she was from Cambria so she had some good suggestions. Caliza’s wines were very good, they had a very nice rose called Pink, very crisp, fruity but not sweet.  They also had a very good Primitivo, we bought a bottle of both. Our next stop was Epoch, another of Kevin’s suggestions. Again good wines and very friendly staff, the girls was very friendly and helpful. Epoch had a nice rose too, if you haven’t noticed I am a big fan of the rose. It’s a great summer wine! They also had a GSM that was good but I think a smidge on the pricey side at $65 a bottle. The Estate Blend was also very good and not outrageously priced at $40 a bottle.

After we left Epoch we headed to Cambria. I had never been to Cambria but have several friend’s that have stayed and really loved it so I was really looking forward to it.

We made our way to Cambria and found the Cambria Shores Inn. If you like to travel with your dogs this is a great place to stay. We brought both of our dogs and when we arrived they had a welcome basket for the them. The room was very nice, nothing fancy but neat and clean. They put a sheet over the bed so your dogs can get on the bed. There was a fireplace, small fridge and coffee pot…necessities. The shower had the large overhead shower head that was pretty awesome. The motel is located across the street from the beach so a great view. The grounds have several grass areas with chairs to relax, drink some wine and enjoy the view. Unfortunately no dogs are allowed on that beach but a few miles down at San Simeon State Beach is dog friendly. Our dogs had a blast!!

We went to the Sea Chest for dinner, they only served seafood. Lots of fresh fish choices but I ordered the shrimp scampi with pasta and Brax had the shrimp and scallop scampi with pasta. Both were very good, huge portions. We had some very yummy escargot as an appetizer too.

The next morning there was a picnic basket hanging outside our door. It had fresh fruit, OJ, yogurt, little packaged pastries, and a bagel. I really enjoyed this motel, I’d definitely come back. I think with the Living Social deal it was $129/night so I’m not sure what it normally is.

We went to breakfast at Redwood Café which was delish!!! On our way out of Cambria we went to taste at Harmony Winery. A friend of ours belongs there so we wanted to try it out. They had a Pinot Gris that was very nice as well as a rose otherwise I wasn’t impressed. Of course on our way out of Paso we had to stop at Kenneth Volk because I’m on a quest for more Blaufrankish which of course they won’t have til maybe the fall. Needless to say we found a couple others we really liked like the Mouvedre, Touriga and Syrah. By the time we headed home my liver was thanking me. Until next time…..happy eating, drinking and travels!!!






Nicks Next Door with Terry and Kuk

2013-03-19_19-05-58_472After talking about it for just about a year we finally got Brax and Hill to join us at Nick’s Next Door for dinner in Los Gatos. What used to be Nicks on Main, a small but cozy storefront restaurant that felt packed in and busy all the time, in a good way, is now a posh building all on its own with outside/fireside seating. Nick is moving up in the world. Wanting to ensure we had wine to match the meal we know we were going to have we brought a ’10 Terry Hoage 5 Blocks and Brax and Hill brought a ’09 Kukkula pas de deux. Of note, after reviewing their wine list you will not be disappointed with the choices if you leave the wine to Nick. The list is long with lots of variety and many excellent choices.

Before I go into detail about the meal (getting hungry thinking about it) I want to say a few words about our wine selections. To be honest, I was a little worried. Kukkula wines are generally big, the kind of wine that goes well with spicy food or a big piece of meat. Terry Hoage wines, while they have a lot of flavor, are generally soft. The kind of wine you want to drink all by itself. I was concerned that the Kukkula was going to overpower the food and the food was going to overpower the Terry Hoage. Happy to say that I was dead wrong on both accounts. Both wines paired incredibly well with all the food. The Kukkula softening and blending much better than anticipated and the Terry Hoage stepping up to all the flavors in the meal. We either got really lucky or we are getting really good.

On to the food.  To start Troya and I shared the warm spinach salad with goat cheese, roasted shallots, a crispy onion ring with a smoked bacon vinaigrette and the mushroom soup. The salad was good, but with all the powerful ingredients I was expecting a bit more flavor. The soup was great, very nutty and flavorful.  We all shared the Risotto Croquettes with parmesan cheese and confit of pancetta, the Steak Tartare with pommes frites and a fried egg on toasted sourdough, and the Dungeness Crab Toast on sourdough with lemon-basil aioli. The risotto Croquettes were good, but seemed to be missing something and did not stand up to the other starters. The steak tartare was awesome and the fries that come with it put mc-y-d’s to shame (not an easy thing to do). The Dungeness crab toast was good but lacked the crab flavor that I was hoping for, seemed to be drowned out a little.

Now a quick word of warning. Nicks Next Door is the type of place that is torture trying to decide what entrée you want. Every time you think you have made up your mind you get the feeling you are going to miss out on something else. So what did the FTF do when faced with such a dilemma, we thought of you, our readers. Selflessly we decided to pick 5 entrees to split between the 4 of us so we could review as many of the entrees as possible. Oh, the sacrifices we make……..We finally settled on the Chilean Sea Bass with chilled artichoke hearts, braised fennel and a pepper and nicoise olive ragout, the Abalone special, the Pan Roasted Colorado Lamb Chop with rosemary gnocchi, english peas, morel mushrooms with a red wine demi, the Caramelized Scallops with duck fat infused faro and roasted red pepper sauce and the Orrechiette Pasta with Duck Sausage, roasted peppers, sweet onions, carrots asparagus and tomatoes.

It’s a lot of fun to be able to taste so many incredible dishes but you have to be 2013-03-19_20-15-34_176careful that you clean your palate in between tasting or you lose the subtleties of some of the flavors and some of the more delicate dishes will be overpowered. It was interesting that we all had our own favorite, and that my favorite was last on some of our lists. For me, I put the Orrechiette Pasta with Duck Sausage first. The pasta was very good, and the sauce was nothing special, but the duck sausage meatballs were incredible and carried the entire dish. Next was the Pan Roasted Lamb Chop. Done well lamb is one of my favorites and this had all the qualifications. Tender, not gamey and the gnocchi and mushrooms with the demi was a flavor fest (this is the one that could overpower some of the other dishes). Following this was the Carmelized Scallops. Not much to the plate, but they  were phenomenal.  Not fishy or salty like some scallops can be, not too mushy or rubbery like others can be. Incredible flavor and perfect texture. Next was the Abalone. I have only had abalone a couple times before and its had been very tough although it has very good flavor. This was very tender, not chewy at all. The flavor is somewhere between calamari and conch. Last was the Sea Bass. This dish was still very good with lots of flavor but it was very subtle and could not stand up to the other dishes or the wine. Likely our fault for ordering it with all the others.

All in all our second visit to Nicks was a fabulous night out and we have converts in Brax and Hill. Likely because of expectations, we did not leave as starry eyed as the last time, typical for second visits, but Nick did live up to the challenge and I would recommend a visit to anyone in search of fine food in the South Bay.