Paso Robles 2014, Something Old, Something New

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 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 Robert Hall Wine Cellarimpressive, 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 Vina Robles Tasting Roomall 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 Denner Vineyards Tasting Roomthrough 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!

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.

Halftime

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

 

 

FTF goes GSM in Paso

After a year of talking about it and several weeks doing our research and speaking with those that know more than we do the FTF loaded up to start our GSM tour of Paso Robles. The idea came to us last year as we were doing some tasting and talking about all the press GSM’s were getting recently. If you know anything about GSM in Paso you know it would not be possible to taste them all in a weekend trip. We needed to do some weeding out before the trip started. We also wanted to venture out and discover some new Paso gems. After doing our homework and discussing our options we put together our highlight list.
Our excitement grew as we headed south on 101, so much so that we almost missed our turn on San Marcus Road. Actually we frequently “almost miss” this turn and after several near roll-overs have decided that it should be much better marked. It was hard to pass up some of our usual stops on our way to Kukkula, but we were on a mission. We have all been here several times before, Brax and Hill are members, but they have a great GSM and we knew they are just starting to pour some of the estate grow vintages. On this day they were pouring both the 07 and 09 sisu (technically a SGM based on percentages, but who are we to quibble). It’s always fun to taste the same wine of different vintages to experience how different wine will be year to year. These two wines were tasting quite different on this day. The 07 had a very light berry bouquet, was well balanced on the tongue with a clean, smooth start and dark berry finish. The 09 had a more inky bouquet with a hint of fruit, and was sweeter on the tongue with a clean, slightly smoky finish.
Our next stop was Alta Colina. This is a very small winery we had never been to before. The Rhone Rangers had found a GSM there that was well liked so we figured we should give it a try. Their two blends, the 09 Mourvedre (MSG-Brax was hoping we would find one of these) and the 10 Baja Colina Rhone Red (SGM) were both much more of a Bourdieu style blend then many of the other fruit forward Paso GSM’s. We all found these a little rough but they would be fun to try again in about 3-4 years.
Then it was off to Villa Creek. Without putting the two together, we had made reservations at their restaurant that evening for dinner about an hour before. Great place, wonderful food in downtown Paso. They had not quite finished the tasting room here so we tasted in the cool dampness of the wine cellar. I mention this only because it is difficult to let a wine open up when you are tasting it in a 50ish degree environment. They were pouring 3 different blends that qualified for our tour. The first, the 10 Willow Creek Cuvee, at true GSM, had a very nice dark fruit bouquet and the same qualities on the tongue with a nice clean finish. The 10 Avenger had a little inkiness to the bouquet and some cherry flavors at the back end. Both of these wines were well liked but seemed a little steep at $45 apiece. The last tasting was the $100 High Road, The End of The Road. This was a very smooth well blended wine with no rough edges but again not quite worth the price.
From there we headed down Vineyard Drive to Hearthstone. This was our first time here as well. Josslyn, one of the managers, was pouring today and gave us a wonderful reception and an even better tour of what they had to offer. To keep things fair I will only mention the GSM in this blog, but definitely look forward to a full report on all of the various wines Hearthstone has to offer. The list is long with a number of different classics and interesting blends. Their GSM offering has a very light berry bouquet and has a predominant dark fruit/berry taste with a smooth clean finish. Exactly what you look for in a GSM.
Our last stop of the day was L Adventure at the very end of Live Oak Road. Not the type of winery you expect to find at the end of a long dirt road. All of the wines they were offering this day were blends and two of them classified for the GSM tour. The first, 2010 La Suite had a more earthy bouquet then many of the others with classic dark fruit on the tongue but also a little tannin at the end. Their signature GSM blend 2010 Cote a Cote had very similar properties but a bit smoother. All of their wines were well blended and smooth, but a bit on the high end at $45-$85 per bottle.
We figured it was a good time to check into the hotel while we could still walk in a straight line and formulate sentences. We were actually all very proud of ourselves as we shared tastings all day and even after five wineries we could still distinguish the various properties of what we were tasting. On second thought maybe we should be worried, oh well. In keeping with our theme of trying new things, we had made reservations at the Paso Robles Inn. In a nutshell, comfortable, clean rooms, not a lot of fan-fare. They do offer rooms with sulfa spring tubs, which we opted for, but the heating mechanism for the water was not working so we did not get to try this experience.
We were up early the next morning (for vacation) and after a quick breakfast at Joe’s, need we say more, we were in the tasting room of Zenaida Cellars by 11:30. Having never been here either, we were again surprised at the number of wines they offered. The GSM on their list, the 10 Wonderlust was a classic, well balanced, smooth GSM with all the dark berry flavors you would expect. A very nice surprise.
After a drive up Niderer Road, with several stops to admire all the roaming deer, we came to Pipestone Vineyards. Dedicated to sustainable and organic farming, they have a pair of draft horses they use to do farming in the vineyards. I have tasted at other organic vineyards before and honestly was expecting more of the same, somewhat rough, earthy wines. Those pre-conceptions will leave as soon as you start tasting their wine. Their GSM offering, the 08 Rhone Style Red is actually a Melange/Syrah/Grenache blend. It had a light bouquet but came alive on the tongue with a clean balance of fruit and a hint of tannin on the back end. All of their wines were much cleaner and smoother than I expected.
From there, along several other dirt roads, it was on to Terry Hoage Vineyards. Which brings up the age old question, can someone go from terrorizing receivers as a defensive back in both college and the NFL to making phenomenal wine? With an N of one, I will say yes. This was definitely the find of the weekend. Troya and I almost came to blows because she wanted to dismiss our rule of not becoming members at the first tasting right there and then. All of their wines are blends, and interestingly all priced the same. The GMS blend, the 2010 The Pick was, forgive the metaphor, a pick 6. Like all the wines here, it was velvety smooth, with a light pepper bouquet and balanced dark fruit and pepper on the tongue with a clean finish that lasts. The price is a little high at $48, but these are worth it!
After checking into the Hotel Cheval we walked around town a bit and then ended the GSM tour where the whole idea was born at the Parrish Family Vineyard. As I remembered, the 08 GSM Rhone Blend had a very jammy bouquet with well blended dark fruit on the tongue and a long berry finish.
My final impressions for the Paso GSM tour of 2013. Winner for the basic, everyday GSM would be a 3 way tie with Hearthstone, Zenaida and Parrish Family, all in the mid $30 range. Overall winner and find of the weekend, Terry Hoage!

2012 GMS tour of Paso Robles

Hill and Troya got us a deal on the hotels and Doc picked the wineries. All I had to do was show up. Doc decided to go tasting at wineries that made GSM’s (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) GSM blends are very popular in Paso.

First stop was Kukkula. My favorites were the Pas de deux, Aatto and Sisu. The 2010 Vaalea was lite and refreashing and at $22, a bargin. Kukkula wines range in price from $22 to $40. Their GSM blend is the Sisu. The 2007 Sisu at $30 is a good buy. On to Alta Colina. The 2010 Baja Colina Rhone Red is their GSM blend. They only made 225 case and it is reasonable priced at $28. I liked their 2010 Ann’s Block Petite Sirah but I thought it was over priced at $48. Next on the list was Villa Creek. My first impression was “expensive”. they have three GSM’s. 2010 Willow Creek Cuvee, 2010 Avenger and the 2007 High Road at $100. The High Road was my favorite but at $100???? Come on man. Next stop was Hearthstone. Their GSM is the 2008 Lodestone. It is 15% alc and I bought a bottle for $30. Hearthstone also has a 2010 Pearl that is 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier. If you like white wines, you will enjoy the florals and butter cream texture. $26.

On a whim, we stopped at Windward. They only make Pinot Noir. We ended up leaving with two bottles of their 2008 Estate Monopole. We then headed to our last stop for the day, L”Aventure. L’Aventure’s GSM blends were the 2010 La Suite and the 2010 Cote a Cote. These are small production wines and they are priced at $75 and $85 respectively. I enjoyed all of their wines but I thought they were a little pricey. If you like Roses ,like I do, then you will like the two they make. They have a Sangiovese and a Grenache. I bought two of each.

We ended day one of our tour with dinner at Villa Creek Restaurant in downtown Paso Robles. I had the Lamb shank. Tender meat falling off of the bone and then it just melts in you mouth. Delicious.

We started day two at Kenneth Volk. One of our favorites. We picked up a bottle of the $36 2009 Tennat and the 2009 Mourvedre. One of my favorites was the 2009 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir. But at $60, I thought it was over priced.  Niner Wine Estates was next on the list.  They did not have a GSM for tasting.  They have a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon for $32 that is very good.  Zenaida Cellars was next.  They have 13 wines on their tasting list.  Zenaida is one of the few wineries that have moved away from corked bottles.  The 2010 Wanderlust is their GSM.  I found it to be lite on the tongue with smooth texture.  We left the winery with bottles of their 2010 Wanderlust, 2009 Fire Sign (Cab Syrah Zinfandel blend), and the 2010 Zinfandel. After our enjoyable time at Zenaida, we set off for Pipestone.

Pipestone Vineyard is 100% solar and they use horses instead of tractors in their vineyard.  Their GSM is the 2008 Rhone Style Red wine.  It was fruity with hints of berries and aromas of red cherries.  At $32 I thought it was a little over priced but I did buy a bottle.  Next was Terry Hoage Vineyards.  What a find.  They had four wines on their tasting list.  2010 The Pick ( a Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, counoise blend), 2010 The 46 (50% grenache, 50% Syrah), 2010 5 Blocks (Syrah, Mourvedre, grenache, cinsault blend), and the 2010 The Hedge (Syrah).  Terry Hoage is a small producer.  They only make 200-250 case of each varietal.  We loved their wines and we left with a bottle of each at $43 a bottle.

We headed back to town to try some of the tasting room around the town square.  If you like Spanish Varietals, you will love Bodegas Paso Robles.  We stopped in at Parrish Family Vineyard and tried their 2008 GSM Rhone blend.  It was nice but a little pricey at $34.

We spent the second night in Paso Robles at Cheval.  Troya and Hill hooked us up or this would have been out of our price range.  The rooms usually rent for $250 to $325 a night.  If you are one of those that can hang in that circle, I highly suggest you stay at Cheval.  We grabbed dinner from the cheese shop next door and we sat outside by a roaring fire, next to our room, and enjoyed good company and good wines.  A perfect end to a fun and enjoyable weekend.