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……

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.

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!

Paso…..yum!

Well Paso never let’s us down. We love Paso for its down to earth mom and pop kinda feel. They have amazing wine where they have the right to be as snooty as Napa but they don’t act like it.
We embarked on a GSM tour but to be honest I fell in love with a few new wineries…….
We had a lot of tastings of some great wine but I will just discuss my favorites. First up Hearthstone vineyard and winery. We actually also bought a white (Pearl) in addition to their GSM (Lodestone). Josslyn was our host and she was fantastic! Friendly, funny and knowledgable. The wines were great and she was a great host.
Doc and I did purchase two reds (Willow Creek Cuvée and Avenger) from Villa Creek winery but they were more expensive than worth the price. Don’t get me wrong they have some nice wine but worth close to half the price. They also have a restaurant in town that we ate at for dinner……ummmm it was amazing and worth every penny. Braxs had a lamb shank that was to.die.for! My pasta dish was scrumptious! A must try in paso.
As a last minute stop on our first day we went to Windward. It’s strictly Pinot. Very delicious Pinot I must add. A must stop if you are a Pinot lover.
We also stopped by a tasting room in town that Doc and I have visited before. Parrish Family Vineyards. This is actually the first place we discovered a GSM……we had it again (2008 GSM Rhone Blend) very good but they also make a Petite Sirah and a reserve wine called Silken that is another must try!
Last but certainly not least my all time favorite of the trip…….Terry Hoage. Amazing!!! I have been anticipating the day when we open one of the bottles we bought! I wanted to join the wine club on the spot but Doc and I have this rule that we don’t join until we have come home and tried it again…..ummmm maybe with clearer taste buds 🙂
They were pouring four reds. I believe the whites were either sold out or close to it and reserved for wine club only. All of the wines were like a silk sateen dress dancing on your tongue as it swirled over your taste buds. If you only check out one winery while stopping by paso this is it. Evan was our tasting tour guide. He was great, but the wine was so good we could have had no one there to help us along and it would not have mattered. Did I say I liked this wine….? 🙂
Now where to stay….we stayed at Paso Inn. Spacious room but plainly decorated. Comfy bed.
The second night we splurged and stayed at Hotel Chaval. Fabulous! Pretty room with a comfy big bed. Great fireplace in the courtyard where you can sit, laugh and enjoy your company.