Thursday, May 23, 2013

Paso Robles Wine Festival Weekend (May 16-18)

Paso Robles Wine Festival Weekend
The annual Paso Robles Wine Festival in May is always a great tasting trip.  This year we toured wineries on Thursday afternoon and Friday, and then went to the wine fest on Saturday.  We started our tasting trip in Santa Margarita on the 176 mile drive up to Paso Robles.

The festival in the village square was a great way to catch all of the wineries we couldn't fit into our first two days of tasting.  This year the new layout worked very well, it didn't feel too crowded, and the weather was relatively cool, for Paso Robles, with a nice breeze all day.

Devon, my designated driver, hotel and gourmet restaurant locator, made the trip a success!

Our first winery was Ancient Peaks in Santa Margarita. A rustic location with great wines and a zip line!
The Ancient Peaks estate Margarita Vineyard is an interesting combination of five different soil zones — ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic.
Devon tasted the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Blanco (pinot gris & muscat) and 2012 Rosé (syrah & pinot noir). I really enjoyed their 2011 Zinfandel and 2010 Oyster Ridge (cab, merlot, petite sirah, petit verdot & cabernet franc).  The other wines I tasted included their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Renegade, and 2010 Petite Sirah.
Across the street from the winery you can try their zipline canopy tours over the Santa Margarita Ranch. There are 4 different ziplines that cover 3,000 feet. Probably can't drink your wine while zipping though.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.  The tasting room is located opposite of the Fat Cat Farm and next to Lone MadroneDevon liked KV 2008 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Cuvee and 2007 Orange Muscat, Wind Willow Vineyard white wines. I thought the 2009 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Cuvee; 2009 Pinot Noir, Garey Ranch Vineyard; and 2009 Mourvedre, Enz Vineyard were excellent!
Fat Cat Farm is an organic specialty nursery that has herbs and drought tolerant annuals and perennials.

Lone Madrone was pouring a 2012 La Mezcla, a 2012 Picpoul Blanc, and a 2009 Points West Red that we both agreed were all great! The 2010 Barfandel won the creative naming category: Barbera + Zinfandel = Barfandel.  It was a unique blend with 46% Barbera, 36% Zinfandel, and 18% Petite Sirah.  I liked it.
Devon at Lone Madrone (Joel pouring)

Rumor  has it that Lone Madrone is moving their tasting room next month from their Hwy 46 location to somewhere on Adelaida Road to the west.

Jack Creek Cellars was a nice tasting stop a little to the south in Templeton.  Located in a very scenic area they have 40 acres of vines planted, of which 24 acres are Pinot Noir.
Thanks to our friend, Tricia, for recommending their Pinot Noir - we agree, it's awesome!  We bought a bottle of the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, which has 6 different clones (667, 777, 943, 828 ...).  It's excellent.
Brette Womack, Director of Consumer Sales,  explained that although the heritage grape of Paso Robles is Zinfandel, Jack Creek is too close to the coast to grow Zin. Well, that's OK with us, because it seems that everything else Jack Creek bottles is excellent! We had the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, 2010 Estate Grenache, 2010 Estate Syrah and they were all great.

Hearthstone Vineyard & Winery poured their 2010 Pearl (60% Roussanne, 40% Viognier), 2011 Grenache Rosé (100% Grenache), 2008 Slipstone (GSM: 62% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre), and 2008 Profundo (57% Sangiovese, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Syrah).  
We both liked the Pearl and the Grenache Rosé, and I liked the two red blends even more!

Chateau Margene / Mooney Family
The 2012 Grenache Blanc; 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands (Clones Dijon 115, 113 & Pom 4); and 2008 Petite Sirah, Sereno Vista Vineyard (100% Petite Sirah) were top notch!
I also tasted the 2010 Mourvedre (80% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah) and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot).

Dinner at Artisan
Glad we found this location before they move close to the town square this week.  We started with some Jalapeño Cornbread with honey butter.
After finding out they were out of my favorite Firestone Walker IPA I asked for their hoppiest beer and got a dry hopped Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale from the Flying Dog Brewery (where else?). Odd to have an east coast ale in Paso, but it was a good change after wine tasting all day.
Devon had the Los Osos greens, market vegetables, and buttermilk with a Dungeness Crab slider, prosciutto, quail egg, and béarnaise. 
I had the soup of the day (Mushroom) with an Abalone, Avocado, Pork Belly Carnitas Tostada. They weren't entrees, but they were delicious. Devon had a glass of the local Rendarrio Chardonnay 2011 with dinner.  It was reported to be a very nice Chardonnay.


Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery 
A great discovery located on the side of Villicana Winery, this small winery makes some great Syrahs and everything else. 
Top ratings to all of these Alta Colina wines:
2012 Grenache Blanc
2010 GSM (45% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, and 25% Syrah)
2010 Toasted Slope Syrah
2009 Mourvèdre Estate, Library Selection (75% Mourvèdre, 14% Syrah, 11% Grenache)
2010 Late Harvest Viognier


Villicana Winery
Although I was mainly focusing on red wines I tasted the 2011 Estate Viognier and it was great! Their 2010 Estate Syrah and the 2010 Estate Mourvèdre were my favorite red wines.

I also enjoyed the 2010 Estate Merlot, 2011 Estate Zinfandel, and the 2011 Estate Vin Rosé.

And right next to the Villicana Tasting Room is Paso Robles' First Craft DistilleryEven though it was a wine tasting trip we had to try out their spirits.
RE:FIND Distillery 
The name "RE:FIND" is about FINDing a purpose for saignée, the prized free-run juice removed prior to fermentation to enhance wine quality, and REfining it into top-shelf spirits. They distill a Neutral Brandy and a Botanical Brandy, which are essentially a vodka and a gin.
The Botanical Brandy uses the Neutral Brandy as a base alcohol. A proprietary blend of botanicals including juniper berry, coriander, orris root, lemon and orange peel, grains of paradise, and lavender are added through a vapor pass process to impart a clean gin flavor.
One distinct benefit of vodka derived from grapes is the compound glycerol which is produced during the fermentation of wine grapes. It forms the "legs" in a wine glass and has a sweet, viscous quality that gives their spirits a uniquely smooth, soft characteristic.
They were both very smooth and the gin was very unique and flavorful.

DAOU Vineyards
We enjoyed the views and the wine at DAOU Vineyards.  It's obvious that no expense was spared on the facilities, vineyards and wine making.  
All of the wines were truly first class.
2011 Viognier
2011 Roussanne (we bought a bottle of this wine)
2010 Celestus (59% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot)
2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot)
2011 Reserve Zinfandel

HammerSky Vineyards & Inn was setting up for their winemaker dinner when we arrived. They have some creative wine names and I liked the 2010 Naughty Princess Viognier and 2009 Red Handed (66% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot) the best.
We also tasted their 2009 Open Invitation (42% Merlot, 53% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Syrah), 2009 Zinfandel and an unreleased 2010 Zinfandel that showed promise.  They are apparently well-known for their "Party of Four" (40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc) and the current vintage is 2009, but they weren't pouring any when we visited.


Roxo Port Cellars (co-located with Chateau Margene) had a great chocolate pairing with their ports.  My favorites included:
2008 Paso Mélange
2008 Ruby Tradicional
2008 Négrette
2008 Magia Preta (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Syrah) - the flagship port.

Other ports that were very good:
2009 Petite Sirah, Wolff Vineyard
2008 Barbera

Stacked Stone Cellars
We made it to Stacked Stone in time to catch some BBQ and taste some of their great zinfandel and red blends.  To start with we had some 2011 Rosetta Rosé made with 100% Estate Zinfandel.

Donald Thiessen - Owner/Winemaker
While enjoying some BBQ and talking with Donald about winemaking we tasted his red wines:
2011 Gem Rhone Blend (50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel)
2011 Quarry Bordeaux Blend (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Cab Franc)
2011 Zin Stone Zinfandel (90% Zinfandel, 10% Petit Syrah)

These all scored highly in my ratings. The Quarry Boudeaux Blend was the most complex and we took a bottle home with us. 

Calcareous Vineyard
I discovered Calcareous and their other label, Twisted Sisters, at the Ojai wine festival last year.  They were very good at the time, and after visiting their gorgeous winery on a hilltop I am glad to find that their wines are still tasting great!
We tasted the 2011 Paso Robles Chardonnay, 2012 Lily Blanc (46% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 24% Marsanne), and the Twisted Sisters 2012 Chardonnay whites wines.  The Paso Robles Chardonnay and Lily Blanc were fantastic and we bought a bottle of Lily Blanc.
I found the 2011 Zinfandel to be better than the rest of their excellent red wines! No wonder it earned a 94 point/Gold Medal from the Beverage Testing Institute. The 2009 Grenache-Mourvèdre (64% Grenache, 36% Mourvèdre), the 2009 Trés Violet  (36% Mourvèdre, 34% Syrah, 30% Grenache), and the 2008 Lloyd Cabernet Sauvignon were all just regular old excellent.


Craft Beer Break
In addition to fantastic wines all over Paso Robles and points south, the area has some great brewpubs/microbreweries.  Firestone Walker Brewing Company has long been a big attraction and now there's another great brewery in the same area south of Paso Robles in Templeton.

The BarrelHouse Brewing Company is a little more rustic than Firestone Walker.  They have a nice indoor/outdoor bar with outdoor entertainment, food trucks, and you bring your own chairs if you want to sit down outside.

After a fantastic IPA at the BarrelHouse we went to Firestone Walker and had some great burgers for dinner.  The kitchen is relatively new, but they do a great job.  Best burger and huge onion rings that I've ever had.  Of course a Union Jack west coast IPA (double dry hopped) went along with it.

31st Annual Paso Robles Wine Festival

We started the day in town at the Amsterdam Coffee House for some good, local coffee (Starbucks doesn't seem to be around the center of town). 

The Premium ticket for the Saturday Grand Tasting was good for an hour early so it started at noon and lasted four hours. The regular ticket started at 1 pm. The weather was perfect for tasting wine and we managed to sample wines from most of the major festival sections.  We started with the Rhone-Style wineries, and then followed with Bourdeaux-Style, Zinfandel, and Other Wild Wines sections.

This glass wrangler was enjoying her job! She picked out two glasses especially for us...

The wineries below are listed in the order we visited them, more or less. The wines marked with an asterisk (*) below are the ones that we rated the highest.  All of the others were good too!  It was hard to find a bad bottle of wine at this event.

Halter Ranch
2012 Côtes de Paso Blanc (58% Grenache Blanc, 18% Roussanne, 16% Picpoul Blanc, 8% Viognier)
*2010 Ancestor (39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Petit Verdot, 26% Malbec)
*2010 Syrah (84% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre, 5% Malbec, 3% Viognier)

Clavo Cellars
2011 Two Moons - Aporia 2011 (50% Marsanne, 50% Grenache Blanc)
2010 Grenache Blanc, Oracle
2010 Viognier
2010 Angst (GSM)
2010 Ardor
*2008 Collusion
*2007 Enigma, Proprietary Blend

Adelaida Cellars
*2012 Rosé, Anna's Vineyard (37% Cinsault, 29% Grenache, 29% Mourvèdre, 5% Carignan)
*2011 Version White, Anna's Vineyard (53% Roussanne, 47% Grenache Blanc)
*2010 Pinot Noir, HMR Vineyard
2010 Version Red, Anna's Vineyard (37% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 13% Cinsault)
*2008 Inventor (37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre, 9% Grenache, 6% Cab Franc, 6% Counoise)
*2009 Cabernet/Syrah Estate Reserve (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah)

Tablas Creek Vineyard
2011 Côtes de Tablas Blanc (27% Viognier, 26% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 22% Roussanne)
*2012 Dianthus (60% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 15% Counoise)
*2010 Grenache
2010 Patelin de Tablas (45% Grenache Blanc, 34% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, 3% Marsanne)

Vina Robles
2012 Vermentino - Huerhuero
2012 White4 (Viognier, Verdelho, Vermentino, and Sauvignon Blanc)

2012 Roseum (Syrah) - Huerhuero
2008 Syrée (Syrah, Petite Sirah)
*2009 Petite Sirah - Estate

*2010 Red4 (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre)
Winemaker Kevin Willenborg added his personal wine notes to each pour and made the tasting very interesting.

Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery
Owner Dana Merrill poured a great line-up of wines. Devon liked the Viognier and I thought the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon were excellent.
2012 Syrah Rosé
2010 Zinfandel
*2011 Viognier
2011 Picnic Chardonnay
2010 Fiesta (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot)
*2010 Syrah
*2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Train Wreck (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvèdre)

SummerWood Winery & Inn
2012 Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles
*2010 Viognier, Paso Robles
2010 Marsanne, Alta Colina Vineyard
2007 Syrah, Paso Robles
*2009 Grenache, Paso Robles

Calcareous / Twisted Sisters
Twisted Sisters wines are made by the same winemaking team that produces Calcareous Estate Wines.

*2012 Calcareous Lily Blanc (46% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 24% Marsanne) - just a great as it was at the winery the day before.
*2010 Twisted Sisters Matriarch, Paso Robles (15% Merlot, 31% Petit Verdot, 24% Malbec)

Anglim Winery
2010 Cameo, Central Coast (Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne)
*2012 Rosé, Central Coast (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier)
2011 Cerise, Paso Robles (Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne)
*2010 A "best barrel blend" of Syrah and Mourvèdre (
Partner/Winemaker Steve Anglim poured some fantastic reds and described his winemaking history.  I'm not sure if the 2010 "best barrel blend" I sampled will be generally available, but it was excellent!

Hearst Ranch Winery 
2011 Chardonnay, "Glacier Ridge"
2011 White Wine, "Three Sisters Cuvée" (80% Grenache Blanc, 20% Viognier)
*2011 Red Wine, "Three Sisters Cuvée" (50% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre)

Saw winemaker Jeremy Leffert and enjoyed his 2011 Three Sisters Cuvée Red Wine. It's just as good as the 2009 I had at Santa Barbara's 9th Annual California Wine Festival last July.

Bianchi Winery
2008 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, Lakeside Ranch
2010 Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Pianetta Winery
All winners!
*2010 Sangiovese
*2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
*2010 Tuscan Nights (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Sangiovese, 5% Petite Sirah)

Hoyt Family Vineyards
*2010 Chardonnay
*2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Tempranillo

Other Wineries
There were many wineries to choose from and I got most of the way through my tasting list, with the exception of some Burgundy-Style wineries.  

At least we were able to taste one or two wines from each of the following:
  • Caliza Winery
  • Chateau Margene
  • Écluse / Blind Dog
  • Le Vigne Winery
  • Niner Wine Estates
  • Riverstar Vineyards
  • RN Estate
  • Stacked Stone
  • Veris Cellars

There were several places serving food at the festival and plenty of gourmet food trucks parked along the festival on Pine Street. Some of food places in the festival were very good, like Bless Your Heart Baking with their healthy gluten free, low glycemic, vegan samples.
Others might have been good too, but as soon as they put their food out, swarms of 20-30 people scooped up everything like vultures.  So we headed to the food trucks and had delicious pulled pork sandwiches.  
We ate our food truck lunch on wine barrels and talked with our friend, Lilian, who we met at Roxo Port Cellars the day before

Central Coast band One Time Spaceman provided entertainment for the festival with their Rock, Blues, and Americana style.

Everthing Else

Devon met Brigit Binns, author of The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California's Central Coast.  Devon had purchased her book at Lone Madrone winery the day before. She's looking forward to making the "Zucchini and Mint Frittata with Ricotta Salata" with our zucchini crop.
I met Brigit's husband, Casey Biggs, while Devon was discussing cookbooks.  Casey told me he is the "Paso Wine Man." I hadn't heard of him, but he's apparently the star of a series of commercials promoting Paso Robles wines.  The ad campaign is run by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and it features a wine-geek-meets-Old-Spice-guy. Come to think of it, I believe he was wearing a white shirt...

It looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.

Future Paso Robles vintner analyzing the root stock.

Dinner at Thomas Hill Organics
After digesting everything from the wine festival, we managed to go to dinner at a restaurant Devon found.  We shared a bottle of Lone Madrone's Points West White (44% Roussanne, 27% Viognier, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 15% Marsanne) that wasn't available for tasting at Lone Madrone; it's one of my favorite white blends.
We skipped the thin crust wood fired pizza, but it did look good cooking in the outdoor brick oven.  Devon had shrimp and I had duck. Even if the food was healthy, it was excellent, the service was very good and we recommend it.

Wine Summary
Is Paso Robles a great place for wine or what? We tasted 134 wines (plus a few that weren't counted) and of those, we rated 74 wines highly.  That means more than half of the wines we tried, or 55% of them, were excellent!

The Top White & Rosé Wines

The Top Red, Port & Dessert Wines

We're looking forward to visiting Paso Robles again soon and tasting another few hundred wines.  They just keep getting better every year.

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