I have an admitted crush on wine-country. From Spain’s La Rioja, to Argentina’s Mendoza region, I have wandered the world in search of elegant aroma’s, balanced structures and satisfying finishes, happy to discover unique varietals and techniques native to places I needed a passport to visit.
What a pleasant surprise then, to find that one of the most appealing wine regions I have ever encountered is right here on the west coast, located half-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. When the opportunity arose to visit Paso Robles last weekend, I didn’t need much convincing to go explore this photogenic area resting on rolling hills embroidered with vineyards shaded by ancient oaks, all without the buzz-kill of jetlag. Located in coastal San Luis Obispo County, it should be understood that Paso Robles isn’t some developer’s invention with a quaint “rustico” name and no provenance. Quite the contrary, the town has real roots when it comes to wine and other complementary palate-pleasers like grass-fed beef and fresh seafood. Up until a few decades ago, the town was still pretty much what it had always been since California joined the Union in 1850, a ranch town, with the surrounding serpentine hills providing rich grazing lands for cattle. Then there were the natural hot springs that bubbled up right in the heart of town, which in centuries past provided relief for native Salinan Indians and Spanish padres, and more recently drew pioneering travelers ranging from Jesse James to John D. Rockefeller.
Then, beginning in the 1970’s, innovative locals like Gary Eberle (credited with bringing the first Syrah grapes into California) began quietly creating a wine revolution, doing viticultural mad science, creating unconventional blends and specializing in off-the-grid grapes like Syrah, Grenache and other Rhone varietals.
Paso Robles Wine Tasting
Enough backstory — if you’re interested in creating your own your wine-tinged magical mystery tour, there’s no better place to start than in the center of town. Located on what was once the historic stagecoach route and the old Hwy 101, Spring Street’s Paso Robles Inn is a perennial favorite for it’s long history, local feel and central location. (The current hotel was built in 1942, its grand predecessor burned to the ground in the 1890’s, and has hosted everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Kobe Bryant).
Located across the street from “Paso’s” bucolic 5-acre park, the hotel also boasts the Steakhouse restaurant, helmed by home-grown chef Kelly Wangard. Trust me, this ain’t Sizzler — think starters like grilled Castroville artichokes with chipotle dressing, and mains like 16-ounce certified aged Angus Beef strip loin, and pan roasted Morro Bay Halibut dressed with roasted pepper sauce, all paired with award-winning local wines.
To really dive into the local wine scene without leaving sight of the park’s historic Carnegie Library, however, slip into the Vinoteca Wine Bar. Exposed brick walls and live bands give the boite an Old World feel, and if General Manager Jeffrey Wiesinger is around, you’ve really hit paydirt; he’ll wax eloquently on local star vintners like organic Justin Vineyards (their Isoceles continues to get accolades), Eberle Vineyards (previously mentioned Senor Syrah) and Calcarerous Vineyards.
When it’s time to hit the road for some visits to the vines, the vast choices can be somewhat daunting. California’s fastest growing wine region, Paso Robles is composed of 26,000 vineyard acres and nearly 200 wineries with over 40 varietals under cultivation. Make it easy on yourself: focus on either the Westside or Eastside for the day. Divided by Hwy 101, each side has its own characteristics which influence cultivation: cooler maritime climate and steeper canyons to the west; rolling hills and larger temperature swings to the east. (Another option is leave the navigation to someone else: The Wine Wrangler schleps you in a comfortable van on scheduled or customized tours so you can sip more freely.)
Among the many stops I made, I highly recommend Hope Family Wines and Adelaida Cellars. At Hope’s handsome tasting room framing gorgeous views of mature oaks shading the estate vineyards, sample offerings like a 2007 Treana White (a vibrant Viognier/Marsanne blend) and the signature Austin Hope Syrah 2005, which exhibits full tannins and deeply satisfying berry, cassis and tobacco notes.
Adelaida is located next to rolling meadows, blooming the day I was there with yellow mustard flowers damp from a spring shower. I just made it into the spare and simple tasting room before it closed at 5pm. Good thing I did – and you don’t want to miss these wines either, which are anything but simple. The Michael’s Estate 2007 Zinfandel (given a 92 by Wine Spectator) is a classic Zin, with ripe berry and cocoa notes. The 100 percent Pinot Noir HMR Estate (2007) is sourced from Adelaida’s historic vineyards, some of the oldest in Paso Robles, and gives a very satisfying floral nose and lingering cherry finish.
Finally, for an entirely different type of tasting and palate cleanser, stop in at Pasolivo, a working olive farm on 45 rambling acres. Located on isolated Vineyard Drive, you’ll not only be grateful for all the photo opps of towering gnarled oaks and postcard-perfect vistas, you will be enticed by the dizzying array of olive oils, including pungent and green Olio Nuovo, tangy Citrus Blend and rich Extra Virgin.
Returning to town, top-off your adventure with a surefire feast for the senses at Artisan restaurant, an epicurean showcase of all the elements that make Paso Robles so special. Executive Chef Chris Kobayashi and his brother Michael have created a progressive menu matched with a gracious, informed staff, and a clean contemporary ambiance that would be at home in San Francisco’s SOMA or Downtown Vancouver. Local, fresh and deftly prepared, dishes to sample include starters like the Cayucos Red Abalone with fried green tomato and pancetta, or the Smoked Gouda and Porter Fondue with garlic toast, andouille and broccolini. For mains, we tried the cioppino-like Dayboat Scallops, prawns, mussels, clams, Spanish chorizo and saffron dish (paired with Kiamie Wine Cellars 2008 White Kuvee), and Hearst Ranch grass-fed Flatiron steak with shallots and cabernet butter (paired with a Justin Cabernet Sauvignon). Don’t refuse dessert either, just give in and be enticed by selections such as Churros and Chocolate and a Crème brulée sampling of malted milk chocolate, expresso, vanilla and pecan butter crunch.
If you’re like us, the only thing left on your “to do” list after a day like this is to plan your next trip.
Win A Wine & Spa Weekend in Paso Robles!
Wandermelon and the city’s tourism office, Travel Paso, have teamed up to offer a you and someone special the chance to win a Wine & Spa Weekend Getaway. Just click here and you’re on your way. We’ve also made it easy for you to experience some of the best of Paso Robles right now (or get a discount on your next visit):
Paso Robles-based Veris Apothecary fashions exclusive, natural beeswax candles and body products created from domestic and local handcrafted botanicals. Mention wandermelon and get a free travel candle and 10 percent off any purchase.
Central Coast Lavender features four acres of lavender bliss. While you’re in the area (best time to visit is May – July), enjoy free self-guided tours, see a lavender distillery, pick your own lavender, and select body products, candles and other lavender goodies from the seasonal farm stand. With your purchase, mention wandermelon and receive a complimentary lavender sachet and 10 percent off any purchase of $50 or more.
See you in Paso!