Josh surprised me with a fun little getaway to Paso Robles last weekend. We hadn’t been wine tasting together yet and we both wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t been before (Chile was a little far for a weekend trip). Our goal was to restock our bar with some new everyday wines and a handful of special occasion wines, if we found something we really liked.
With more than 200 wineries in Paso Robles, we had our work cut out for us. But when you put two decisive and hyper-efficient people on the task of wine tasting, you can get a lot done. By the end of the trip, we had it down to a science. Sniff, taste, look at each other, and either 1) pour the rest out or 2) take a second taste and then pour the rest out and then buy that bottle. Me on the map, Josh’s lead foot on the gas, wash, rinse, repeat. We arrived home with one wine club membership and about a dozen different bottles of Paso Robles’ finest.
Our first stop was Justin Vineyards. Our friend David heads up the company that now owns Justin, so he got us set up with a private tour and barrel tasting. This was a great way to start off the trip, we got a refresher on all the different decisions and complexities that go into winemaking, and also an introduction to the history of the Paso Robles region. When our guide started the tour with “Two million years ago…” I knew we were in the hands of someone incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Paso Robles.
We spent the whole afternoon and evening at Justin. Following the tour and barrel tasting, we had a wonderful 3 hour dinner at their restaurant where we did yet another Justin tasting alongside dinner. By the end of the trip, I think we had sampled every barrel and every wine they had! Our favorite is still Isosceles, but we now have a whole new appreciation for their range and expertise. David, thanks for putting us in good hands!
We stayed at the very charming Hotel Cheval and awoke (not too early) for breakfast at Artisan, a nearby bistro. Artisan features a locally-sourced, seasonally-inspired menu and it’s a great place to sample some of Paso Robles’ bounty.
Brunch was decadent. They send over a complementary cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting to get you started (yummy) and then proceed to a tightly focused but very diverse brunch menu. We opted for one sweet and one savory dish and couldn’t help but fall for an order of bacon tater tots with bleu cheese dressing. Come on now.
Josh had the cinnamon french toast with bourbon-soaked currants and I had the wild mushroom & egg on homemade brioche. Both were delicious, but I could only summon three bites of each, it was just a little too much that early in the morning (lighter healthier options are definitely available).
After breakfast, it was off on a whirlwind tour of 8 wineries, 4 planned, 4 spontaneous, with notes on our three favorites below.
Linne Calodo is a beautiful little spot that requires an advance reservation. Although their wines and their tasting fee are on the pricier side vs. others in Paso Robles, you get a level of service and attention that make the experience very special, all the way down to personalized tasting menus and a sweet mellow dog greeting you at the door. Oh, and their wines are freakin’ delicious.
They had just reopened after selling out of all their prior stock and have only three wines available: 1) 2010 Slacker, 2) 2010 Sticks & Stones and 3) 2010 Problem Child, all blends. Our favorite of the three was the Problem Child, a 77% Zinfandel, 16% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre that they describe as a “textural time bomb.” I don’t know what that means, but I liked it.
A couple more wineries, a short beautiful drive, and we reached our favorite winery of the trip, Tablas Creek.
Tablas Creek is about as close as you can get to the Rhône without an airport security pat-down. They selected their current spot because it’s strikingly similar to Châteauneuf du Pape – limestone soils, agreeable climate, and rugged terrain. Bring over vines from Château de Beaucastel (Mourvèdre, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc & more) and all of a sudden, you’ve got a certified piece of Côtes du Rhône in Paso Robles.
Look, I’m no wine snob, but I know what I like. For whites, I love mineral-y, bright, crisp clean wines and I tend to turn my nose at anything overly oaky (OK, maybe I am a snob). With reds, I’m a little boring, I love “pretty” wines… well-balanced, nicely structured and nothing too aggressive, peppery, etc.
At earlier wineries we had been blasted with some overwhelming Syrahs and blends, so by the time we arrived at Tablas, I was beginning to question if I even liked red wine. They reminded me that yes, in fact, I do… when it’s done the way I like it.
I feel a little guilty that I liked Tablas Creek so much more than the other wineries. That’s like only falling for guys with blue eyes, amazing pecs, and British accents. But when a winery aligns so perfectly with your tastes, you just go with it. And so we did… wine club and all.
We also grabbed a couple bottles of their insane 2006 Vin de Paille Quintessence, one of the most magical dessert wines I’ve ever tasted. I’m already planning a dessert party in its honor.
We finished off the afternoon at Daou, the winery with hands-down the most killer views. Why this place doesn’t have a restaurant is beyond me, I’d happily spend the whole day here if they provided sustenance. If you go, plan ahead and bring a blanket and a picnic lunch – trust me, you’ll want to take a nice long nap the second you arrive.
The wines are great and we did pick up a few bottles, but the main reason you go to Daou is for the views. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be right before harvest in the fall!
Eight wineries in 4 hours with no lunch break is pretty impressive if I do say so myself. When Josh and I are on a mission, there’s no getting in our way!
Two treats on the ride home… 1) In-n-Out, the world’s best hangover prevention tool, and 2) an amazing sunset on PCH (photo shot from the car at
95 mph a very safe speed).
Josh, love… thank you so much for an amazing trip, I can’t wait to revisit it every time we uncork a bottle!