Saturday, August 21, 2010

Che's recent trip to Paso Robles, August 15, 2010

Last Saturday on August 14, my sister got married in Cupertino, CA. So the very next day, I saw an opportunity to escape to Paso Robles, which is about 3 hours south of San Jose, off the 101. I went with my high school friend Delvon and his brother Eric. Because it was Eric's first time wine tasting, Delvon and I were excited to show him around. We started off at Firestone at 10:15am. To be honest, I don't have anything great to say about Firestone...their wines are nice, clean drinkable and at times complex. Their chairman series is good but they have been pushing a lot of cheap wine lately. I've even gotten phone calls from them to purchase their low end labels that are just good table wine. This may have something to do with Foley's purchase of Firestone and many other wineries; maybe they are hurtin for money in this recession. Nonetheless, I left with several bottles of the 2007 Syrah Clone 174 which didn't even make it back to Boston with me. For those of you who have never been to Firestone, they have two in Paso Robles and one in Santa Barbara as well.

After Firestone, we went to one of our favorite places, Robert Hall Winery. When you pull into the place, there is an enormous tasting room with a big cheesy fountain in the front. Beneath this building is the largest wine cellar in California, with 19,000 sq ft of "usable space". Chananit and I used to go there a lot when we were still in California, and became regulars and fairly good friends with the old tasting room manager, Milisa. Sad to say that Milisa was let go, and since then 2 more tasting room managers have come and gone. After Milisa, there was some crazy chick who told us her whole entire life story after meeting us for 10 minutes. After the crazy chick, Theresa was the tasting room manager and was the one who helped set up our tasting and tour for our wedding celebration. This particular day, we were greeted by Frank, who seems to recognize me by face alone. He was quick to get us some tastings and suggested we go on a tour. Since this was Eric's first wine tasting experience, we thought it would be a good idea for him to get an explanation of the wine making process from grape to bottle. Frank was the one that gave our family a tour during our wedding weekend, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed his dry humor. Ok now back to the wine... the thing I like about Robert Hall is that as a wine club member, you get to taste EVERYTHING they have in their current release. EVERYTHING. So typically, we just skip the whites and go straight to the reds. Our personal favorites from the regular label includes the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Syrah, the Rhone de Robles, and the Vintage Port. The Cab, price point-wise, is outstanding and is a good representation of a typical Paso Robles Cab. I personally think its the best Cab you can get for under $20 - and oftentimes available at Trader Joe's, even in Boston. The Syrah is good, but I think previous vintages (we had the 2007 this time) have been better, but the Wine Enthusiast gave this vintage 90 points! You can also get the Syrah at Trader Joe's. The Wine Spectator gave the Rhone de Robles no love, with a score in the low 80's. Nonetheless, I still think its a good Rhone-style wine. Chananit's and my favorite port on the planet is Robert Hall's Vintage Port. Spicy chocolate, berries, coffee, leather...all of this without the usual prunes and raisins you would typically get with ports. Its excellent with fancy dark chocolates. Robert Hall's reserve label is OUTSTANDING, and even better considering the price point. My personal favorites are the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Reserve Meritage. Both are well-balanced wines with pleasant but not overpowering tannins, with nice earthy flavors, hints of spice, and long lingering finishes. They are excellent examples of Bordeaux-style wines made in CA. There's nothing wrong with their Rhone-style Reserve wines either - the Pape de Robles and the Reserve Syrah. This day, I left with 2 bottles of the Reserve Cab, a bottle of Orange Muscat, and 3 bottles of the Vintage Port. As a member, I had access to the library room, so most of these wines are of varying vintages. The great thing about Robert Hall is that once these wines make it to the library room, they aren't any more expensive than the current releases!

The next place we went to was Pear Valley, which was really pretty this time of year because the vines are full of grapes. The winery is nestled between some really pretty rolling hills - it would be a great place to have lunch there as they have outdoor seating areas that overlooks the vineyard. This is Delvon's new favorite place; however it wasn't really my style of wine, thus I did more pouring than drinking here. The prices here are really really good, with almost everything under $20. The wines themselves were clean-tasting with simple flavors - not very layered or complex, but very drinkable. Eric left with a couple of bottles from here, and Delvon was upset that I wasn't as excited about this place as he was.

After Pear Valley, we went to Tortilla Town for lunch! We don't get good Mexican food like this in Boston. I highly recommend the barbacoa here...its Chananit's favorite too. It has also become Delvon's favorite place in Paso Robles as well, for inexpensive and tasty Mexican cuisine. A must-go for anyone visiting the area.

After lunch, we went to everyone's favorite winery, Adelaida Cellars! The drive to Adelaida is beautiful, with an up-hill drive overlooking rolling hills. During our wedding weekend, we made the driver take a quick stop so that we could all take a family picture of the beautiful view. This time, when we arrived in the tasting room, we were greeted by Tony and with a great big hug by Pati, the event coordinator at Adelaida. I love coming to this place...the people are amazingly friendly and extremely knowledgeable of all their wines. The tasting room is small and intimate, where its more about the wine and not so much an extravagant tasting room. When I think of wine, Adelaida comes into my head, because to me, this is how wine is supposed to taste. All their wines are fruit-forward, with multiple layers of complexity....all of which have long finishes. It's tough to say what my favorite is, as the HMR Pinot Noir, the Syrahs (the Reserve label, the Adelaida label, and even their "low end label", Schoolhouse), the Zinfandels, and even some of the less "popular" grapes like the Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, and the Grenache are outstanding! If I could buy a stool with my name on it and keep it there, I would. After talking about Adelaida for the whole drive up, I was a little worried I had built it up a lil' too much, but Eric was thoroughly impressed. As usual I left with more than I should have. I have at least 12 bottles of various Adelaida wines at home as it is. I left with the '06 Zin, '07 Ice Wine, '06 Pinot Noir, '07 Version, and the '06 Cab-Syrah. I would have preferred to have picked up the '07 Pinot Noir, '07 Grenache, '07 Zin and the '05 Nebbiolo as well. Apparently these wines are in the "library" and I needed to let them know a day or two before arriving. Oh well...I will be back.

After a beautiful drive between more rolling hills, we ended up at what historically was a ranch called Kentucky Ranch, and now the home to Thacher Winery. When you pull up to the winery, you're greeted by two friendly dogs as you get out of the car. What's great about this place is that it is truly a "boutique family owned and operated" winery. Presently, Thacher has few, if any, estate wines, nonetheless they have a great wine-maker. They have lots of Zinfandels, with one Viognier, Syrahs, a Rose, and a Kentucky Ranch White. All the Zins were excellent, but the Kentucky Ranch White wasn't very good - it was just a plain, white wine and not very interesting. I left with a bottle of the 2006 Zinfandel - a medium-bodied well-balanced wine with berries and plums and spicy oak flavors and a decadent level of alcohol. Although I am not a member of this place, I will typically find myself going there every time I go to Paso - and they have the cleanest bathrooms in all of west Paso Robles with a toilet you can actually sit on!

Next we went to Opolo! Oh man this place is just fun, fun, fun - they bbq every weekend! They pour so much wine and if you're a member (which I am) they treat you like a king! Whatever is released they will pour - on the weekends they seem to have as much as 20 bottles open at one time. The only downside is that they are a jack of all trades, and a master of none. Delvon, who has visited this place with me on previous occasions, decided to finally become a member himself as there are just too many good wines here, at a great price. My personal favorites are the Mountain Zinfandel, Rhapsody (cab franc, merlot, cab sauv, and petit verdot) Montagne-Mare (barbera and sangiovese), Fusion (syrah, cab sauv, and petit verdot), Merlot, and the Sangiovese. This place is worth going to time and time again.
After Opolo, we stopped off at Jada, which is just further down Vineyard Drive. Jada wines are "cocktail wines" - full-bodied, fruit-forward, beautifully layered, and complex with a high alcohol content. No food required. If you have palate fatigue by the time you get here, you won't have any problems as you will still be able to taste the wine. The wine here, though, is a bit pricey -but the people are really friendly. From the first time Chananit and I went a couple of years ago, Pam has remembered us ever since. Nothing is bad here - all their wines are amazingly decadent and complex. I left with their white blend - a blend of Grenache blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne. It is a full-bodied white and contains 16.1% alcohol - really high for any wine, let alone a white wine! Delvon and his brother, though they liked it here, didn't buy anything as the price was a little bit intimidating.

Our last stop was the ever famous, yet some what pretentious Justin Vineyards. They have an enormous tasting room with restaurant and what appeared to be, a hotel, but I'm not really sure. Delvon wanted to go there because a guy he works with gave him a bottle of the Reserve Isosceles and shared it with us before. It is an OUTSTANDING bordeaux blend; the regular Isosceles label is great too. Their wines are great and are excellent of displays of what Paso Robles has to offer but typically we don't go here because its so far west. We just have trouble fitting it in the due to the number of places we like to go. I did join the wine club this day because they actually ship to MA!!! Plus I didn't want to pay $30 for all three of us to taste. At this point of the day, I cannot remember what they were pouring, aside from the Isoscles and the Syrah -- I'm glad I wasn't driving.

All in all, it was a great trip and made me miss CA even more. Stay tuned for the next posting on my trip to Livermore valley with my mom the very next day.

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