Sturm And Drang At The 2012 Zinfest

Achievement: #3. Zinfest

So, as you may know from Twitter posts, we went to California back in March for our yearly wine country vacation. We may have hated most things about Los Angeles, but one thing we LOVED was being only a short drive away from the beautiful Central Coast area. Now that we live back east again, it’s obviously a bit harder to get out there, so we try to make every trip really count.

With that in mind, we took, across the course of our West Coast vacation, over 600 pictures. To be more accurate, we took hundreds more than that, but 600 made the cut as keepers! Among those, more than half counted for different Achievements (like Zinfest, a day in Seattle, a trip on the Coast Starlight, and the Port San Luis Lighthouse tour), so the task of writing blog entries for each of these events has been rather daunting.

So, TL;DR: I have way too many pictures, and that’s why it’s taking me a hundred years to post about our trip to California.

But the wait is over!! Without further ado, here’s the first post about Zinfest!

(I have decided to break them up into a few posts, since there are so many pictures.)

First things first, we completely blanked on ordering a hotel for Zinfest until the very last minute, and by that time, the Paso Robles Inn, which is a great hotel in the heart of town, was already booked. In fact… almost everything was booked, except, miraculously, one room at the Belvino Viaggio Bed and Breakfast!

Driving up to the house was our first taste of the mountains of Paso. We’d gone up there a few times before, but we’d stuck to mostly tasting rooms in town, or wineries along the 46 (the ‘wine route’). Little did we know, there were soooo many wineries at the top of gigantic hills, just like our bed and breakfast was.

We stayed in the gorgeous Spain Room. Each of the rooms at Belvino Viaggio are modeled after different countries or exotic locales.

Our room even had its own fireplace, which I made GOOD use of. Believe it or not, it was colder in Paso than it was back home in Pittsburgh! It was actually hailing and storming most of our first day at Zinfest!!

Besides the fireplace, my favorite part of our room was this view. Each room has its own balcony, and at night, you could see the lights of Paso Robles twinkling with the stars. (The sky was soooo clear at night up on top of the mountain, and it was gorgeous!)

But my *favorite* part of the entire bed and breakfast was Miss Holly, the resident pibble-on-property! She is a pitbull, lab, and border collie mix, and she was the sweetest hostess we could have asked for (although Lois, her owner and the owner of the bed and breakfast, was pretty great too!).

After we settled into our room, it was off to hit the wineries! Our first stop was at Calcareous, which was… at the tippy top of a different mountain.

Zinfest is the annual Zinfandel festival held in Paso Robles. Forget that Sutter Home junk your friends were all stealing out of their aunts’ liquor cabinets as teenagers, the real deal is NOT White Zinfandel, it’s the juicy red stuff that grows so well in Paso. I first fell in love with Zin back on one of our early trips to the area, and it’s become one of my favorite types of wine, largely because it’s so versatile. You can have a fruit-forward berry Zin, or you can have a tart and tannic spicy one. It’s all in the winemaker’s hands, but there are so many amazing varieties available in Central Coast that you’re bound to find one that speaks to your palate. Zinfest is a celebration of this wine, which allows you to do just that.

It was miserably windy at the top of the Calcareous mountain, and the tasting room was packed, but we had a lovely time regardless. We tried three of their Zins, the 2009 and 2010 Twisted Sisters series (tart and berry-flavored), and their 2010 Estate Zin, which was plummier and jammier, with a thicker feel to it.

In the end though, we wound up buying a bottle of their 2009 Viognier (which is a white wine), because we’d been slacking on white wines throughout our earlier purchases in Avila Beach, and this Viognier was so peachy and creamy we thought it would be perfect for summer grilling!

Next stop was Nadeau Family Vintners, a tiny tasting room which, while not on a mountain, was at the end of a looooong dirt road. They had made some delicious brownies using a raspberry reduction from their 2008 Late Harvest Zin. Yum! That was the wine we ended up buying, after sampling four chocolatey, jammy wines.

(Here’s your winemakers’ tip for the day: ‘late harvest’ means the grapes were on the vine longer than typical for that varietal. This generally produces a sweeter flavor, so you will often see ‘late harvest’ dessert wines. While we aren’t huge sweet wine fans, it’s a good idea to have one around to serve with dessert at a dinner party, and this Late Harvest Zin was sweet enough for that, but not as heavy as a port – that’s the thick, chocolatey dessert wine – or an ice wine, so we were sold.)

Our final winery visit of the day was the Minassian Young Vineyards, which was… you guessed it… at the top of a mountain!

It was full-on storming when we got here, complete with gale force winds and intermittent hail, but that didn’t stop us sturdy Zinfest-ers! The place was packed, but we got to meet master winemaker David Young, and learn a bit about the wines we were tasting.

One of the things we learned on this wine country trip was the importance of vineyard location in relation to flavor of wine. Two vineyards on the same stretch of road, separated by a mountain or a valley, will each produce grapes with very different personalities. Even between the wineries of central SLO County and Paso Robles, there are huge differences, just because the climate of close-to-the-ocean and on-a-mountain are so different. Because of this, a single winery who has grapes in multiple locations is able to produce a range of very different wines.

At MY, we were able to sample both their 2009 Will’s Hills Zin (described to us as a ‘no fuss, sitting around drinking wine all night wine’), and also the 2008 Black Saint Peter, which had a smooth, fruity-but-serious flavor (it’s actually a blend of six wines: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvedre). Although it was a tough call, we wound up getting a bottle of the Saint Peter.

I was also working on my personal project of meeting every winery dog. This is Miss Izzy, who likes to hang out in the tasting room and hope for bits of cheese to fall on the floor!

At that point, the weather and the hills were wearing us down, so we hopped back into town for lunch (Casear salad at a Mexican restaurant… that was interesting, but delicious!), then climbed the mountain back to our bed and breakfast for a quick nap before the night’s festivities continued with the Grand Tasting!

But that will be a blog for a different day, so stay tuned…

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