One of the things we love about the Central Coast in California is that its many micro-climates mean that it can produce a huge variety of wines. For example, down in Santa Barbara County, you’ve got dense ocean fog and eastward-sweeping winds that make it perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Move a little north and a little inland, though, and you’ve got the sun-baked heat of Paso Robles. Paso is home to big and bold wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel (the real-deal red kind, not that cougar-tastic white zin trash), as well as Rhone varietals like Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
When we go out west, we always spend a nice chunk of time in the Paso sun, and this past spring was no exception.
We do our best to try out mostly new places each year — and Paso makes it easy, with over 200 of them in the area. But one of our perennial stops is always Peachy Canyon Winery. It has fabulous Zinfandels; our favorite from this year was the 2012 Clevenger Zin, for its dark berry savoriness with hints of leather. We could see this wine being fairly versatile for pairing with an entree, or even with something sweeter like pie.
New for us this year, though, was the Shale Oak Winery. They were great for a number of reasons — they run with a philosophy of sustainability that extends so far that their tasting menus are printed on “seed paper,” which can literally be planted and will blossom into flowers…
…their vineyard dog, Cooper, is adorable (but no pictures, puh-leaze!)…and their wines are wonderful as well. Our favorite here was their 2011 Zinfandel, which was really well balanced and carried a lovely accent of white pepper.
While it’s pretty far off the beaten path with regard to downtown Paso Robles, JUSTIN Winery is absolutely worth the long, winding drive.
The grounds are stunning, and the wines are even better. JUSTIN wines are pricier than a lot you’ll find out in the typical tasting room, but they’re worth the extra dollars. For six months now, we’ve been sitting on a bottle of the 2012 Justification (58% Cabernet Franc, 42% Merlot), just waiting for the right special occasion to enjoy its robust, cherries-with-dark-chocolate body and that moisture-sapping, sponge mouthfeel that just cries out, “Fix me a steak!”
Ahh, what can we say about the fun, funky Chronic Cellars? Well, we can start by saying the price point is super reasonable, that their red blends are smart, unique, and complex, and that our favorite from this past year was the 2013 Untouchables (34% Tannat, 34% Petite Sirah, 20% Syrah, 12% Zinfandel), because it’s a big, earthy, leathery wine that just wants to hang, offering notes of dark berry and a hint of toasty crunch. Sadly, that wine is now sold out (bad bloggers for waiting six months to post!). But happily, we can finish by saying, several of Chronic’s other tasty wines are–miracle of miracles–actually available through Pennsylvania’s state stores!
Of course, no Fox-and-Michael Paso trip would be complete without a visit to Cypher Winery, which produces a wide range of varietals with equally expert aplomb. They do big, dark, sexy wines with surprise and intrigue; like a master jazz improviser, winemaker Christian “ZinBitch” Tietje crafts wines that make you go, “Oh, hey now, I wasn’t expecting that note! But it’s the just the note I needed.”
You can’t go wrong with a bottle of the eponymous ZinBitch, but this year, our winner was probably the 2012 Grenache Drop Dead Legs — it was herbaceous, figgy, and had more of that spongy mouthfeel that begs for a savory pairing.
(“Sponge,” FWIW, is our personal shorthand for that dry feeling you get when the tannins in wine bind with the proteins in your saliva, leaving your tongue — and, depending on the tannin level in the wine, your inner cheeks and gums — exposed and rather dry. Or, you know, “sponge.”)
Last on our all-too-brief tour is one more new place (well, not as new as it was in April, when we went) — Tooth and Nail. The winemakers have great style and offer wines with a nice range of notes (and, while you should never judge a wine by its label, their labels are freaking gorgeous). Here, their true stunner was the 2012 Amor Fati Syrah. It rolls deep with leather, tobacco, earth, and (of course, it’s us!) sponge. With layers of cedar, smoke, and dark berry, this is a wine for pork belly that’s spent a half-day over smoldering wood chips.
So that’s our 2015 edition of the Paso Robles wine tour. There were so many other cool places that we loved but didn’t write up here, like Castoro Cellars, Graveyard Vineyards, Grey Wolf, Hunt Cellars, Oso Libre, Pelletiere Estate, Turley Wine Cellars, Venteux Vineyards, and Whalebone Vineyard — not to mention the 180+ we didn’t get to visit. So save up some cash, make a trip (and pick up a shipping case to bring back on the plane, if you’re from PA). Paso Robles is a great place to explore!