Monday, July 28, 2008

The Superlative, Super Wines from Paso Robles!

Before I get to some of the outstanding wineries we visited let me thank David and Russ for leaving comments on my first Paso Robles post. Be sure to read them. The picture on the left is the vineyard directly in front of the L'Aventure Winery where Bordeaux expatriate Stephan Asseo does his magic. The impressive, immaculately kept vineyards are a promise of what you can expect when you taste his wines.
Stephan had always wanted to blend Bordeaux varietals with others like Syrah. French appellation regulations prevented him from doing so. The result was that he moved to Paso Robles and the rest is history. His wines are highly rated by the likes of Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator and Decanter and have been extensively written up in many publications, so I won't go into any details here.

Now, if you want to have some fun be sure to visit Zin Alley where Frank and Connie will proudly pour you their remarkable Zinfandel. Only 500 cases a year are produced on their three acre Nerelli Estate. The dry-farmed, head pruned
vines are grown on Linne Calodo soils with hot summer days and cool coastal nights resulting in a
complex Zinfandel. Connie has a great sense humor, as you will discover when you visit them.
Looking for a great Bed & Breakfast place to stay at while visiting Paso Robles? Look no further than the beautiful Venteux Vineyards Bed & Breakfast right on the Venteux Vineyards property.
This 10 acre vineyard is also dry-farmed and the vines are head-trained as well. Scott and Bobbi Stelze are at the helm of this well run vineyard and winery. Located in what is known as the Templeton Gap, which brings the cool coastal breezes to an otherwise hot region. Their wines have become so popular that visitors are limited to 2 bottles of most of their wines. Scott specializes in Syrah, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. When he is not tending his vineyard or making his beautiful wines he restores old Dodge trucks and is as meticulous about that as he is about his wines.

The next winery, which is actually the first one we visited in Paso Robles, is a must visit before Parker or any other wine critic finds out about them. Run by a couple of very cheerful fellows who are just having fun while making outstanding wines. I think we agreed that the wines of Bella Luna Winery were our favorites of all the wines we tasted during our Paso Robles tour.
Kevin Healy, a Vietnam veteran and Sherman Smoot, a Navy fighter pilot, grew up together in Paso Robles and their lifelong friendship and passion for wine resulted in the establishing of the Bella Luna Winery. This five acre estate specializes in the Italian Barbera and Sangiovese and the Spanish Tempranillo. Of course Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are there as well. Yes, the Zinfandel is called Fighter Pilot Red to honor all aviators who have put themselves in harm's way. All of their wines are simply amazing. Rich and powerful with great extraction. Natural yeasts, no fining or filtering produces wines that are bold and full of character. We all know about the famous Sassicaia wine from Tuscany, but wait these two gents are out to show that their Paso Robles version will be every bit as good if not better.
Scheduled to be released in May of 2009, it will have spent 40 months in new French oak. And of course it will be called Bellicaia. This 2005 vintage super Tuscan style is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese. We had the opportunity of tasting it out of the barrel.
It is superlative now. What will it be like when it is released next May? I can only drool but hope to get my hands on some before it flies out of the winery. Yes, Paso Robles and its many fine family run wineries are definitely worth a visit.
As always click on the pictures to get the larger view. On my next blog entry I will share some pictures of interest I took during my visit to California and they are not necessarily wine related.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Pass Up Paso Robles Wineries!

I have been shamefully neglectful about getting a post to my blog but I have had good excuses. Its the lazy hazy days of summer but as well I have given a few wine and food seminars, did a number of tastings with my panel for my email newsletter, attended trade tastings, wine- makers' dinners, entertained out of town guests and most importantly spend some time with friends in California and visited the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards and the great little wineries in Paso Robles.
(Click on the map for an enlarged version)
For my food and wine seminar one of the food items I used is a nifty little recipe from my British friend, Nick Stephens over at Bordeaux-Undiscovered from his recipe section. Its called Angels on Horseback. Just slightly chilling that Pinot Noir did the trick, Nick. While talking recipes, I used to marinate my fresh BC salmon with two or three different home made marinades but not anymore. Picked up this marvelous way to BBQ salmon from David Crowley over at Cooking Chat. Here is his recipe and it is really good!
Sorry I missed you this trip, Russ. Catch you next time I am down your way. Russ Beebe is the fellow from Winehiker Viticulture fame. Russ is a smart operator and he knows his business inside out. Be sure to read his good sense.... no, great sensible approach on mountain lions. While you are at, read my comment. I just happen to agree with Russ 100%.
So now I want to touch on the Paso Robles scene. I will do two posts on my trip. I have enough info and pictures to do half a dozen or so. My good friends Jan and Sanjoy in Scotts Valley treated me royally and one night we went to another friend, Herman and that was a feast I will long remember. Butterflied leg of lamb and here is what he chose to bring out of his cellar to match with it. No wonder I cannot do a proper post after my trip to California.
That's a 1975 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1978 Ridge California Zinfandel. Needless to say they went down well. My friend Sanjoy (He is my Investor Friend that I have a link to and he has a free interesting and informative newsletter that you can sign up for.) is a great chef and not to be outdone also brought out some of his finest a couple of nights later for another feast.
Herman just happened to bring along the remainder of that 1971 Chateau d'Yquem to give the dessert a little competition.
Click on both these pictures to get a closer look.
Before I get to the Paso Robles scene, I must mention a couple of the Santa Cruz Mountain wineries.
The first one we drove up to is quite a spectacular place on top of the mountain. Great views, amazing facility and wonderful wines. Worthy of a visit. The Byington Vineyard & Winery was established in 1987 by Bill Byington and
the building was originally conceived as a family residence.
Some residence! The grapes for some of their Cabernet Sauvignon wines actually come from the Paso Robles region. I found their 2004 Tarman Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek to be outstanding and their 2004 Messina Vineyard Merlot to be exceptional. The other winery of note is the Hallcrest Vineyards
located in Felton, California. So you don't even have to get up into the mountains for this one. Just drive into Felton. Everybody will know where it is. Outstanding wines and a bonus for me is that they are available here in BC through Blue Nose Wine & Spirits. Their Pinot Noirs are superior.
No wonder they can claim to be the most awarded winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Now onto Paso Robles. As you can see from the map, there are plenty of wineries to visit. We visited some of the best. I think one of the more noticeable features in the vineyards is that a lot of them use dry farming and head trained vines. Dry farming may be unusual in California but not in the Paso Robles region.
Can it get any hotter and drier looking than this?
You'd swear you were in Spain. No that is a head trained, dry farmed vineyard in Paso Robles. So now that I have hopefully got your interest piqued, I am going to leave you but I will be back soon with my next update on some of the fine wines and wineries in Paso Robles.
That picture (click to enlarge) was taken while the temperature was a mere 107 degrees F.