Thursday, April 28, 2011

A LOOK AT PASO ROBLES


I Heart Paso Robles

Paso Robles, California is remembered by many as the place actor James Dean had hoped to drive through on his way to Salinas.  Dean's life ended 25 miles short of Highway 101 when his speeding sports car collided with Donald Turnupseed's Ford.

Today, that event - monumental at the time - is a footnote in the history of a city which is the center of the fifth largest wine region in California.  The Paso Robles AVA comprises two thirds of the Central Coast AVA which contains it.  Well over 200 wineries call Paso Robles home, and the number seems to grow every time you check.  That fateful intersection of Highways 41 and 46 is memorialized for the legendary car crash which took place there, but in Paso, it's all about the wine.

The Grapes
Paso Robles is most noted for Zinfandel grapes and the wines produced from them, but despite all the festivals held in its honor, Zin actually accounts for only nine percent of the grapes grown there.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot cover over half of the pie chart for Paso Robles grape varieties in the AVA's 29,000 acres of vineyards.  Over $650 million worth of wine is produced annually in the Paso Robles AVA.

The Layout
Paso - just call it that if you want to sound local - is situated about a half hour north of San Luis Obispo on U.S. Highway 101.  The area around Paso Robles is roughly divided into East and West sides, with the freeway as the dividing line.  It would be hard to get around in the city and its environs without noticing the wine industry.  No matter where you are in Paso, you're near a winery.

La Bellasera Hotel & SuitesWhere To Stay

If you plan to visit, you are one of 1.2 million tourists who do so each year for Paso wine.  There are plenty of hotels, bed & breakfasts and vacation rentals to choose from.  I received complimentary lodging at La Bellasera Hotel and Suites for the purpose of this series of articles, and it came highly recommended by everyone I spoke with before the trip.  I found it much to my liking, too, and with room rates starting under the $200 mark, I'll check with them first on my next visit.

La Bellasera's Director of Sales Baxter Boyington told me there are over 1250 hotel rooms in Paso Robles.  He sang the praises not only of his hotel, but of life in Paso, too.  He said returning to his stomping grounds was a distinct pleasure.

As Boyington showed me around the property it was apparent that it's not a huge hotel, but the rooms are clean and outfitted in comfortable elegance, with attention to detail.  There are even suites with kitchenettes if your stay is an extended one.  A big television in my room never got turned on - no time for TV - but the free WiFi is a must nowadays.  A spa and a fitness room offer amenities for those who wish to take a break from wine for a while.

The restaurant at La Bellasera, Enoteca, is appropriately wine-themed and was also on every must-try list I acquired from locals.  Steamed clams and mussels are a treat that's hard to pass, and the menu has a number of seafood options, veal, lamb, pork and Angus beef.  If you only have time for dessert, try the country style cheesecake or gingerbread creme brulée.

The bar at Enoteca is a favorite hangout for wine people of all stripes.  I made new wine friends there, and I'd bet that you will, too - the people in Paso Robles are very friendly.  Of course, the wine list at Enoteca is Paso-centric.

Where's The Wine?
As I mentioned, wine is everywhere in Paso Robles.  Wineries and tasting rooms abound on the eastside and the west, all the way to the coast.  Paso's downtown square just west of the 101 freeway features a number of tasting - and dining - opportunities within easy walking distance.

Meritage Lounge Tasting BarOne tasting room is interesting in that it serves as a tasting room for six of the smaller local wineries.  TheMeritage Wine Tasting Lounge has a large room lined with tasting bars.  The night I visited, only four of the winery spaces were staffed, but on weekends you'll find all six wineries represented.

Meritage hosts Roxo Port CellarsLine Shack Wine,Brochelle VineyardsCerro PrietoMichaud Vineyardand JK Wine Company, home of the Arada and Katinlabels.  When you check in at the front desk you are handed a card which you use at the tasting bars.  You can taste a flight or single wines at each of the stations, then settle up at the desk on your way out.

Brochelle Vineyards had a flight of three wines which could be paired with cheeses.  I tasted their Grenache/Syrah/Zinfandel Rosé made from estate fruit.  The Jolly Rancher nose and candylike finish has citrus notes and clove in the middle.  The Estate Zinfandel sports black cherry and licorice, while their Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is dark and rich, sourced from Mt. Veeder.

Michaud Vineyard poured three wines made from Chalone grapes in Monterey County.  The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah all bing a lot to the table.

The Arada Las Ramblas Blanca is a blend of Central Coast Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Albarino.  It has a full mouthfeel and crisp acidity that's really refreshing.

I saved Roxo's Port-style wine for last.  This producer has been a favorite of mine when I have encountered them at tasting events.  Their 2007 Negrette shows flavors of black figs and raisins.  Pairing it with chocolate brought the spice notes to the forefront.

Speaking of chocolate, right down the street from The Meritage there’s a great candy store,Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, where I had the most enormous peanut butter cup known to mankind.

I hope you'll keep checking in to the Now And Zin Wine Blog for more articles about the wines and the people I encountered in Paso Robles.