Showing posts with label San Luis Obispo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Luis Obispo. Show all posts

Monday, February 12, 2024

Pour Some Chardonnay On My Popcorn

California Chardonnay- big, bombastic white wines full of oak and all that implies - is a style many wine drinkers have been shying away from in recent years.  The swing toward unoaked - naked, if you will - Chardonnays which emphasize the flavor of the fruit and the effect of the earth has left many old-line California Chardonnays holding the oak.

I'll admit: I love the purity and minerality expressed in an unoaked or low-oaked Chardonnay.  Burgundy found long ago how much was to be gained by letting the terroir do the talking.  There are times, though, when you want a Chardonnay to get all hedonistic on you.  For me, that's in the wintertime.

This bottle of 2021 Edna Valley Buttery Chardonnay (they put the hedonism right on the label) somehow managed to survive the holiday season, which is when I most appreciate a good, oaky, buttery Chardonnay. 

The winery folks say this wine is a "bright and creamy expression of California's Central Coast," and their location in San Luis Obispo County would support that. The label, however, shows an appellation of "California," so there are likely some grapes from outside their estate included. Alcohol tips 14.3% abv and the price is listed on the website at $15. I found mine at a grocery store sale for about half that. 

This wine colors up straw-gold in the glass. The nose, which I was expecting to offer aromas of a movie theater snack bar, actually shows more fruit than butter or oak. Meyer lemon and tangerine are most noticeable, along with a slightly savory salinity. On the palate, that's where the butter is. Citrus flavors mingle with the sweet oak spice. Although there is a lot of that spice, the oak treatment is handled extremely well. The acidity is fresh and invigorating, too, despite the creaminess of the wine. For pairing, think chicken in an alfredo sauce or a scampi. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Wine From Everyone's Favorite Neighbor

My Favorite Neighbor is a winery run by Eric Jensen, owner of Booker Vineyard in Paso Robles. He and some of his Paso neighbors collaborate on a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, which they make to exacting standards. Jensen puts the concept on the label - grapes which are "thoughtfully farmed with careful consideration for the land."

Jensen's Booker Vineyard is certified organic. The MFN grapes come from a variety of special vineyards. The name comes from one of his grape-growing neighbors, who would always identify himself on the phone as "your favorite neighbor." It's nice to know we are not limited to just one favorite neighbor.

MFN Blanc 2021 is full-throated Chardonnay, grown in San Luis Obispo County. The wine was aged for eight months in equal parts new and experienced oak barrels. Alcohol sits at 14.1% abv and the retail price is $50.

This wine sits golden in the glass and offers a beautiful nose of apricot, Meyer lemon and oak spice, with a nice dollop of salinity in the mix. That savory note explodes on the palate and brings all that lovely fruit along with it. The acidity is right on the mark - food friendly while maintaining the creamy mouthfeel. The oak treatment is noticeable, but not at all overdone, and it leaves a nearly buttery sensation on the lengthy finish. 

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, July 8, 2019

Reborn Zinfandel

The back label of the Saucelito Canyon Estate Zinfandel says grapes were first planted at Rancho Saucelito in 1880, on the ocean side of the coastal range in the cool-climate Arroyo Grande Valley of California's Central Coast.  The Zinfandel vineyard survived Prohibition, but it was abandoned in the 1940s, then ravaged by fire and animals.

Although the vines were decimated, the roots kept sending new growth shooting upward each spring, and the original vineyard was restored in the 1970s by Bill Greenough.  His son, Tom, now makes the wine from those revitalized, dry-farmed grapevines.  The 2015 Estate Zinfandel hits only 14.1% abv and sells for around $35.

This deep, ruby red wine has enough black pepper on the nose to prompt a sneeze.  There's a ton of intense black fruit as well, along with licorice, tobacco and some rustic oak.  The palate shows off its country side, too, with black and blue berries and an oak treatment that does not go overboard.  Tannins are not extremely forceful, but there's enough structure to make it worth your while to pair it with lean meat dishes or pasta.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Three Wineries For The Price Of One

There's a three-way wine tasting room in San Luis Obispo.  Baileyana, Tangent and True Myth all show off their wines in a little yellow school house.  There's a great view of the vineyards to one side of the old structure, and a field of sunflowers off the other side.  The Niven family planted their Paragon vineyard three decades ago, from which the lion's share of their wines are still produced.

Natalie poured for Guido and me.  It was another great trip up the 101 into California’s beautiful Central Coast.  Tasters once had the option here of doing a flight of Baileyana, a flight of the all-white wine Tangent or a mix.  Now, only the mix is offered.  True Myth was not represented on the tasting menu the day I went.  The tasting cost $15, a charge which is waived with a two-bottle purchase.

On the menu:

Tangent "Clone 530" Sauvignon Blanc 2017 smells and tastes a bit more New Zealand than Cali SauvBlanc usually tastes.  There's grass, tropical and a clean zippiness, although the acidity was not extreme.  $32

Baileyana "La Pristina" Chardonnay 2016 doesn’t come off as wildly oaky, until you sip it.  One-third of the wood is new French oak and it was in there for nine months.  There's a nice acidity.  $30

Baileyana "La Entrada" Pinot Noir 2016 is light and gorgeous.  It's an elegant Pinot, a rarity in California, where ripeness generally takes them into the heavyweight category.  Cherries, strawberries, roses, violets, all for $35.

Trenza "Mosaico" 2013 is a 60/40 blend of Grenache and Syrah.  It's made from Paso Robles grapes, while all the other wines on the list are estate bottlings.  Big and juicy, this wine shows off the best of warm-climate grapes, ripe and fresh with a great grip.

Zocker Late Harvest Grüner Veltliner 2012 is a very drinkable dessert wine which can pair with great versatility.  It's not a huge sugar rush, rather a delight with a shade of tartness that balances the wine beautifully.  $20

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Monday, September 24, 2018

Central Coast Pinot Noir; Weighty, Wonderful

The Claiborne and Churchill label is 35 years old this year.  The winery is located in the heart of the beautiful Edna Valley, just outside California's Central Coast town of San Luis Obispo.  They say they are inspired by the wines of Alsace, specializing in premium Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Syrah.  For the sake of variety, they also produce a Pinot Blanc, a Chardonnay, a dry Rosé, and a Port-style wine.

Established by wayward Michiganians (Michiganders?) Clay Thompson and Fredericka Churchill Thompson, they say their winery structure was the first straw-bale building built in California.  Its 16-inch-thick walls mean they don't have to air condition or heat the place - it maintains the right temperature naturally.  In it, they make 8,000 cases of wine a year.

The 2015 Claiborne and Churchill Pinot Noir is made using grapes grown in their estate vineyards in Edna Valley.  It was aged ten months in French oak barrels, only a quarter of which were new.  Alcohol is restrained at 13.7% abv and it retails for $32.

The medium-dark wine has a concentrated nose of cranberry, cola and black tea. A note of tar also pokes its head into the scene.  The palate is lovely, a bit on the weighty side as California Pinot is wont to be, but dark, delicious and a dandy match for a grilled pork chop, lamb or holiday ham.  The expected cranberry flavor is riper, more like cherry, and the full mouthfeel is satisfying.  Its acidity is perfectly refreshing while the tannins are purposeful, yet manageable.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Friday, August 31, 2018

SLO Wine Chardonnay: Edna Valley Vineyard

Edna Valley is a beautiful area of San Luis Obispo's wine country.  The rolling hills, the nearby Pacific Ocean, the vineyards.  When there has been a decent amount of winter rain, I'm tempted to orate.  "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Edna Valley."  Okay, maybe that's a little overboard.  However, the place is beautiful.

Edna Valley Vineyard boasts land that was once a seabed and what they say is the longest growing season in California.  The chalky terroir comes forth most forcefully in white wines, notably Chardonnay, which the winery says was the first grape planted in the valley, presumably in modern times.

The grapes for this wine were grown on 45-year-old vines in the winery's Heritage Block.  They are the Tepesquet clone of Chardonnay, and the winemaker credits them, the climate and the vine age for the low-yields and concentrated flavor. 

The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemaker Series Heritage Chardonnay 2015 clearly got a lot of oak, but they know how to handle wood at Edna Valley.  The wine sells for $40.

This golden Chardonnay really is a heritage.  Old-style Cali Chard lives in this bottle.  The nose knocks one over with vanilla, butter, cedar, butter, popcorn butter and butter in which to dip a lobster claw.  That translates to lots of oak, no compromise, so if you like your Chardonnay naked, keep moving.  I generally enjoy this style best in winter, the holidays specifically.  For August, I turn up the A/C, flex alert be damned. 

The palate shows great heft, awesome acidity and a creamy mouthfeel.  How do they get all that into one wine?  The flavor is rich and apple-y and peachy and oaky and… buttery.  That lobster's not such a bad idea.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Paso Robles Wine - Rocky Creek Cellars

A visit to wine country isn’t really complete without an encounter with a unique personality at the tasting bar. John Somogyi was that personality for me on a recent trip into California's San Luis Obispo County. Rocky Creek Cellars is a great place to stop while driving the lovely 46 West in Templeton, near Paso Robles.

The convoluted roads twist and turn around the little building that houses him and his wines. You can see it, you just don’t know how you'll get to it. Suddenly, a well-traveled back road appears and you're parking the car.

Somogyi’s stories pile one on top of another until disbelief makes way for amazement.  His dad and uncle were both Olympic athletes. He was sent to Oakland as a 12-year-old to live with relatives after the Hungarian revolution of 1956. He has worked in construction, lumber, and smiles broadly while telling of his adventures in Big Sur that led him to settle in the Central Coast. Somogyi - suh MO jee - left behind climbing 300-foot tall trees to open the winery. He still likes to build things from wood, and the bar in his tasting room was crafted by his own hand.

Somogyi likes to age his wines - all are cellared for at least three years - and he likes wine with food. He’ll go on for a good while about how recent health issues have limited his diet, and it’s easy to tell from his protestations that he’d give anything to have his preferred cuisine routine back with him.

Many of the grapes he sources very locally are grown in a microclimate that he says gets 29 inches of rain yearly, as opposed to less than eight inches a few miles over in Paso Robles. His York Mountain location in Templeton is where most of his fruit is grown

Rocky Creek 2009 Pinot Noir - Ripe, several years in barrel, smooth and earthy $30

Rocky Creek 2010 Sangiovese - Delightful, bright cherry $30

Rocky Creek 2006 Syrah - Medium dark, earthy, grapey $28

Rocky Creek 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon - Excellent, smooth and silky with good ol’ Paso earth $34

Rocky Creek 2009 Petite Sirah - Soft and lovely $30

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Santa Barbara County Wine: Presqu'ile

Driving California's Central Coast offers so many great places to stop and enjoy life that volumes have been written about them. The wineries of the region are just one facet of the joy of the Central Coast. On a recent long weekend that found us staying at Cambria's Moonstone Beach, I sampled the Presqu'ile white wines in their gorgeous and elegant Santa Maria tasting room.

I had tasted some of winemaker Dieter Cronje's bottlings before, but only his red wines. Sticking with the whites on this occasion gave me a chance to try the other side of his talents.

Their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Maria Valley is made from estate fruit and vinified in three cuvées, in steel, oak and concrete egg.  The nose is fresh and a bit grassy with a palate full of minerals and citrus.  $22

The 2014 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley was aged for 12 months in oak and six months in steel.  The nose features lemon and vanilla while the flavor profile shows Meyer lemon and creme brulée. It's absolutely gorgeous.  $35

The Presqu'ile 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir gives off lovely strawberry, citrus and a tiny bit of grapefruit. It's an earthy wine, and got a rave review from Karen MacNeil, who called it "refrigerated sunlight." It's a superior California rosé.  $20

Two single vineyard Chardonnays really steal the show.  The debut vintage of the 2013 Presqu'ile Vineyard has a nose of lemon chess pie and a palate of vanilla and lemon zest. It's aged for 18 months in oak and features great acidity yet a very soft mouthfeel.  $45

The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay is from San Simeon, just up the coast a bit. It's very much like a Chablis, with soft citrus and tropical fruit and a mineral-driven palate.  $40

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Don't Myth This Paso Cabernet

True Myth is a banner for the Niven family, pioneers of San Luis Obispo's' Edna Valley. Their portfolio contains some of my California faves, Baileyana and Tangent, both worth checking out.

The label blurb explains, thankfully, that Mother Nature is the true myth, and she is honored on that label with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson,  "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."

True Myth 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

The marketing folks offer that "Paso Robles is hands-down a stellar place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon," and just because the marketing folks wrote it doesn’t mean it's not true. I think the limestone earth that is prevalent in the region has a lot to do with it. Paso Robles grapes from six different Paso vineyards were used to make the True Myth 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged in French and American oak barrels for 18 months, and half of the oak was new. It has a full 14.5% abv number and sells for $24, which is a steal for a Cab this good. Winemaker Christian Roguenant made it.

While the fruit of a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon seems elegant, I prefer the rambunctious nature of the Cabs of Paso Robles. This one lives up to that expectation. The blueberry is a little brighter, more playful, the earth is a little heavier and the spice a little, well, spicier than its cousins from further north. The oak on the nose is pretty and punchy, while the baking spice aromas make me think of cherry pie. The palate offers ripe blackberry and plum flavors with a good whack of oak and firm, yet supple, tannins. The finish is a fruit/earth mixture that plays on your taste buds a good long while after the sip.

By the way, if you like Paso Robles Cabernets, too, you may want to check out this year’s CABs of Distinction, April 12-14, 2016 in Paso, although True Myth - unfortunately -  does not appear to be a member.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bonny Doon Syrah, Edna Valley, Jespersen Vineyard 2010

As the "original Rhône Ranger" in California, one might expect Bonny Doon Vineyards' Randall Grahm to present a Syrah that is something more than acceptable.  With his Jespersen Vineyard release, he keeps his streak of extraordinary Syrahs intact.

Jespersen Vineyard is a fairly new vineyard located close to the coast in the Edna Valley region of San Luis Obispo County.  Edna Valley is one of my favorite mineral-laden wine regions in California, and I know Grahm appreciates minerality in wine, wherever it comes from.

On the label, Grahm waxes jazzy poetic about the "coolth" of Jespersen Vineyard and of Edna Valley as a whole.  He likes the cool climate grapes there and the depth of the wines made from them.  He feels his 2010 Jespersen Vineyard Syrah shows the brilliance of cool climate grapes.

483 cases were made with a per-bottle price tag of $40, although the wine was produced primarily for the Bonny Doon wine club, DEWN.  Alcohol comes in as moderate at 12.7% abv.

The color of this Syrah is deep and dark.  The nose beckons from across the table - vast blueberry, blackberry and plum with an aroma at once minty and tarry draped over the fruit basket.  Big, dark fruit dominates the palate with a eucalyptus note often found in cool-climate Syrah.  The wine shows remarkable acidity, another touchstone for Grahm's wines.

Pair this one with anything meaty, beefy or gamy and you should be pleased.  Sip it and ruminate on it, and you will find pleasure in that, too.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Saturday, August 3, 2013

SLO Wine Event Seeks Beneficiary

Wine events are fun to attend - in vino festivus - but they usually have a serious side, too.  The serious side of wine realizes there are many good causes that can be helped along with a little cash now and then.  When you take in cash from a wine event - pardon my socialism - why not share the wealth?

San Luis Obispo area non-profit organizations can apply to share the charity money raised at the 23rd annual SLO Wine Country Association’s Rockin’ Harvest Celebration and Auction,  November 1-3, 2013.

The live auction portion of the event features a “fund a need” live auction lot.  All proceeds from this lot go directly to the nonprofit.  The nonprofit is invited to have a spokesperson say a few words to the crowd about their cause prior to the auctioning of the lot.  They also receive recognition in the auction brochure and in all marketing efforts prior to the event.  The charity has the option of placing items in the day’s silent auction event and benefiting from money raised there as well.

Heather Muran is the executive director of  the association, and she says, “SLO Wine Country has been honored to help support various nonprofits through the years.  It’s a fantastic way to raise awareness of local organizations with programs focused on health and human services, education and the arts.”

In years past, the Harvest Celebration has supported such nonprofits as CASA of San Luis Obispo County, Hospice of San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly.

Applications for this year’s event will be accepted through August 23, 2013.  The applicant or applicants will then be chosen as the beneficiary of this year’s “fund a need” program.  Applications may be found at

About the 23rd Rockin’ Harvest Celebration and Auction

Saturday November 2, 2013 - “Grand Tasting and Auction,” noon to 3 p.m. at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.  Attendees enjoy cuisine by some of the finest local chefs paired with wines by the artisan winemakers of SLO Wine Country.  Along with food and wine from more than 60 establishments comes an “over the top” wine and lifestyle auction, hosted by the winemakers.  Those who book rooms in Avila Beach receive $20 off Grand Tasting tickets and may use a special trolley arranged for the weekend.  Info/tickets:

Friday, November 1, 2013 - “Rockin’ Road Trip,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Guests become “roadies” for an afternoon and enjoy a “backstage” look at three SLO Wine Country wineries.  From vine to wine, attendees learn the art of winemaking.  Luncheon and tasting included.

Friday evening, November 1, 2013 - “Collaborative Winemaker Dinner,” TBA.

Sunday, November 3, 2013 - “SLO Wine on Tour.”  Attendees to Saturday’s Grand Tasting are invited to explore SLO Wine Country all day on Sunday with complimentary tastings.  Tasting rooms will offer food, wine and live entertainment along with wine discounts and special offers.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three Syrah Wines From Bonny Doon Vineyards

Bonny Doon Vineyards’ chief Randall Grahm has made wine from many different grape varieties during his illustrious career, but the ones with which he really resonates are the grapes of the Rhône Valley.  He has been labeled "the original Rhône Ranger" for his pioneering effort of making Rhône-style wines in California.  Grahm supplied me with samples of three of his Syrah wines, which demonstrate his ability to choose vineyards and do the best work possible with the fruit found there.

It is this connection to the sense of place - terroir - offered by different vineyards that has captured Grahm's fascination.  He considers his winemaking efforts now to be vins de terroir - in which the grapes do the work - rather than vins d'effort, in which the winemaker does the work.  Grahm described his laissez faire methods in a recent article, "We spend more time in the vineyard so we don't have to spend so much time in the cellar."

Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Central Coast Syrah 2009

This is the entry-level Syrah from Bonny Doon.  The grapes are 56% Alamo Creek Vineyard, 32% Bien Nacido Vineyard and 12% Chequera Vineyard.  A blurb addressing Grahm's hands-off style of winemaking, with minimal intervention, adorns the label.  The alcohol content is a restrained 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $25.

The wine is inky black, no light gets through.  The bouquet is as dark as the color, showing black fruit and bacon fat.  Plums and blackberries define the palate, but the fruit has to coexist with dark, savory notes.  Everything meshes seamlessly in a wave of minerality.  This is entry-level wine at its highest order.

Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Syrah, San Luis Obispo County, 2008

Grahm calls this one "intensely concentrated and mineral-rich."  The vineyard is located northeast of the town of Santa Maria ("where the wild things roam") and where rock outcroppings of the Alamo Creek Valley indicate the minerals to come.  At 13.5% abv, the wine retails for $35.  Again, decant before enjoying.

The wines of the Santa Maria area are among my favorites in California, mineral-driven and dark, with great complexity.  This wine is dark in appearance, and sports a dark nose of blackberry and black currant.  Gobs of tar aromas make it hard to stop sniffing.  The palate, once decanted, is extremely smooth with fine tannins.  Flavors are dark and rich, with a full ripeness that just explodes on the palate.

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, 2008

Grahm's label notes: "The Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard is most evocative of the character of the genuine Northern Rhône article of any Syrah we see, likely owing to the exceptionally cool climate, the age of its (X-block) vines and calcareous soil."  The wine has a 13.9% abv number and retails for $40.  Grahm recommends decanting an hour or two for best effect.

Inky black, the wine is just as dark on the nose.  Minerals come forth strongly, with hints of tobacco under the black plum aromas.  Nice, chewy tannins decorate the palate, with extremely dark and savory fruit flavors.  There is a smattering of pepper and roast beef, with a beautiful minerality.  Pairing with dark chocolate and sea salt is magnificent.  It is quite possibly the best California Syrah I've had, and easily rivals the top French entries.

For something to drink right away, any one of these Syrahs beats the label off a cult Cab on the experience alone, not to mention the lower price points.  All three are the kind of wines you'll want to pop open for special occasions - but life is short.  Don't wait.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Bristol's Hard Apple Cider

The Southern California thermometer nudged up over the 80 degree mark in early March, and the contacts on my Facebook page were all gassed about getting out and grilling a steak.  It always amazes me when that first 80-degree day rolls around.  The roads to the beaches are clogged, outdoor restaurants can’t get enough tables on the sidewalk and the grills are a-blazin’.
It amazes me because, generally speaking, Southern California weather is not too far off the 80-degree mark all winter.  Why people in Los Angeles feel they need to be “spared from old man winter” is confounding to me.  
Sure, Southern California has its share of days when the high temperature doesn’t get out of the 50s.  You should hear the complaining then.  Folks in Michigan and Vermont and Ohio consider a high in the 50s to be the harbinger of spring.   
The SoCal beaches are crowded all year, sidewalk tables are always an option and we can pretty much grill anytime we like. Why wait?
Even so, after a long winter of fighting off that 60-degree chill with a 65-degree red wine, I have my own little springtime celebration.  When that 80-degree mark hits SoCal - while other parts of the country are still having to shovel snow - I like to break out a summer beverage.  
I purchased Bristol’s Hard Apple Cider at the Lone Madrone tasting room in Paso Robles for $12.50 in the summer of 2011, and I understand the cider is sold out now.  
Credited on the label as being produced and bottled by the Traditional Company of Colfax, California,  I couldn't find any info about that organization.  The apples come from See Canyon in San Luis Obispo and the cider carries a 6.6% abv number.
The Lone Madrone website says this about the Bristol’s Hard Apple Cider:

“This Zummerzet style cider was fermented in retired oak wine barrels and stainless steel tank. The cider is finished in bottle with champagne yeast a practice which yield's tiny yet vigorous bubbles. Made with See Canyon apples, it is dry, dry, dry with with crisp apple on the palate.”
The bouquet is all apple, all the time.  I was a little surprised, since I expected the influence from the oak barrels to be more significant.  It’s a very nice aroma, quite fresh and intense.  The palate offers more apples, and a generous amount of bubbling action in the mouthfeel.  As advertised, it’s dry, not sweet, and it went quite well on a warm afternoon with a fresh tomato salad.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Trenza Tinto

The Grand Californian Hotel is one of my favorite rides at Disneyland.  Right, it's not a ride, it's a hotel, but I find it a very enjoyable place to relax a bit after waiting in lines for the actual rides.  After 5:00, the Napa Rose restaurant is the place to go, but during the day it's the Hearthstone Lounge.  A really good Disneyland adventure involves more time here, less time in those lines.

I tried the Trenza Winery Tinto on a cool afternoon.  This San Luis Obispo County red blend is produced by the Niven Family of Edna Valley, the folks who bring you Baileyana, Tangent and Zocker wines.  Winemaker Christian Roguenant hails from France, but has a love for Spanish grape varieties and does not feel constrained by Old World winemaking rules.

Offered on the menu as a Tempranillo-Syrah blend, the Trenza Tinto is actually a mix of 35% Edna Valley Syrah, 31% Paso Robles Grenache, 22% Arroyo Grande Valley Tempranillo and 12% Mourvèdre from Paso Robles.  Aged 16 months in mainly French oak, this hearty red carries a 14.9% abv number.

The wine is quite dark in color, but the nose seems rather slight to me.  I do pick up nice cherry aromas with hints of oak spice.  The palate certainly isn't shy, showing huge blackberry flavors and spices.  Clove, black pepper and black licorice augment the fruit, and the mouthfeel is full.  It's a very smooth drink, with fine tannins and a nice acidity.  The long finish leaves hints of dark chocolate.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Salisbury Pinot Naturale

Artisan Cheese Gallery is a great little place for some fantastic cheese, but they have a great selection of wines, too.  The restaurant/cheese shop/wine store is in Studio City in Southern California's San Fernando Valley.  At lunch there, I had the opportunity to sample an unusual wine, at least for me.

The Salisbury Vineyards Pinot Naturale is a San Luis Obispo Pinot Noir from the ocean influenced Avila Valley, but it's made with minimal skin contact, so the wine is actually white with a very pale pink hue.  The nose is almost as unusual as its appearance, but a lovely strawberry aroma dominates.

There is a very nice acidity and a strong blast of minerality on the palate.  The minerals may have been the element on the nose which I found unusual, but in a good way.  Strawberry flavors put a sweet edge on the dry wine, and the minerality puts me in mind of wet rocks.  If blindfolded, I may well have guessed this was made from white wine grapes.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

Thursday, April 28, 2011


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.

Monday, September 27, 2010


San Luis Obispo

The celebration of California Wine Month, "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," was a Southern California tasting event designed to shed some light on grapes and wine regions in the Golden State that typically don't get a fair shake.  San Luis Obispo County may not be as well known as Napa or Sonoma, but to those of us who have experienced their wares, SLO wine is not a well-kept secret.

The reds of Paso Robles and the whites of Edna Valley are favorites of mine, but the wealth of wine in the San Luis Obispo area goes further than that.  Santa Margarita, Cambria, Arroyo Grande and Avila Beach all have a lot to offer a wine lover.  The area is particularly beautiful, too.

Becky Gray, Executive Director of the SLO Vintners Association, poured the wines at the SLO table for me.  Here are my tasting notes:

Tolosa Viognier 2009 - very rich nose, melon rind and citrus dominate flavors - tons of minerals, as expected from Edna Valley (Edna Ranch Vineyard)

Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc 2009
 - Paso Robles fruit - grassy nose, fresh lemon taste, good acidity

Tangent Albariño 2009 - tropical nose, nuts and orange peel on the palate, lots of minerals (Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard)

Claiborne and Churchill Vintners Gewürztraminer 2007 - dry Alsatian style - tropical and grapefruit on nose and palate, good acidity

Zocker Wines Grüner Veltliner 2009 - (Paragon Vineyard) - minerals apparent, hint of pepper

Salisbury Vineyards Syrah 2007 - (Avila Vineyard) big, rich cherry and blueberry nose with a fruity, peppery taste

Tolosa "Salaal" - 90% Syrah, 10% Viognier fermented together - (Edna Ranch) - big berries and pepper, great finish

Trenza Tinto 2008 - Grenache and Mourvèdre from Paso Robles, Syrah from Edna Valley and Tempranillo from Arroyo Grande Valley - lovely floral aspect with blueberries and lots of earth

Tomorrow I'll take a look at Temecula's table.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Tres Pinos Three Pines Cuvee

I can spend more than five dollars on a bottle of wine if I like, and I feel fortunate that I can.  I do love a bargain, though.  That's why I find myself drawn to those discount wines at Trader Joe's so often.  I tell myself to keep moving, spend a little more.  But the lure of finding a good wine on the cheap is too great.  The sirens were singing my song again when I saw the Tres Pinos white. “Here's your five dollars.”  “Here's your wine.”

Tres Pinos Three Pines Cuvee is made by San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles.  They source their grapes from all over California, and the grapes for this wine came from San Luis Obispo County.  I like a lot of wines from SLO, so I had high hopes for this effort.

The grapes in question are Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Viognier.  That's a likely bunch of suspects for a good blend.  13.5% abv.

This white is the color of straw, and there's just a hint of effervescence upon pouring without refrigeration.  The second night the tiny little bubbles didn't appear when the wine was chilled.

I am often disappointed by the nose on cheap – er – inexpensive wines.  That is not the case here, as a beautiful bouquet of honeysuckle, apricot and cantaloupe rind appears.

The palate is not as fruity as I expected.  It's actually rather dry.  There is a subtle flavor of pear juice and a decent minerality – something I always love to find in those Edna Valley wines from San Luis Obispo County.  I'm intrigued by an almost savory edge, maybe guava.  The acidity is more than adequate for pairing light fare.  It's great with a handful of peanuts!

The various grapes used in Tres Pinos blend together nicely.  None of the four stand out too much.  I found it to be much better when chilled than not.  It's a serviceable wine that actually tastes pretty good.  And the price is certainly right.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Cerro Prieto vineyard

Larry Stanton, owner and winemaker of Cerro Prieto Vineyard and Cellars, doesn’t go to Mexico any more. Who could blame him? After not one, but two, run-ins with what he refers to as "ninja-suited narco-terrorists," his beloved hunting and fishing excursions to the Cerro Prieto geothermal field became less about "Field And Stream" and more about "Guns And Ammo." He decided for his own well-being to stay in the good ol’ USA and tend to his vines.

Stanton would hunt for ducks, pheasants and quail, fish for freshwater bass and dig freshwater clams. It was such a big part of his life that he filled 
two books with his tales from the Baja campfire. Over 500 game trips to Mexico induces a lot of storytelling. He hasn’t been back, though, since the latest encounter with the business end of a machine gun. "There was a time that knowing a little Spanish might have spared you in a traffic stop by the police. It’s really gotten bad there now since the drug guys have taken over."

The love for his favorite spot lives on in the very name of his vineyard, and the passion he once held for those trips is now poured into his grapes.

Stanton loves to talk about his vineyard. Local photographers tell him it is the most photographed vineyard in San Luis Obispo County. "That may be true," he says, "because I picked up the phone book a while back and saw my vineyard on it! I give tours by appointment, and people seem to like it. The mountain portion is almost straight up and down. It’s chiseled out of solid limestone rock. We started by hand and had to go to jackhammers. We’ve got boulders the size of my truck out there."

The vineyard seems to lend credence to the notion that the more grapevines struggle, the better the fruit. "We dug holes in the rock and planted with just a gallon of dirt," he says. "The vines just took off."

"We’ve got oak trees on the property that just soak up the nutrients, so we’ve had to plant the vines as far away from them as possible. Even so, the two rows nearest the trees ripen before the rest." Stanton says, "I got tired of watching good fruit burn up, so we started taking those grapes earlier. The wines we made from them are gold award winners."

Stanton has been trying to move Cerro Prieto’s vineyard closer to sustainable agriculture, with hopes of having an organic vineyard. His feeling though, is that he just won’t be able to move much closer than he is now.

Presently, 90% of weed control is done with hoes, not chemicals, and grapevine prunings are not burned, they are mulched. "That way, it doesn't foul the air, and it helps prevent erosion. I also use cover crops to help prevent erosion. We've decreased the use of fertilizers by 1/3 by growing clover around the vines. This helps put nitrogen back in the soil."

For varmint control Cerro Prieto uses traps, not poison, when possible. Owls and hawks also help keep the gopher population under control.

He says that although their use has been dramatically reduced, he still has to use some pesticide and herbicide, plus commercial fertilizer for the steep hillside vineyards. The valley vineyard uses organic fertilizers. "There are just some problems where pesticides are needed," he says. "We use the lowest concentration we can get by with, though, and try to stay as organic as possible."

Stanton sells 95% of his grapes, making wine from the remaining five percent. This means very low production, which in turn means he often sells out of his more popular wines.

His 2006 Merlot sold out quickly after garnering some international gold medals. "The ‘07 Merlot has Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in it," he explains. "It’s still 80% Merlot, but after tasting the blend, I had to go with it. It’s just great."

The 2006 Cerro Prieto Paso Bordo - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah - got high scores from critics and kudos from customers. The ‘07 Paso Bordo will be released on September 30th, 2010 - just in time for Stanton to pour it at Sunset Magazine’s Savor the Central Coast event at the end of September. His Pinot Noir won't be available until 2012. The story behind that particular grape is a bit of a sore spot for Stanton.

The magnitude 6.5 San Simeon earthquake in 2003 ran right through three acres of Pinot Noir grapes. What remained, he made into wine, then laid it down for five years. "It was hard to do, but it was worth it," he says. "It sold out very quickly." Last year, he had more bad luck with Mother Nature. "We were having pretty good weather when a really early hot spell brought a 117-degree day to the valley vineyard. All the Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc was ruined, so we'll have to wait a while for some Pinot. We should be able to make about 50 cases or so."

Stanton writes about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of growing grapes and making wine in the "
Larry’s Blog" portion of his website. There he is part folksy yarn-spinner and part wine scientist, a role which pretty much describes his real-life persona. It's an entertaining read, even if he hasn’t had a lot of time to devote to it lately. "Five problem acres have taken up a lot of my time," he says. Anyone who tries to write in their spare time can understand his problem.

Nevertheless, he has two more books in the works. One is a collection of stories from campfires around the world. The other is a medical malpractice novel he patterned after a case on which he helped deliver judgment some time ago.

Stanton was a doctor for 40 years - he actually still practices pro bono medicine - and began farming and ranching in 1977 with barley, safflower, walnuts, almonds and cattle. Grapes were planted in 1999 and commercial winemaking began in 2006. Last year was his first official bottling.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


The Edna Valley wine country near San Luis Obispo has been on my mind a lot recently.  It's a favorite spot of mine in California's Central Coast.  There's plenty of beautiful rolling countryside full of vineyards which produce grapes that are made into some pretty incredible wines.

I don't know if this one is even available anymore.  I had a bottle of it several years ago, when the place was known as Domaine Alfred.  The winery has since reverted to their original name of Chamisal VineyardsVineyards.  Even though this wine was produced in the Alfred days, the grapes came from Chamisal's namesake vineyard.  Here are my notes on this memorable Syrah:
"A nose of very dark fruit promises only a bit of what ends up on the palate.  A very earthy, pungent taste made up of dark fruit, leather and spices - and a lot of each.  It comes at you leading with the earthiness, but a powerful spiciness joins in on the taste buds.  There's quite a lengthy finish, too - one that you wish would never end."