Do you remember feeling giddy when you “discovered” U2 years before The Joshua Tree was released? What about the rush you got from telling your friends about hearing Arcade Fire at some small club “before they were big?” If you do, then you’re going to love exploring Paso Robles wineries.
Paso is the upstart younger brother of Cali wines, clamoring for attention from its overachieving older siblings, Sonoma and Napa. While Paso’s potential has been touted for years, it is starting to grow into its own and quickly becoming recognized by the broader, international community as a top-notch region for syrah and other rhône varietals: Copain, Booker, and Saxum all make highly-touted wines from Paso vineyards.
I’ve witnessed part of Paso’s growth first hand. Two years ago I visited the area and stopped by Linne Calodo. The tasting room: a folding table in a working winery. I loved it. When I went back a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find that Linne Calodo’s continued success has spawned a beautiful new tasting room. I felt a tinge of sadness realizing that this sleepy little wine nook is all growns-up.
Even though Paso is no longer a well-kept secret, there is still a lot of room for experimentation. There’s a young and vibrant wine community here, as witnessed by a tasting of the Italian varietals from Giornata Wines (see earlier post here). And there are plenty of folks willing to push the envelope, creating some bold and unorthodox red blends.
PLACES I VISITED
Over the past couple of years, Paso began pushing out some big and brash zins and syrahs, but like many places, there is a noticeable trend towards more restrained wines. Here are four places I visited recently that will give you a little of everything. I’ve also created a Google map listing these places, and a photo album with add’l pics from my visit. This is not meant to be a selection of “the best” in Paso — simply a random sampling of places I enjoyed, and which I thought provided a good variety of wines and tasting room experience.
Terry Hoage Vineyards
Terry Hoage used to cause me nightmares. As a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, he often clashed with my hometown Washington Redskins. Now, thankfully, Terry has turned his attention to winemaking, and is producing some dreamy, well-balanced syrahs and other rhône varietals. In 2008, Wine Spectator, called Terry one of the promising new syrah producers, and a visit to his winery will show you why. The tasting room is in an old barn-style building using refurbished wood that gives it a lot of character.
At the opposite end of the specturm, Denner has created a bit of Napa in Paso Robles by erecting a posh members-tasting area. Thankfully, the wines are also up to the task. I tend to like the Denner blends — The Ditch Digger, The Dirt Worshipper — but they also do some good (and well regarded) 100% syrahs. $10 tasting fee, approx 8 wines poured.
Go big or go home. That may well be winemaker (and former college DJ) Matt Trevisan’s motto. He pumps out some unbelievably rich zin and syrah blends, all of which can be described as pure hedonistic pleasure. And how can you resist picking up blends Matt has labeled as “The Problem Child,” “Slacker,” or “The Outsider?” While I miss the folding table, funky / modern tasting room fit the wines. $10 tasting fee, aprox. 4 wines poured.
Run by the family that also operates one of Paso’s most well established restaurants, Villa Creek reminds me of what Paso used to be: a little isolated, a bit understated. The tasting room is in a working winery (i.e., warehouse feel), and its a little dark inside, but how can you complain when’ you’re tasting wine sourced from some of the most well-known vineyards in Paso: James Berry, Denner, and Booker Vineyards?
NOTE: One place I really wanted to visit, Booker Vineyard, was sold out of their wines, and had closed its tasting room. Booker is expected to reopen soon, and (from what I hear) it’s well worth checking out. In addition, I skipped the usual suspects and most established wineries in the area — Turley and Tablas Creek — though you should consider stopping by if you’re in the area. Tablas Creek also offers tours of the vineyards twice daily (at 10:30AM and 2:00PM). Call ahead for reservations.
Also, you should stop by 15 Degrees C Wine Bar, just south of Paso Robles in the town of Templeton, and near many of the wineries. Its a friendly spot, with a selection of tasty small dishes and panninis, along with some fantastic wines by the glass. While I was there, they were pouring both a Silver Oak Cab and a Hanzell Chardonnay by the glass — I was stunned. Having these highly-sought after wines by the glass was a real treat!
If you’re tempted to visit Paso, consider visiting coming down for the following events
- March 19-21, 2010: Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival
- April 29 – May 1, 2010: Hospice du Rhône – Rhône Varietal Festival
- May 21-23, 2010: Paso Robles Wine Festival
Check out the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance website — a great resource for maps, tasting room hours, and events in the area.
Finally, here are some other blog posts re Paso Robles which you may find helpful in planning a trip: