Being of hearty northern European stock, I am largely immune to the chill of winter – that is until this especially brutal winter turned all of Chicago into an ice palace. I’m fairly certain it was the twelve consecutive weeks of obligatory self-swaddling that convinced me that booking a flight to Los Angeles was necessary.
After visiting with friends for a couple of days in LA (and a failed attempt to track down Motorhead’s Lemmy at his local watering hole), my wife and I decided to head north to Paso Robles. The logic being, the only way to truly warm up from a polar vortex is an ample supply of high alcohol Zins and Rhone Rangers, which Paso Robles has in spades.
After driving up the topographically diverse interstate 5, we dropped our bags off at the hotel, and headed straight to dinner at Thomas Hill Organics. The wine list here reads like a who’s who of Central Coast winemaking; after much deliberation we zeroed in on the 2011 Nuts & Bolts from Hermann Story. This rich, inky Syrah unloaded layers of chocolate, cherry, and vanilla with some excellent spice on the finish. The local, organically produced food at Thomas Hill was every bit as delicious as the wine. The preparations weren’t overly complex or fussy, which really allowed the ingredients to shine. The meal was perfectly capped off with an olive oil cake and a locally produced dessert wine.
With over 180 wineries in Paso Robles and only a day to visit, some difficult decisions needed to be made. Wanting to keep things at a casual pace we decided to visit no more than four wineries and after some difficult deliberation we finally landed on: Linne Calodo, Turley, Justin, and Tablas Creek.
Linne Calodo, a stone’s throw from where 46 West and Vineyard Road meet, is hidden from the road behind a dense thicket of trees atop a steep gravelly slope. The tasting room, an angular blend of wood and glass, while modern in appearance, blends in seamlessly with the surrounding environment. As we approached the entrance a fellow visitor exited with a broad smile and said, “You guys are in for a treat.” He was absolutely right. The wines at Linne Calodo are nothing short of stunning.
Kelly, who expertly handled the tasting, took us through three of the current 2011 releases: Perfectionist, Sticks and Stones, and Problem Child. I could go on and on about each, but will simply summarize by saying these wines capture what is so great about Paso Robles. These are bold, fruit driven wines with plenty of depth, acidity, and extraction. Linne Calodo, like many in Paso, focuses on the Rhone varietals with some Zinfandel occasionally thrown in for good measure. I have heard comparisons to Chateau Rayas, while an apt assessment, only captures a sliver of what these wines are about. In each of the wines presented it was immediately clear owner/winemaker Matt Trevisan is crafting wines which let the grapes speak for themselves. When oak is used, it is never with a heavy hand, as nuance and balance are central to what makes the wines great.
A few miles further down Vineyards Road is Pasolivo, the aptly named olive oil producer. The bucolic rolling hills with row upon row of olive trees beckoned us, so we headed into the tasting room for what was one of the highlights of the trip. The staff was very friendly and informative as they walked us through each of the oils they produce on site. Pasolivo has 45 acres of olive trees of largely Tuscan varietals. Harvesting is all done by hand in an effort to minimize bruising and the quality shows. All of the blends are bright, fruity and with a pleasant touch of acidity. It is hard to pick a favorite, but the California blend was as close to olive oil perfection as I have ever had.
Our next stop was the Turley tasting room in Templeton. In 2000, Turley purchased the Pesenti Winery and set up shop. Here we tasted through four Zinfandels sourced from several sites throughout California. Turley has been around for a while now, but it continues to be the standard bearer for California Zinfandel. The 1996 Ueberroth Vineyard was nothing short of stunning offering up layer upon layer of copious jammy blackberry and deep earthy notes. As was clearly seen by the gnarly vines of the Presenti Vineyard, Turley is working with some seriously old stock. It makes you wonder what sort of stories they would tell if they could talk.
After some twists and turns we made our way to Justin Winery. I’ve been a fan of Justin’s wines for years, so having an opportunity to taste through several vintages was a real treat. The tasting room at Justin is a super sleek and modern design. It offers a stark contrast to the old barns and farmhouses which dot so much of the landscape of Paso Robles. After being purchased by Fiji water, Justin had a bit of makeover and to excellent effect. Justin’s focus, unlike many of its neighbors, is Bordeaux varietals. Everything from the bright, crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc (which was a pleasant change after all the full-bodied reds) to the right bank inspired Justification everything here was spot on.
The fourth and final winery was Tablas Creek, which couldn’t have been a better bookend to our trip. Here we enjoyed a range of wines including older vintages of Panoplie, which are in all instances absolutely stellar. Born of the longtime friendship between Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands and the Perrin Family of Beaucatel, Tablas Creek was one of the early Rhone Rangers to set up shop in California. One of the main reasons, we decided to visit Tablas Creek (aside from the wines of course!), is because of their blog. It offers unparalleled insight into the day to day decisions involved in managing vineyards, winemaking, and more generally the business of wine. The passion Jason Haas (son of Robert) and team pour into this blog show just how much they care about the wine they produce, but also the wine making community in Paso Robles as a whole. I strongly recommend anyone who has even a passing interest in what goes into producing a bottle of wine to check out their blog.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two restaurant recommendations given to us by Kelly from Linne Calodo. The first is Il Cortile in downtown Paso Robles. I had probably one of the finest Italian meals of my life here (honestly, no exaggeration). The osso buco pork was the show stopper, but every dish delicious and expertly prepared. The wine list of course had Paso Robles well represented, but we were happy to see on the right side of the list such familiar names as Gaja, Giacosa, and Castello di Ama. The second recommendation was a little taco shop called Ruddell’s Smokehouse over in Cayucos. If you want the best smoked fish taco you have ever had and a beautiful ocean view to boot, go here. If we had had more time I would have opened a bottle of Justin’s 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and lingered here until they asked us to leave.