This past weekend I took another trip to explore this friggin’ huge state. A friend did the drive up, so I was free to shoot from the window. It was 90 percent garbage, predictably, but there were some nice coastal shots, and views of the rolling hills inland. Carpenteria/Montecito/Santa Barbara were very pretty on the drive up, and the sky was clear (last few trips have been foggy or overcast) so you could see the channel islands and the offshore oil rigs. Hooray for oil rigs.
When we arrived in Paso Robles it was too late to go to any vineyards, but we checked in to the hotel and then wandered around the streets downtown. Dinner was at Il Cortile –a well reviewed Italian restaurant in the downtown area. The food was outstanding. I think I’ve only had wild boar once or twice, but this wild boar ragu is now my favorite way to eat wild boar, ever. No pictures, because I’m not some hapless twit on Yelp.
The next day was Eberle, which was near the hotel. They really like boars at Eberle, and had not one, but two metal sculptures featuring boars. Their wines were pretty astounding considering the price, and several were done in the Rhone style, or featuring Rhone varietals like syrah, grenache, mourvedre, etc. There’s an interesting site on the Rhone/Paso connection here: http://www.rhonerangers.org/
The next stop was Robert Hall, which had some pretty stunning grounds, even with the barren vines. I’ve had Robert Hall before, the cabernet sauvingon is pretty ubiquitous in stores, but this was the first time I tried their Rhone blends, and their viognier (bought a bottle of crisp, dry viognier).
After lunch, the next stop was really, really, really, far –Tablas Creek. The tour of the vineyard was also painfully boring, and the middle-aged couple on the trip were very irritating. Each question launched the guide in to a rambling, meandering telling of some trivial bit of info that could have been expressed in a sentence or two. The upside was that I got to see how they graft American root stock on to the Vineferea clones from France.
Three wine tastings is usually my limit because you just can’t taste the differences in the wine afterward. My friend wanted to go to one more though, Villa Creek. Which make wines that are completely not my style. Those are high alcohol, high fruit wines that really beat you over the head. They lacked any of the refinement or subtlety of the other wines.
Dinner that night was at Artisan. The place was more New-American and the menu had some really intriguing options. The gouda and porter fondue with andouille, broccolini, and crostini was a great appetizer that I split. Then, for whatever reason, I had pasta for the second evening in a row, but this time with some very tender rabbit, and a rabbit sausage. The food in this town does not disappoint.
The next day was J. Lohr, which is conveniently located on Airport Rd. just a short drive from the Paso Robles Juvenielle Hall and the ancient municipal airport. It was so scenic I didn’t want to ruin it with a picture… J. Lohr’s 08 Petite Sirah was great, but their 07 wasn’t nearly as good. The 07 had cabernet in the mix, while the 08 used grenache in the mix. The grenache really rounded out the wine, while the cabernet didn’t seem to help at all.
Lone Madrone had a quirky tasting room on the 46 in a psuedo-folksy-farmhouse style. It even had two goats, three chickens, a rabbit, and two small dogs. The lady in the tasting room informed us that Tablas Creek and Lone Madrone shared the same winemaker. Tablas Creek was where the winemaker worked to satisfy his bosses seeking truly French-style wine, and Lone Madrone was his private vineyard that left him free to experiment. Having tasted at both wineries, it seemed that the wines at Lone Madrone offered a freer expression. Mixing and matching all kinds of things –like “Barfendel” a mix of Barbera and Zinfandel grapes. The personality of these wines was more New World/Californian, but without any of the negatives of Villa Creek. When oak was used, it was used sparingly, and it was neutral (new oak gives CA chardonnay it’s uhh… distinct… flavor. As the oak is used more and more, it becomes neutral and has a subtle effect on the wine.)
Continuing on 46, we stopped at Linne Calodo. Which was well reviewed, but ended up being a little disappointing. The wines were more like Villa Creek, with that inky, strong fuit and alcohol combination. The tasting room was nice though. Then it was back on 46.
The sleepy, seaside town of Cambria would be the final stop, for lunch.
The rest of the photos are in this Flickr set.