I have been visiting Paso Robles wine country for over 10 years now. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and just 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, Paso Robles is the largest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California covering 26,000 vineyard acres and housing 200+ wineries. There is an artisan food culture that has sprung up in the area, and with the great wines that pair with the superb meals, this really has become a food and wine lovers’ destination.
I look forward to the trip every year, and count off the days when the calendar reaches the third weekend in May. The annual Paso Robles Wine Festival is my late Spring favorite and this year was no exception. Now celebrating its 29th year, it is a showcase for the diversity of wines from this region. Gathered in the downtown city park, there were over 60 wineries pouring nearly 400 wines, to a crowd of over 4000 people. What a treat to have so many choices in one area. Every palate can find something to enjoy.
I have my usual favorite wineries to visit and they are consistent and rarely disappointing. This year however, I set out to discover places that were little jewels that deserved further discussion.
My favorite find of the festival weekend was a small boutique winery named FS Cellars. Winemaker Joe Farley is an alumni of Cal Poly, he previously worked with Martin Weyrich, Tobin James and French Camp. He has honed his skills to create hand-crafted, limited production wines that are approachable and delicious. Mr. Farley invited me to his tasting room for barrel samples of an upcoming vintage. He is experimenting with 4 different types of barrels housing the same fruit to come up with the ideal wine. Whatever he is doing is working, as I did not taste one thing that wasn’t good. Some of the offerings at the tasting room were Chardonnay, Merlot, Cab Franc and Late Harvest Syrah. I especially liked the 2009 Pinot Noir. It was packed full of red cherry fruit, spice and smoky undertones. What a gem. I look forward to sharing it with friends this summer.
Other wines that I enjoyed were the 2006 Donati Tal Padre. It is a thoughtful blend of Petite Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet. It’s rich and full bodied with dark fruit, heavy tannins and could easily lay down for a nice rest in a cellar. The wine is delicious and worth scouting out.
The 2007 Jack Creek Estate Pinot Noir has a heady nose of blackberry fruit, white pepper and wood. The finish is oaky and tannic. Just a well done wine that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The 2009 Niner Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing bouquet of lemon and melon. The mineral qualities are balanced out with a tart kiwi and a green apple palate. The finish is a hint of Apricot. The wine was spot on and enjoyable.
The 2010 Cass Estate Rose’ is a fruity bomb. The jammy strawberry is delightfully blended with aromas of guava and rhubarb. Acidic and flavorful, the finish is fruity and herbal. I’m looking forward to some spicy Asian food to pair this with. It will be a superb combo.
There was some excellent food on this trip to Paso Robles. Here’s a couple of the places I found to be worth an honorable mention:
Dinner at Thomas Hill Organics was a standout. The motto is “From Our Farm, To Your Table”. The starter was a fresh goat cheese rolled in macadamia nuts, served with grilled bread and chive oil. It was out of this world. The ultra fresh spring pea salad with saffron infused ricotta and hazelnut salsa verde, melted in my mouth. The entrée course was a cocoa rubbed flat iron steak, cooked perfectly. Served with house made chimichuri sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and corn, served over a bed of lightly dressed spring greens. It was heaven on a plate and I am happy to say one of the best meals I have ever had.
Another standout was Buona Tavola. Northern Italian cuisine, in a casual, yet elegant environment. Just a short walk from the downtown park, we walked right in after the festival and had a great dinner. The starter was beef carpaccio with arugula, shaved parmesan cheese and an ultra tasty horseradish dressing. My entree was on the specials board, not an everyday item, but it should be. Lamb ravioli covered in a rich, thick, shallot and mushroom sauce that was absolutely wonderful. I might have to re-create this for myself at home. I have thought about it several times since.
After 4 glorious days, tasting close to 100 different wines, I am looking forward to my next trip to Paso Robles. Although I doubt I can wait another year. I might just have to go again sooner, rather than later.