May 21, 2007

Weekend in Paso - Part One

What a wonderful weekend I had!

A weekend in Paso Robles during their annual Wine Festival was more fun than I could have imagined. What’s more, I got to meet and greet some old friends and find some new ones along the way.

The purpose of this Blog is to disseminate information about wine, food, restaurant, and other lifestyle events in the local Las Vegas area. However, it’s nice to take a sidebar and report on something a little different. Well, this week’s entry is the sidebar.

“Wine Country,” as you know, encompasses a lot of territory. Be it Southern California, Santa Barbara, Central Coast, Sonoma, or Napa, there are lots of options locally (relatively speaking, of course). The wine countries of Oregon and Washington are formidable contenders, as are the areas of Northern Michigan and New York State with their cold-weather varietals. Of course, there are those who think that outside of Europe, there *are* no wine countries – the others are just posers. We could go on and on, talking about the areas in Chile and Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, and South Africa. “Wine Country” is a big deal as more and more people start to “get” the European idea of wine as food.

This weekend in Paso Robles cemented in my mind why this particular Wine Country is my favorite. Not just because of outstanding wines (thank goodness they have been flying below the Wine Spectator radar…that means more for me!), but because of the warmth of the people and winemakers there. Yes, they are competitors, but they seem to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of each other’s businesses. And will go on record stating that those Paso wineries who have snooty attitudes (what I affectionately call the “Napa Syndrome”), won’t last too long there.

I visited a couple of wineries and tasting rooms over the weekend, and spent a little time seeking out new wineries at the festival. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you. My tasting notes and preferences are strictly my own. Your mileage may vary.

A quick trip into town to check out the Park for the next day’s festival found us at the Midlife Crisis Winery tasting room, located at 1244 Pine Street. Wines of note are their Pinot Grigio, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Roo Boy Red. Fun wines, and I especially enjoyed, well *all* of them. I also found a Wineaux shirt (I kid you not!), and a Wine Diva visor. I love the name of their wine club which is the Crisis Management Team. But don’t let the fun name and cutesy wine club moniker fool you. Their wines are serious, and the Zinfandel and Syrah are worth noting. Big, full-bodied and with the characteristics that the varietals are *supposed* to have. Their Syrah and Zin are both gold-medal winners and are starting to turn some heads in the wine world.

We then went into the hills of Paso to check out some old favorites.

Two of the first places we went to were Mt. Olive Organic Farm and Pasolivo.
Mt. Olive Organic Farm has lots of fresh organic produce that they grow themselves. They also have an incredible number of olives, salsas, tapenades, dressings, etc., all of which are organic and delicious. They serve sandwiches, salads, pastas, juices, and more, and have a wonderful outdoor patio where you can enjoy your meal. They are located at 3445 Adelaida Road in Paso.

Pasolivo has olive oils that they press from their own olives from their own trees. I am a member of their club – The Press Club (get it?) – and have never once regretted joining. They are a wonderful, friendly group and will give you a tour of their pressing facilities. They have lots of olive-related products, and also carry an assortment of vinegars and salt. Once you have tasted their olive oils, the storebought stuff seems insipid by contrast.

While at Pasolivo, we met Sabrina Kruse of
Jack Creek Cellars who was pouring her fabulous, Burgundian-style Pinot Noirs. Jack Creek was new to me, and it was a happy discovery since I am a self-described “Pinot Ho.”

As I mentioned in last week’s entry,
Halter Ranch is one of my favorites even though I’m not a member of their club at this time. We stopped at their winery, located at 8910 Adelaida Road, and happily tasted through their lineup. Their two basic blends, Ranch White and Ranch Red are two of the best to consider as house wines; they are low cost and yummy! In fact, two of my friends and I had a heated discussion over who’d get to keep the single bottle of Ranch White received in a shipment! Their Syrah is fabulous, and their Estate Reserve Cab is also exemplary. Heck, all of their wines are terrific, and the girls in the pouring room are friendly and knowledgeable. And all are Alex Villicana fans. More on that later!

We ended the day at Villicana Winery, located at 2725 Adelaida Road. Absolutely wonderful wines, and the best Viognier around, bar none. Alex and Monica Villicana do an incredible job in making sure that quality and varietal distinctiveness are correct in each of their wines. Alex and Monica are also very cute and each has a fan club :-). They hosted a Friday night barbeque which was enjoyed along with the guitarist, some of their fabulous Zinfandel, and good friends. As a side note, there was a group there who said they were from Vegas. POSERS!! They were NOT from Vegas!! They were, however, Vegas fans and were thrilled that there was someone there who was *actually* from Vegas. They were a fun crowd and were quite obviously enjoying themselves. I felt like a celebrity!

Anyway, my favorite Villicana wines are all of them. Which is why I’m a member of their club! I really don’t care what comes in the shipment, because I know all of the bottles are going to be enjoyable. My favorites (okay, okay, I do have some favorites!) are their Viognier, Rosé, and Zinfandel.

Before attending the Festival, my friends said, “Caves.” ????? As it turns out,
Eberle has tours of their man-made wine caves. Holy Spelunking, Batman! Although these caves are man made, they have developed characteristics of natural caves in that their ceilings are forming stalactites, which are natural limestone drips.

They also have a bunch of great wines! I tasted their Viognier, Syrah Rosé, Full Boar Red, Syrah, Up Shiraz, Reserve Estate Cab, and Muscat Canelli. I bought two bottles of the Full Boar Red. Yummy, well-priced, and another great candidate for a “house wine”!

Then the Festival! It was nearly as zoo-like as UNLVino, but cheaper and outdoors. I connected with some of my old favorites, and found some new ones as well. I will talk about my oldies today and update on the new discoveries in my regular entry on Thursday. By the way, wine wasn't for sale at the Festival, so taking copious notes was a must.

As I mentioned in the last entry,
Four Vines is a fun winery with great wines. Unfortunately, they didn’t have Naked Chardonnay with them on Saturday. I will admit to being a fan of buttery, well-oaked Chards, and have found that many unoaked Chards taste like fruit juice and lack the character that oak imparts. I don’t claim to know everything, but I believe that all white Burgundies are oaked (if you know differently, let me know and I’ll share with the readership). Other than Stanley Lambert’s Pristine Chardonnay (Australia), I thought all the rest were boring, Naked included. That is, until the most recent release (2005) which has hit the mark just right. It has all of the mouthfeel and taste of a lightly-oaked Chardonnay with none of the sometimes bitter finish. Obviously, I was disappointed that they didn’t have any there!

They did have Loco, Anarchy, The Biker, Zinfandel Dusi, and my personal favorite, Heretic. Heretic is Petit Sirah, and so very wonderful! Rich, luscious, and tooth-staining.

Many of the Paso wineries are small, and they are focused on exquisite quality rather than cranking out wines by the tens of thousands of cases. One of the best examples of quality-driven winemaking is another one of my personal favorites,
Hug Cellars. Augie Hug and Edgar were manning the tasting tent and as always, their wines did not disappoint. They were pouring their portfolio of Syrahs as well as their wonderful Casa Mirales Romanze Rosé, to which I am hopelessly addicted. On my way home on Sunday, I stopped by their tasting room and *somehow* bought several bottles of their wines, including a bottle of the fabulous 2005 Rancho Ontiveros Pinot Noir, which has just garnered a 93 point score from Wine Enthusiast. Forget about finding this in your local wine store; if they have *any* left at all, it’s only available in person at the winery. Augie produces his wines in cases of several hundred at most, or as in the case of the Rosé, less than 100 cases were made. Most of the bottles are at my house :-). At any rate, if you can get to their winery and stock up, you won’t be disappointed. Do it now since they’ve been discovered by Wine Enthusiast (much more credible, in my opinion, than Wine Spectator). Damn. Less for me. Their tasting room is located at 2323 Tuley Ct. Suite 120 D, which is just off the 46E on the way out of town. Hard to find and well worth the extra effort.

I love
Opolo! Their Mountain Zinfandel is legendary, and they are always surprising club members with a variety of new wines, many of which are only available through the club. For instance, in my last shipment I received two bottles of Montagne Mare, a blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Barbera. These are both big grapes and I wasn’t sure if I would be well served by opening a bottle. The verdict? Go ahead! It’s good now, or if I want to lay them down for a while, that would work as well. It’s fully approachable at this time so I won’t be disappointed. Hm. Time to plan a home dinner! This is another winery that has a great variety of wines, good prices, and are the some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable you’d want to meet.

I think I’ve made your eyeballs bleed enough! In my next entry, I will talk about some more of my old favorites such as Tobin James and Windward and put the spotlight on some new ones (new to me), including John Alan Winery, Hansen, Anglim, and Orchid Hill. Stay tuned!!

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