Spring in Paso Robles is the perfect time to have friends over for a little backyard fun. Temperatures are ideal and with all the rain this winter, the abundance of greenery and freshly bloomed plants makes being outdoors even more rewarding.
If your friends are like mine, any type of get together involves food and wine. There are so many fun appetizers, but who doesn’t love a big bowl of chips and some salsa?
One of my friends who has a real talent for making a wide range of salsas, brought a trio with him on a recent visit. His “Toasty Roasty”, Pico de Gallo and Mango Habenero were all delicious. Our group decided the hands down winner was the Mango Habenero (the photo at the top of the post might have given that away). With a little arm twisting, I convinced him to share his recipe.
Mango Habanero with Tequila Salsa
Recipe by Steve Rodriguez
2 ripe, firm mangoes, diced
1/2 medium white onion, chopped and rinsed
1 habanero pepper, seeded and chopped
Juice of one lime
1 oz 100% agave tequila
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves
Optional 1/2 Roma tomato diced for color
Combine all ingredients together. If the salsa has been sitting for awhile be sure to give it a good stir prior to serving.
Not just for chips!
While it is delicious served with tortilla chips, this salsa is also perfect served on a wide range of meats. We tried it with grilled pork chops and grilled chicken that evening. I am also going to make this next time I grill fish.
Eat this with Rosé
There are a wide range of wines that will pair well with grilled meat topped with this salsa. I have to say it makes me think pink!
It is early in the season for me to have picked my favorite Paso rosés (I’ve only been out to sample a few); however, here are some that I have enjoyed and can recommend. I should note I haven’t had a bad one so far this year — Paso pinks seem to get better and better!
I have to say I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and given that the group has fewer than 30 members, and most small wineries, I wasn’t anticipating a large crowd. I am glad I opted to attend the VIP tasting, limited to just 50 guests, since the main tasting was sold out with 400 attendees. Hats off to the organizers of this event for offering a wonderful experience to a large crowd.
The VIP tasting was worth the extra money to be able to have an hour to taste and talk with the winemakers/owners. There were a couple of other perks that made the VIP portion of the event special too: 1) real wine glasses and 2) each winery had a food item paired with a wine.
Some of the wineries really took the pairing seriously and went all out, while others may have forgotten they were supposed to have food and it seemed like they popped into the grocery store for cheese cubes or a deli meat platter on their way to the event. I’ll focus on the good and give the others a pass for likely being too busy to figure out the food part.
The best pairing I had of the evening was at the Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards table.They served their 2015 Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyard with a beet crisp topped with caviar creme fraiche, garnished with chive and fennel. This delightful bite, with just the right amount of salt, enhanced the wine … and this is a wine I can drink without food and be perfectly content.
Tied for second place (following my very subjective system) was Mitchella Vineyard & Winery serving a mini Beef Wellington with their Bourdeaux blend (they also poured a nice Cabernet Franc) and Chateaux Margene serving a beef empanada with their Pinot Noir (of course they were also serving their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon). Hats off to both for going the extra mile with these home-made meat pastries.
A fun (and bubbly) pairing was at the Still Waters Vineyards table. Not only was the sparkling rosé refreshing, the paired vegetarian skewers also lightened up the tasting. The skewers had cucumber, mozzarella, tomatoes, dried date and a tangy balsamic vinegar. After so many meatballs, crostinis and sausage bites, this pairing really hit the spot.
As I mentioned, the size of the crowd that came out for this event was a surprise to me. I think there were a few things that made this tasting so popular.
Price. So often walk around tastings come with a huge price tag. This one was extremely reasonable at just $25 per person. With approximately 25 wineries, each pouring several wines, this was a bargain.
Food options. Instead of building the food cost into the event and having to set-up food stations or hire servers to walk around with passed plates, the organizers brought in no-host food trucks. BRILLIANT! Often when I go to tastings, I am there to focus on the wine, so the extra $$ in the event cost is a waste. Not to mention so many people have food preferences, making it difficult to please everyone. By having the food trucks, those who wanted food could purchase exactly what they wanted at a reasonable price. I was happy to see my favorite, local food truck, The Hurricane Kitchen there with crowd favorites like the bison blue cheese patty, sriracha chicken and other items available on top of a bed of greens, or served in a bun.
Live Music. I really think live music adds to a wine tasting event. Even with the low cost of admission, the organizers brought in a very popular, local duo – Bear Market Riot.
Clearly the main purpose of the event was to showcase the diverse wines offered from the wineries located along the back roads on the east side of Paso Robles. Given the sheer number of wines being poured, there is no way I could taste them all; however, I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the ones I did taste. There were some lesser grown varietals like Pear Valley’s Aglianico and Charbono, as well as a large number of Cabernet Sauvignons (hands down the most widely planted grape in Paso Robles).
I also found a few wineries that are now on my list of places I have to visit. The first is bovino vineyards offering the gen.er.os.i.ty and Joludi brands. I hadn’t heard of them prior to the tasting and the barrel sample they poured is enough to get me out to their tasting room to try the line-up.
The second is Rava Wines. Although I have now been to their event center twice, I have never made it to the tasting room. I sampled a sparkling rosé and need to get back to try the rest of their wines – several friends have recommended that I do so!
Clearly it is time for a tasting trip to Paso’s Back Road Wineries. A couple of hours at a tasting isn’t long enough to explore so many wines!
Paso Robles Rhône varietals and blends tend to get a lot of media attention and some even refer to Paso as “California’s Rhône Zone”. I recently attended the 2019 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience and was able to taste through a large number of excellent Rhone wines. Read on to see my top picks.
The Rhone Rangers
The Rhone Rangers is America’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. Their mission is to educate the public on Rhone varietal wine grapes grown in America and to promote the production and enjoyment of these wines, with emphasis on integration into daily lives.
The Paso Robles chapter has over 50 members and each year the group hosts a wine tasting event that kicks off with a seminar and luncheon.
I din’t attend the seminar and luncheon portion of the event; however, I did manage to talk with several people who did. Overall the comments were very positive with most people indicating they have attended this event for several years and never miss the seminar. The top comment was that it is so interesting to hear the winemakers and winery owners talk in length about the wines. They really walked away feeling like they got the inside scoop.
One couple said the highlight of the seminar for them this year was learning about cinsault from Daniel Callan of Thacher Winery. They had always considered cinsualt as a blending grape and were surprised how much they enjoyed the varietal as a stand alone wine.
I was intrigued by what I heard and made my way over to the Thacher Winery table to try the 2017 Cinsault. In case you are not familiar with the grape, cinsault is a red skinned Rhône grape that is known to be drought-resistant and is capable of tolerating extreme temperatures (sounds ideal for Paso). It is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet, and clearly some vitners offer it as a stand alone varietal. Although light in color, the Thacher Cinsault offered a mouthful of fruit and a delightful aroma. I would enjoy this wine with light lunch.
I decided to continue my tasting by selecting some of the lesser known varietals. My quest led me to Amy Butler, of Ranchero Cellars, to try her 2014 Carignan. Amy has been a consulting winemaker for several wineries over the years, and it was the carignan grape that made her take the move to launch her own label. This is a very intense, lush wine that lingers on the palate. One of my favorite wines of the day, it is easy to see why Amy is so drawn to this grape.
Next up was the 2014 Tannat from Seven Oxen Estate Wines. Tannat is another dark, bold varietal that is often used as a blending grape to add color and structure. I found this a very enjoyable drink and could easily see having a bottle of this with a nice steak dinner. Although it was indeed on the bold side, the silky tannins and lingering finish make this very drinkable even on its own.
I decided it was time to move on from the unusual, standalone varietals and look for some more common Rhônes like Syrah, Grenache and the ever popular GSM blends. Not surprising, Eberle Winery had a nice selection of wines. Gary Eberle was the first to plant Syrah in California and I always enjoy his, vintage after vintage. The 2014 Syrah made from Stienbeck Vineyard’s grapes is rustic and delicious – easy to see why this wine receives so many awards and high ratings.
Another favorite of mine from the tasting was kukkula wine‘s pas de deux. The blend is dominated by grenache with just the right level of syrah. This is a combination I really enjoy (those who know me well, are aware that I am always happy to skip the “M” in a GSM). This could easily become an every day drinking wine in my house.
Another producer I really enjoy is Alta Colina. If you get a chance, be sure to visit their tasting room on the west side of Paso Robles and if they are offering vineyard tours, you are in for a real treat. The Toasted Slope Syrah grows on a hillside on their property with the most gorgeous views. This is another go to wine, that I enjoy year after year.
I don’t think it is possible to talk about Rhône wines in Paso Robles without mentioning Tablas Creek Vineyard. Tablas Creek makes exclusively Rhône varietals and blends, and is responsible for bringing many of the first Rhône cuttings to the area. Their early efforts importing and working through the lengthy process of having the varietals certified and propagated is likely a large reason that Paso is gaining its reputation as “California’s Rhône Zone”. I can’t say I have ever had a Tablas Creek wine that I didn’t enjoy. My hands down top pick is their 2016 Esprit de Tablas. This wine is a blend of four estate-grown varietals, propagated from budwood cuttings from the Château de Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf du Pape: mourvedre, grenache, syrah and counoise. I highly recommend a visit to the tasting room surrounded by the the estate vineyards — you can also learn a great deal by following the winery’s blog.
The Paso Robles Rhone Rangers host a number of events throughout the year, including monthly varietal tastings during the warmer months. These events are a great way to do an in depth tasting of the featured grape. Check the event page for these as well as other member events.
If you’re a pinot noir fan, you won’t want to miss this event. Each year, pinot noir producers from around the world gather in Santa Barbara.
“The World of Pinot Noir is the ultimate event for Pinot Noir fans. The two-day line-up offers a variety of experiences including seminars, lunches, dinners and the epic grand tasting. Don’t miss the Rosé lunch on the bluff … it’s the perfect way to spend your Saturday.” – Stacie Jacob, Solterra Strategies.
This year the event is being held March 1-2 at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. I’ve attended this event the past couple of years (it’s the one wine event that actually gets me out of Paso) and I can’t think of a better venue. The ball room provides ample space for walk around tastings, even with the 100+ wineries pouring it doesn’t feel too crowded. The VIP Lounge is a nice little place to escape and sit for a bit (there are also wine and appetizers so you can hang out here in comfort) – the VIP ticket not only provides you with access to this area but also gets you into the grand tasting ahead of the crowd.
The venue has the perfect rooms for the seminars and dinners, so you can enjoy everything the event has to offer in one gorgeous, ocean side location. Parking is easy and Uber is reasonably priced in the area.
Tip: The hotel staff driving around in the golf carts are happy to take you on a tour. My friend and I did this last year and not only learned a lot, but were also entertained with a few good stories! Nice little break from wine tasting.
Even if you don’t want to splurge and purchase a full weekend or day pass, attending the grand tasting on Friday or Saturday afternoon is a rewarding experience. The number of pinot noirs being poured is almost overwhelming. You need a plan to navigate the room and decide which wines you will actually taste.
The producers are organized by region and I found that was a great way to plan out my tasting. I’ve always been a huge fan of both Santa Rita Hills and Russian River pinots from California, so I go for those right away. The really fun thing about this event is that you are able to taste some of the best wines from not only California AVAs, but also from out of state and international regions as well. This year you will find pinots from Burgundy, Chile, Mendocino, Monterey, New Zealand, Oregon, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Sonoma, and Napa wine regions.
You will find a nice mix of wineries, from the well known to ones you have likely never heard of (I discovered several new ones last year). From large to tiny, the room will be packed with producers ready to pour you a taste of their finest pinots.
Tip: Break up your wine tasting and refresh your palate by trying some of the rosés and bubbles too, or take a break at an appetizer station.
One of the other things I have to give this event high scores for, is having a nice selection of food available (included in the ticket price) at the grand tastings. Instead of your typical spread of cubed cheese, crackers, and bread, the tastings offer gourmet, international cheeses selected specifically to pair with the wines. There are also a few food stations set-up with culinary delights prepared by the Ritz-Carlton Bacara chefs. This year they are offering items like: Gaviota Strawberry and Tomato Gazpacho, Crab Bruschetta, Thai Vegetable Spring Roll, Beef Slider, Crab Cake Slider, Gourmet Mac & Cheese, Wonton Wrapped Shrimp, and Goat Cheese Flatbread with Bacon Crumble.
There are also a number of dinners both Friday and Saturday evenings (these require a ticket in advance). I attended a Friday evening dinner last year and I have to say it was a real treat. The elegant room had all the tables set and decorated with vegetables (it was a Santa Maria Valley dinner). Each course was paired with multiple pinots and throughout the dinner the winemakers talked about their wines. An added perk was the dinner guests were all delightful and each table had some of the winemakers seated. The conversations at the table were ALMOST as good as the food and wine.
I’ve started to notice more people adding a “JUST” in front of “you” since I am single. Since yesterday was Singles Awareness Day (it’s true — look it up — there really is a day for everything) I thought it was time to shed a little light on being single.
The hearing “JUST you” was especially true a few months back when I was going through a massive downsize, as well as purchasing and remodeling a house. It wasn’t only the construction/sales people, it was often my friends. I was starting to feel like since it was “just” me I was expected to live in a trailer or tent. No point in decorating since it was “just” me who would see it. I thought about the fact that couples share a bed and eat at the same table, so how much less space does a single person really need?
In any case, what I find even more alarming is my single friends taking on that attitude. They don’t make themselves a nice dinner because it is “just” them, they won’t go to a restaurant since it is “just” them…and what really hits me hard is they won’t even open a bottle of wine since it is “just” them. They are waiting to have someone over to open a bottle of wine they really like.
Cooking for One
I’ve been single most of my life and I love to cook. As much as I enjoy entertaining, I certainly don’t wait to have guests over to make myself a nice meal.
The excuse I hear is that it is hard to cook for just one. Really? Cooking for one or cooking for a full family is about the same amount of work. Sure there are things like a standing rib roast, a twenty-pound turkey and a huge rack of ribs that may be a challenge for a single person to devour; however, there are so many delicious foods that come in small sizes. Treat yourself to a lobster tail, scallops, fillet mignon — given the price of the ingredients you should be celebrating being single and not having to feed a bunch of people!
Hit the farmers market, Pier 46, J&R Meats — there are lots of options in Paso Robles to find good quality ingredients that don’t come in huge portions. Enjoy some “me” time in the kitchen.
Prior to living in the Central Coast, I was an executive for a hightech company and spent a huge amount of time travelling for business. There was often no choice but to dine alone and I have to say I not only got use to dining alone, I actually enjoyed it. It was really nice to have some alone time after having to be “on” all day wowing business partners and clients.
I still often head to a restaurant by myself either because I am in town running errands and find myself hungry, or I am rewarding myself for achieving some form of a goal (could be as simple as putting in a good day’s work for a client).
You will certainly find places where they will greet you with a “just you for dinner?” or “only one tonight?”. The really funny part is watching them scan the almost empty restaurant trying to figure out where to seat you.
Luckily in Paso there are so many “single friendly” places. You shouldn’t think twice about heading out on your own. Here are three of my go to places.
Sushi is an easy thing to have on your own and in Paso there are several good options. My hands down favorite is Goshi’s. Located just a little down from the train station, you are sure to get fresh fish, traditional Japanese food, and excellent, very polite service. They have never been surprised that I am popping in for sushi on my own. Pull up a seat at the bar and enjoy!
I love everything about The Hatch. Located on 13th Street, just a little west of Pine Street, this is a great stop if you find yourself downtown. The welcome I receive when I walk in, regardless if the place is empty (only really happens right when they opening) or packed, makes me glad I stopped in. They always find a place for me and the food and service are excellent.
This is a great place for a cocktail. The menu always has an interesting selection of very creative cocktails and if you are in the mood for something a little different, I find the bartenders are very willing to whip something up if you give them a few hints of what you are in the mood for that afternoon or evening.
Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ
An excellent addition to downtown Paso, you will find Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ in the alley between Pine and Park Street. This is a local’s hangout and everyone is greeted like long lost friends. When I am in the mood for comfort food this is my go to place. Jeffry smokes meat, makes award winning mac & cheese, dishes up an awesome plate of nachos, and don’t even get me started on his paella.
This is also a good location for a glass of wine (or beer if that is your preference). Although, if you are really in the mood to eat alone, it is sometimes a challenge because if you are a local chances are you will run into a friend or two!
I can’t even believe in Paso Robles Wine Country there are people who won’t open a bottle on their own. If you bought it on your own, or someone gave you a bottle as a special gift, you are worthy of having a glass of wine or two even if you don’t have a drinking buddy. Forget the guilt, pop the cork. Head to your cellar (or closet or where ever you stash your wine) and pick something YOU want to drink.
Don’t give me the crap about it going bad. A bottle of pretty much any wine is good for 2, maybe 3, days with just the cork shoved back in the bottle. If you can’t consume the bottle in that time, there are vacuum sealers, nitrogen cylinders, and a whole host of different gadgets to keep your wine fresh. If you want to have wine without even opening the bottle, get a Coravin.
It’s time to ditch the “JUST”. Take care of you, spoil you and enjoy being single. The first thing to check off your list is YOU!
If you’ve been following my blog, you probably remember that a little while back I decided to splurge on some grass-fed, grass-finished beef. In my last post I talked about my experiments with creating bone broth (it was trendy a little while ago and many people still tout the benefits so I had to see what all the fuss was about). I’m still enjoying sipping on the broth several days a week, and even started the 21-day Bone Broth Diet.
I did, of course, order a lot more than bones from Templeton Hills Beef — here are three of the beef dishes I recently made, along with my wine pairings.
My hands down winter comfort food is Beef Bourguignon. I follow the technique outlined by Julia Child in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”; however, I have a few twists that I think make it a healthier dish. I don’t use butter or bacon (sorry guys) and I include a lot more vegetables, including turnips, extra carrots, parsnips and baby-bella mushrooms. My recipe was included in my first “eat this with…Paso Robles Wine” recipe book.
This isn’t a quick and easy dinner for sure. You have to put some time into this one. Don’t fall for the trap of going with a package of pre-cut, cheap stewing beef that you will find sitting in the meat section of the grocery store. Get a grass-fed beef roast and cut it in cubes at least 2 inches in size. I tend to go with a chuck roast which will be very tender after cooking in wine and broth for an extended period of time. Seems to have the perfect level of fat for this dish.
This is a meal that screams for wine. I tend to typically go with a cabernet sauvignon since it really does need a hardy red. For this particular dinner, I decided instead to pull the cork on a Bushong Vintage Company 2016 Ananda Pinot Noir. The grapes are grown in San Simeon on a vineyard that is typically highly stressed. The result is a very intense pinot noir and it was a lovely pairing.
Comfort food aside, if you ask me what is my favorite beef dish, I’ll be torn between a standing rib roast and filet mignon. With just one dinner guest on the list, I opted for the filet mignon. Served with a chimmicuri sauce and sauteed vegetables with cauliflower “rice”, this was a healthy yet extremely delicious meal.
I tend to like my meat on the rare side (I’ll go medium rare when I have guests), and certainly with a prime cut of meat like a filet mignon, there was no way I was going to over cook the beautiful steaks. Sous Vide was the way to go. I simply added some olive oil, salt, pepper and a little thyme with the steaks in individual bags, then vacuum sealed and cooked in 130F circulating water for one hour. A quick sear in pan with very hot olive oil to finish and the result was a melt in your mouth steak.
After spending a month in Argentina and enjoying several amazing steak dinners with Malbec, I find myself gravitating to this varietal whenever I can. With the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition recently awarding Graveyard Vineyard’s 2016 Malbec a best of class, I was very happy to find I had a bottle in my cellar.
This wine certainly did not disappoint, and at $36 a bottle, this may just be my new “steak night” wine.
One of the less expensive packages in my box was grass-fed ground beef. There are so many dishes that can be made from ground beef (including a good old fashion beef patty). I was in the mood to experiment with some low-carb versions of classic dishes, so I decided to give cabbage rolls without rice a try. I found a recipe on-line that looked good, and with a few minor tweaks (I can’t seem to follow someone else’s recipe to the T) I found this to be a great use of ground beef. Served with roasted broccoli and carrots, this was another guilt free meal.
I made this dish for a working lunch, and don’t be shocked, but I didn’t actually serve wine. These cabbage rolls would be wonderful with either a white (off dry with high acidity) or red wine (I’d go on the light to medium-bodied and fairly fruity if selecting a red).
And there you have it – I’m working my way through my beef box and enjoying every bite so far.
My go to source is Templeton Hills Beef. I know the owners well and am really impressed with the care they put into growing and managing their herds. Another perk is they deliver for free within the Paso Robles area (see their website for shipping to other areas).
It has been a long time since I indulged in grass-fed beef and decided it was time to order a box of some of my favorite cuts. I also have been reading so much about the benefits of bone broth and the bone broth diet, that I also ordered a couple of boxes of bones and decided to experiment with broth.
My order included a mix of knuckle bones (also known as soup bones), leg bones, riblettes and neck bones. The trick to getting a true bone broth (versus the traditional beef broth) is to use lots of bones (with plenty of marrow and cartilage) and simmer for a very long time (12-24 hours).
I made three different batches:
BATCH ONE – The first batch used up the less meaty bones. For these I sprinkled with sea salt and roasted in the oven at 450F for an hour prior to starting the broth — the result was a darker broth with more intense flavor (I simply used carrots, onions, salt, bay leaves and water to create the broth that was simmered in a slow cooker for 24 hours)
BATCH TWO – This was a mix of VERY meaty soup bones, a few riblettes, and some not so meaty leg bones. This batch was made the same as batch one but simmered in a large stock pot on the stove for 12 hours. I decided it still needed some more time, so I refrigerated the pot overnight (I didn’t want to leave the gas stove on all night) and the next day let it simmer for an extra 12 hours.
BATCH THREE – This batch was spiced up with plenty of garlic, pepper, and several herbs. It was also exclusively the meaty soup bones. Since the soup bones looked like little roasts, I expected this to be the batch with the most beef flavor (and I had already learned the extra time really helps, so this one also receive 24 hours of simmering).
I was happy with all three batches but I do have to say I think roasting the bones first was well worth the effort. Another learning exercise is that the meat on the bones doesn’t seem to add a lot of extra flavor, so going with some cheaper bones isn’t a bad thing. For future batches, I think I’ll go with the basic ingredients and then just flavor with garlic, herbs and spices as I go.
For now, I plan on sipping away on the broth I made (my freezer is full) and hope it really does help me sleep better, lose weight, have better skin and reduce some wrinkles!
Stay tuned to hear about what I did with all the other cuts of grass-fed beef. Spoiler alert — there was wine involved with those meals.
The event sold out with 350 attendees. Surprisingly, in the new event facility, that did not feel crowded. Being able to roam between the various spacious rooms, with large windows, gave the event a nice airy feel. Being able to step out onto the large patio for fresh air was an added plus.
Nineteen wineries each poured 1-2 wines, all expertly paired with gourmet cheeses. Who doesn’t love a good wine and cheese pairing? This year the cheese pairings seemed to be a step up from what I remember in the past. There were some good old standbys as well as plenty of unexpected surprises.
If I had to pick one pairing as a winner, I would pick the creamy blue paired with a Bordeaux blend named Stormwatch by San Antonio Winery (this is from their San Simeon line and is around $70/bottle). The intense flavors and tannins in the wine played with the harsh yet creamy flavor of the cheese.
I can’t say I have made it to all 18 Esprit du Vins; however, I can say I was very impressed with how much the group has improved this event since I last attended. In addition to each winery having a paired gourmet cheese, there were several other culinary offerings by local purveyors and live music in a grand room with large windows.
A local favorite trio, Burning, Bad and Cool, helped set a fun mood for the event. They managed to keep the sound level just right, and as always, had a few people dancing.
Although I love cheese, I was delighted to see a number of other culinary items added. Foss Farm offered a quail egg with a couple of different options of seasonings. Farmhouse Sweets sweetened things up with both vanilla and chocolate mini-cupcakes. The saucy Miss Oddette, served up hearty ribs (with her own, famous sauce of course) and mac & cheese.
Of all the food served, I am torn to name my top pick. I have to go with a tie between Hurricane Kitchen’s smoked elk sausage crostini (topped with a delicious mustard) by Chef Richard and an over the top yummy paella by Chef Jeffry of Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ (easy to see why he has won so many cookoffs!).
It wasn’t all about the food! With so many wines being poured, I couldn’t taste them all (well I could if I was willing to spit them all out or have a driver). I’m sure there were many wonderful wines being offered that I didn’t sample. My top picks of what I did try are:
January is the month that so many people decide to cut back, typically on food, spending and alcohol (yes some crazy people actually go for a full month without so much as a glass of wine!).
All of the cutting back makes January a very difficult month for restaurants. San Luis Obispo restaurants decided to do something about that and declared January as Restaurant Month. Basically, participating restaurants across the county offer special prix-fixe menus of three courses at $30-$40 per person or other special offerings. In some cases that is a very good deal and enough to entice people to indulge.
The three-course $40 menu included wine paired with each course
The third course was a cheese plate (I’m not much of a dessert person)
There is plenty of parking
The meal is served in the elegant tasting room with views of the gorgeous property
The first course offered a choice of Green Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette or Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup paired with 2017 Pinot Gris Reserve. I choose the wild mushroom soup and was not disappointed. The soup was topped with a little truffle oil and fresh herbs – may just be the best mushroom soup I have ever had. The pinot gris was a perfect pairing.
The second course was Osso Bucco over Creamy Polenta & Sautéed Baby Carrots paired with 2014 Petite Sirah Estate (the DTC manager, Tracy Northington, knows me so well she offered to substitute the petite sirah for my favorite wine – cabernet franc). The chef nailed this dish, especially the polenta! My friend stuck with the recommended pairing and thought the wine really complemented the dish. I find cabernet franc pairs with just about anything, so I was happy with my pairing too.
I have to point out, not only was the food and wine spot on, the service was over the top. The tasting room staff take care of most of the service (and they are all new to food service). I’m not sure who took care of the training, but I have to say they did better than most waitstaff in restaurants in the area.
Chef Yavanna Tuftee delivered the entree. I always enjoy meeting chefs and getting a bit of the inside scoop. Yavanna is fairly new to Villa San Juliette; however, with several years as a sous chef at Cass Winery, she certainly is not new to the food and wine scene in the area. She loves being able to focus on the winery’s menu Thursdays-Mondays 11-4 so she can enjoy her evenings with her family. In February she will introduce a new seasonal menu with several “to share” items – can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the winter menu. The menu will change with the seasons, so check the event page of the website for current offerings.
I already mentioned the final course was a cheese plate instead of dessert. This was served with 2015 Grenache Reserve. I found the selection of cheese, a little honey and apricots to be a lovely end to the meal. We stayed a while longer to sip our wine (thumbs up on the grenache as well). A few other groups arrived while we were there and it was nice to hear all the happy chatter.
If you want to enjoy this menu, I’d recommend making a reservation. While it is not required, there is limited seating inside, so best to have a seat waiting for you and your dining companions. This menu ends January 31st.
Although Paso Robles is known for the diverse wines from over 200 wineries, there are a growing number of spirits, beer and cider producers. Clearly an area where you can “get your drink on” regardless of your beverage preference.
Last year the first Central Coast Cider Festival was held at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion and was such a success it is now an annual event. The second festival is May 13, 2017 from 5-8pm at the same venue, and tickets can be purchased on-line ($65) right up until the event. There will be some tickets available at the door for those last minute decision makers; however, advanced tickets are encouraged.
The event definitely draws a fun crowd, from the hard core cider lovers, to those looking to enjoy a lovely evening with live music, an English-style pig roast and of course cider tasting. The organizers are expecting approximately 400 people this year, a nice number for the venue which includes walk around tasting in the pavilion, lounge areas and the large outdoor deck overlooking the lake.
Last year, was my first time tasting cider, and it was an eye opener. I was only familiar with the old-style, super sweet, apple ciders and have to say that isn’t my thing. I discovered so many different styles and flavors that I can’t wait to sample and learn more about this beverage that seems to be growing in popularity. Not all of the ciders were made from apples and several had added ingredients for an interesting twist.
I see some new names on the list. This year there will be 16 Cider producers, each offering tastes of their line of ciders. While some producers like Bristols Cider and Tin City Cider have tasting rooms in the area, several of the others can be difficult to find, and do not yet have a local tasting outlet. New this year is the Cider Pop-up, allowing you to purchase ciders on-site! Sounds great to me since last year I tried a few I really liked and didn’t know where to buy. (The best place to find a good selection all year round is 15C Wine Shop and Bar in Templeton).
The pig was so delicious last year — so glad to hear Chef Jeffery Scott will be back again this year and roasting the pigs on-site. Here is the full menu for the buffet dinner:
Brined & slow roasted heritage pork, apple cider bbq sauce
Carolina rice & smokey black eyed peas, scallion, espelette pepper
Low country cole slaw, vidalia onion, red & green cabbage, pickled carrots, lemon-poppy seed dressing
There will also be a variety of snacks available during the walk around tasting: Tortilla chips from Taco Works ,Bacon wrapped dates, thanks to 15c Wine Bar & Shop, fresh buttery popcorn that will be popped on site in an old fashion popcorn machine and pub mix – clearly no body will go home hungry after this event!
Live music will be provided by Erin & The Earthquakes. This funky, jazzy, bluesy band will have you on the dance floor before the end of the night.
OTHER WEEKEND ACTIVITIES
If you can’t make it to the main event on Saturday you have two other opportunities to enjoy cider this weekend:
Friday, May 12 from 6 – 9pm: Cider Tap Takeover at 15c Wine Shop & Barin Templeton. Taste, Meet and Mingle with some of your favorite cider producers! Call (805) 434-1554 for more info.
Golden State Cider
Jean Marie Cidery
South City Cider
Tin City Cider
Sunday, May 14 from 11:30am – 2:30pm: Mother’s Day Brunch at Bristols Cider House, prepared by Chef Jeffery Scott. Call (805) 400-5293 for more info. Menu: