Quick Pickled Veggies

I’ve been enjoying all the farm fresh items in my Loo Loo Farms box each week. It is fun to find new ways to enjoy the ingredients.

A recent box included tri-colored carrots, cucumber, asparagus, onions, garlic, edible flowers, and fresh herbs. The beautiful range of colors at first had me thinking of a salad or grilled veggies, then I remembered how easy it is to create pickled veggies.

Basically all you need to do is mix equal parts of vinegar and water with the salt and herbs/spices (can be fresh or dried). I bring the water to a boil first to dissolve the salt and any other dried herbs/spices then mix in the water and fresh herbs. Pour the liquid over the items to pickle and wait 48 hours before enjoying. You can get very creative and make some unique pickles.

Here is what I created using mostly ingredients from my Loo Loo Farms box:

Sliced cucumbers, with sliced onions and fresh dill in a distilled vinegar/water/salt mix.

Carrot sticks with fresh oregano, coriander seeds in an apple cider vinegar/water/smoked salt mix.

Red carrot slices with ground ginger/white wine vinegar/water/sea salt. (Note the red/purple carrots color bleeds so you will want to do those in a batch without other vegetables).

Asparagus, garlic cloves, red wine vinegar/water/sea salt. I did place the asparagus in boiling water for 1 minute and then immediately placed in a ice water bath to cool the spears and keep the gorgeous green color. I would suggest doing the same for green beans and other similar vegetables.

If you have mason jars, they work great; however, since these quick pickles do not need to be canned, you can use any glass container that you have with a tight fitting lid. They are perfect after 2 days in the refrigerator and will keep for at least 2 weeks.

I enjoy them as an appetizer or afternoon snack. They certainly make a lovely presentation!

The quick pickles are also a nice addition to a salad (I especially enjoy the cucumbers in a salad with canned tuna, romaine lettuce and a little olive oil). One of my friends say they are perfect for a Blood Mary bar – I may have to try that at a future get together with friends!

Strawberry Season

Ice Cream with strawberries and edible flowers
Farm fresh berries with ice cream!

Spring means BERRIES!

Spring is an exciting time for ingredients from the farm and garden. A popular item in almost every household is strawberries (although berries of all forms are welcome in my home).

I’ve sampled a few different berries from local growers and I have to say my hands down favorite this season have come from Loo Loo Farms. This small family farm tends to deliver interesting ingredients that are not easy to find in your grocery store or the large farms. Their produce boxes the past few weeks have include a basket of small strawberries that have more flavor than any I can ever remember.

What to do with Strawberries?

Clearly simply washing them and eating them without any effort or fuss is an ideal option.

For some reason when I think strawberries I automatically think ice cream — either a vanilla or chocolate from the store with chopped berries and other fun toppings (the photo above includes edible flowers, herbs and honeycomb — all from Loo Loo Farms). Homemade ice cream is a special treat — and a strawberry cream version is at the top of my list.

Pies, cakes, cupcakes — these little gems are perfect for baking.

Get fancy and dip them in chocolate.

If you find yourself with more strawberries than you can eat right away, they freeze well and if you have canning skills, strawberry jam is a great way to capture the flavor and enjoy later.

Cocktail Prep Time

Cocktail Time

Farm fresh berries and herbs can take your bar tending skills to the next level. I decided to create a few different cocktails with my strawberry basket and had some friends taste test. They were all a hit!

Mocktail: For those who are not into the adult beverages, a few squished up berries, berry slices, squeeze of lime and club soda make a fun, sunny day drink.

Gin Based: Turn your gin and tonic into a refreshing colorful drink with a few chopped berries

Rum Based: Strawberry Daiquiris always seem fancy to me — even though they are simple to make. I was going to go with a blended icey version but my friend who was once a bartender wasn’t keen on the idea (you know I’ll be doing that soon when she isn’t around and the temperatures spike). For now I went with an on the rocks version with berries roughly chopped and a few broken down with a fork so more juice blended in with the rum, lime juice and club soda (I skip the sugar but adjust to your own taste).

Tequila Based: Margarita time! Add a few slice berries to your favorite maragrita recipe and your done. I actually cheated on this one and bought a margarita mix from the store — so just a little tequila (ok maybe it was double shot) with the mix, berries and some fresh squeezed lime and I had a cocktail ready to serve.

There you have it – get creative with your strawberries!

Dinner at Pear Valley

Although there are many wonderful restaurants in the Paso area, there is something extra special about dining at a winery.

Pear Valley, makes estate-grown wines from 25 different varietals. Their winery on Union Road is surrounded by rolling hills covered in vines and oak trees. This was the perfect location for a Winemaker’s Dinner.

Although the original plan was to set tables along the vineyard and have guests enjoy dining in the the open air, the unexpected cool August evening resulting in the dinner being moved to the spacious event room. Guests could still enjoy the vineyard views through the large windows.

Prior to dinner, there was plenty of time to taste wine at the bar, chat with the staff, stroll around the property and mingle with other guests.

The Hurricane Kitchen catered the event and provided a couple of passed appetizers prior to guest being seated. Honey Roasted Tomato Brushetta and Grilled Shrimp & Vegetable Skewers were served with the recommendation of pairing with 2018 Tom’s Oak Chardonnay or 2017 Mourvedre.

The other perk to going to a winery for dinner is that the wineries often bring out wines that are not currently available. This was the case at Pear Valley, and guests were able to get a sneak preview (and chance to purchase prior to release) of the new vintages. Chef Richard Verhagen did a wonderful job showcasing the wines by pairing them with his gourmet creations.

Louie Ortega provided live music throughout the evening. He is a talented, local favorite. Louie seems to have a real knack for playing at the ideal level — nice and easy while guests were dining, and lively between courses and after dinner.

The first course was a mixed greens salad with grilled, smoked, pork belly topped with Parmesan, roasted pistachios and a creamy sweet onion vinaigrette. This course was served with the 2016 Zinfandel.

Another advantage of attending a Winemaker’s Dinner is actually getting to hear the details of the wines from the winemaker. Pear Valley’s winemaker, Jared Lee, provided information throughout the evening and entertained the guest with his witty charm.

The main course was a bourbon marinated steak tenderloin topped with a bourbon and cabernet au jus, served with rice pilaf and roasted vegetables. This paired perfectly with the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The final course of the evening was a sherry spiked creme brulee paired with the 2017 Chenin Blanc.

In addition to winemaker dinners, Pear Valley also has live music the first Friday of each month. There is no admission charge and each month the winery brings in a food truck so guest have the option of purchasing dinner as well as wine by the glass and bottle. Check out the winery’s website for details.

Lots of laughter could be heard throughout the evening.
Pear Valley’s owner, Kathleen Maas, shared the evening with club members.
A couple indulging in a fun evening at the winery.
The Hurricane Kitchen will be back September 6th!
Cheers!

Winemakers’ Cookoff 2019

The 21st Annual Paso Robles Rotary Winemakers’ Cookoff had 24 wineries and breweries (yes they let the beer guys in a few years back) competing for bragging rights of delivering the best dish off the grill.

The event is about so much more than winemakers competing for best dish. This is a fundraising event with all net proceeds going to the Harlow Ford Scholarship Foundation benefiting high-school seniors. The event has raised over $500,000 over the years, with last year’s event resulting in a $75,000 donation to the scholarship program. Gary Eberle, one of the master minds behind the event, expects this year’s event to once again raise a sizable donation.

All of the wineries, breweries and professional chefs deserve thanks for their efforts to make the event successful. In addition to pouring beverages and dishing up tasty plates for the 2,000 attendees, many also go out of their way to decorate their booth, come up with a theme and make the event memorable for attendees.

An example of this, and one of my favorite themes, was “Breakfast in Bed” by Pear Valley Vineyards. The booth was decorated with quilts, stuffed animals, pillows featuring staff photos, and the team was wearing PJs (there’s a comfy outfit for a pouring event!). Their dish was French toast casserole with a fruit topping and a side of sausage.

Judges Top Picks

I was excited to be back on the judges panel this year. Each year five professionals from the food and wine industry are selected to taste through all the dishes and determine the winners in both an amateur (no culinary professional help allowed) and a professional category. This year’s judges included Robert Whitley, Michael Cervin, Kathy Marcks Hardesty, Sara Schneider and myself (Lisa Pretty). Each judge individually assigns a score between 1 and 5 to each dish and then the scores are tallied. The dish with the highest score in each category wins. In the case of a tie (we had ties for first place in both categories this year), the judges vote to break the tie.

Amateur Winners

First place went to Vino Vargas for their “Flying Flamenco Wings with Cuchi Cuchi Sauce”. As an added touch for judging they even put each wing on fresh greens and a pretty plate. The judges don’t actually grant points for presentation; however, since I was photographing each dish I appreciated their extra effort! I also enjoyed the Tempranillo paired with the wing.

Second Place went to Earth and Fire Brewing Company for their “Caja China Pork Arepas”. Lots of flavor in this dish with the slow-roasted pork. Although I am not typically a beer drinker, I was really impressed with the beer pairing.

Third Place went to Ancient Peaks for their “Sliders”. Although they did not have the most creative description, the little slider had what I would say was the best beef at the event and the arugula was the perfect green to complement the onions and cheese.

Honorable Mention went to JUSTIN for their “Smoked Pork Shoulder Tacos”. The pickled cabbage and red onion slaw were delicious. I would also give them credit for having a taco base that held together and was lightly seared.

Professional Winners

Several wineries (and breweries) partner with a professional chef to create their dish. Since it isn’t really fair to have them competing at the same level as the amateurs, a second category was added to the competition a few year’s back.

First place in this category went to Rio Seco who partnered with Stein’s Catering to deliver “Swine ‘n Wine …Just Fine”. This little burger had slow roasted pulled pork topped with Canadian Bacon. I think the bacon is what pushed this dish to the top!

Second place (once again it required a judge’s vote to break the tie) went to Robert Hall Winery who partnered with The Patio Kitchen to deliver “Grilled Lamb Canape”. I was extremely impressed with this dish since keeping the puff pastry texture perfect and also having the marinated, grilled lamb with a lovely pink center is not an easy feat when dishing up food for a crowd of this size. The judges also were happy to not only have the wine pairing but also a refreshing Frosé! We were long over due for a nice palate cleanser. (The Frosé was their bribe for people’s choice tickets — the judges can’t be bribed, we just judge the food).

Third place went to Dead Oak Brewing Company who partnered with Colony Market and Deli to deliver “Porchetta Sliders”. This was another slow-roasted pork shoulder dish loaded with herbs. The fennel and rosemary were a really nice addition. All of the judges really appreciated that they took the time to toast the brioche bun (we had a lot of soggy buns throughout the evening).

Honorable mention went to Peachy Canyon for their “Wild Boar Carnitas”. What made this extra special is that they not only cooked the boar, they also shot it themselves. These little tacos were tasty and paired well with the winery’s zinfandel.

People’s Choice Award

The event attendees get to vote for their favorite winery or brewery for another set of awards. The competition for this coveted award is fierce. At most of the booths, a “bribe” will be offered to entice guests to part with their vote tickets. Some will offer a pour of a special wine, others will have a dessert item, a refreshing beverage, or a piece of swag.

This year’s first place went to Lusso Della Terra Cellars. Their bribe…a FREE 3-night CRUISE. That’s impressive and obviously was more than enough to convince people to hand over their vote ticket.

Other winners in the people’s choice awards include: Calcareous, Eberle and JUSTIN. Congratulations to all for making this event so fun!

Spirit Award

This year’s spirit award went to Calcareous Vineyard. Their shipwrecked, island theme was really cute.

Music

Back by popular demand: The Rockin’ B’s

The talented Julie Beaver, and her band, have played at this event for several years (as long as I can remember). The Rockin’ B’s are a crowd favorite, and the event would not be the same without them!

Glunz Family ready to serve.

It isn’t all about wine.

Wine or Frozé? Robert Hall has you covered.
Cheers from Opolo

Gary Eberle has been part of this event since day 1 — he may have even created it just so he could compete at the grill!

That concludes the 21st Winemakers’ Cookoff — see you next year.

Café Bovino

cafe sign

My first encounter with Bovino Vineyards was at a Back Roads Wineries tasting event early this year. I was intrigued with their story and enjoyed the wines I tasted, ever since I’ve been meaning to go to their tasting room to try the full line of wine. When I heard they had hired a chef and launched a tapas style menu I knew it was time for a visit.

Before jumping into the food, I took a little time to taste through the wine list. The large tasting room has huge windows that offer gorgeous views of the surrounding vineyards and country side. In addition to seating at the bar, the tasting room offers cocktail tables with seating, a little lounge area, and a large patio with table and chairs where guest can sit and enjoy the spectacular views.

The wines available for tasting changes, with a nice selection of wines under two labels. The first label is Joludi, a combination of Joe & Ludi (the owner’s parents’ nicknames). The second is gen.er.os.i.ty and a percentage of all sales from this label is donated to a charity. The selected charity changes every 6 months and is currently the Valley Children’s Hospital.

All wines are made from 100% estate-grown grapes by winemaker Steve Anglim. Forty-five acres of the eighty-five acre property is planted with seventeen different grape varietals, including Rhone, Bordeaux, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese varietals.

Chef Jeff Puckett

Chef Jeff Puckett joined the team at Bovino after meeting the winery’s owner. After chatting they felt Chef Jeff would be a great fit given his passion for developing flavors to pair with wines. His 15+ years of cooking experience, including private and corporate catering, has prepared him to develop the café’s menu and also create custom menus for events.

The café opens with the tasting room (at 11am) and closes one hour before the tasting room closes for the day. Arrangements can be made for food service after hours and private functions on the patio.

One of the items on the menu is rustic french fries with a flight of sauces. These perfectly seasoned, fried to perfection french fries are an ideal item to have while wine tasting. Guests can order a small or large plate and select up to three different dipping sauces. I went with the Tomatilo & Avocado, Chipotle Citrus Mayo and the Jalapeño Ketchup. They were all so good I couldn’t pick a favorite.

With the exception of the french fries, all items on the menu have a recommended pairing. Guest can order a sample (approximately 3 oz) of the paired wine for just $5. The menu items are designed for sharing, and each comes with an option of ordering small (perfect for one or two people) or large (portioned for up to four people).

The Smoked Country Ham, Comte Cheese and Potato Croquette was served with mustard and rosemary. Cutting into the crunchy croquette with the melted cheese and ham center, I knew this was a dish I would enjoy. The flavors were spot on and paired well with the Albariño.

New York Steak Crostini

Next up was a New York Steak Crostini. Served with roasted red pepper and Achiote puree, a little garlic and fresh herbs, this was another lovely item and the pairing of the estate Zinfandel with its smokey accent worked well.

Another winning dish was the Spanish Smoked Pork Belly served on skewers topped with tomato and basil. The star of this dish was the Romesco — I wanted to get a jar of this to go! The pork belly was cooked perfectly and once again I enjoyed the pairing, a blend of Zinfandel and Petit Sirah.

Caramelized Red Onion Jam, Bacon and Basil Bruschetta. Need I say more? These are addictive. At this point I really regretted that I was sharing the order with three other people! This is a must have item, and I enjoyed the paired 2016 Right Bank (Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend).

I typically skip dessert; however, I really wanted to get the full experience, so when others at my table ordered the Lemon Pudding Cake I was all in. My favorite part was the Grand Marnier Honeyed Berries and fresh basil on top. The Chef paired this dish with the Grenache Blanc (one of my favorites).

Overall I am so impressed with this winery that opened in May. Having a beautiful property and impressive buildings with state of the art equipment certainly helps, but I think what really makes this place special is the focus on hospitality. All of the staff clearly have a passion for what they do and a great respect for the owner. Offering guests so many choices of places to sit and relax with a wide range of food & wine options will likely make this several people’s favorite hang out place (I know I’ll be going back with friends soon).

Bovino Vineyards is located at 5685 El Pomar and is open Friday – Sunday with private tastings offered by appointment Monday-Thursday. Visit their website for more information. 

Free Live Music in Wine Country

As the weather warms up, the Paso Robles Wineries add plenty of fun events to get people out to their tasting rooms. I personally really enjoy going to a winery to sit outside surrounded by beautiful views where I can listen to live music, drink wine, and enjoy a causal lunch or dinner. Being able to experience a gorgeous sunset over the vineyards makes it extra special.

A number of my “go to” wineries offer Friday evening music series throughout the summer months. My original intention when I started working on this post was to promote those to get a few more people out. As I started doing my research to create a simple calendar, I discovered there are so many venues offering free live music, with wine and food options (typically a featured food truck) from Wednesday though Sunday. Some have a regular weekly event while others are a little more spotty. It really is a very inexpensive way to have an afternoon or evening out.

There wasn’t one place to easily find all the venues with music details. As a result, I expect my list is not complete. If you know of others I have missed shoot me an email or comment on this post.

WEDNESDAYS

Wine Down Wednesdays at Calcareous From June 5th – September 25th, join Calcareous on Wednesdays when they keep the Tasting Room doors open until 8:00 pm for Wine Down Wednesdays! Gourmet wood-fired pizza pairing menu will be available for purchase from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Clavo Cellars offers music on the back patio 5:00-7:00 each Wednesday during the summer.

Concerts in the Templeton Park June – July the concerts will be held 6:30-8:30, in August the time will change to 6:00-8:00. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from approved vendors. No dogs allowed in the park during these Wednesday evening concerts (for safety & sanitary reasons).

THURSDAYS

Summer Concerts in the Paso Robles Park J. Lohr wine, Firestone on-tap beer as well as water and soda will be available for purchase during the Thursday evening concerts. All net proceeds from beverage sales support the Paso Robles REC Foundation whose mission is to enhance parks and recreation in the city of Paso Robles. Food will be available for purchase from a different Paso Robles restaurant during each concert. No dogs allowed in the park.

FRIDAYS

Free Run Fridays at Robert Hall are offered from 5:30-730 every week (except during the mid-state fair). A food vendor will be on-site for each concert.

Tooth & Nail Winery Summer Concert Series. Head to the castle every Friday from 5:30 – 8:30 for a free concert. Their kitchen will have food for sale and of course they’ll be offering wine by the glass and bottle.

Derby Wine Estates music series offers free live music each Friday 6-9pm. Food, wine and frosé available for purchase.

Pear Valley Friday Music Nights are offered 5:30-8:00 the first Friday of each month. A food vendor is on-site for each concert. Dogs and smoking are not permitted on the property.

Penman Springs Second Fridays – the second Friday of each month Penman Springs offers live music on the patio with a featured food vendor for each concert.

SATURDAYS

Saturdays on the Deck at Eberle Winery. Each Saturday afternoon you’ll be able to enjoy live music on the deck 12-4 pm, purchase food from a featured food truck and of course sip on Eberle wine.

Vina Robles offers live music every Saturday 12-3pm

Graveyard Vineyards has Les Beck, “The Piano Man”, performing in the tasting room every Saturday afternoon from 1-4.

Riverstar Vineyards offer a free summer concert one Saturday a month 5:30-8:30pm during the summer months. Bring a lawn chair or blanket. Family and dog friendly.

SUNDAYS

Villa San-Juliette’s Summer Music Series. Enjoy live music Sunday Afternoon 1-4pm. Order wine from the winery’s kitchen.

Summer Concert Series at Four Lanterns. No reservations are necessary for the Sunday concerts from 5-8pm. Enjoy live music and purchase food from the featured vendor each week. Parking and lawn space are first come, first served. Families, dogs, and picnics are welcome. No outside alcohol or smoking on the property.

The Patio at Rava Wines + Events. Be entertained with complimentary concerts on The Patio outside of Rava’s tasting room most Sundays and some Saturday afternoons. Gourmet food trucks will be onsite for most shows, so just bring a low-back lawn chair, blanket, friends and family. All ages welcome, must be 21 or over to drink alcohol.

Halter Ranch. Every Sunday from 1-4pm Halter Ranch offers a Sunday Sesssion with live music and wood-fired pizza.

Sculpterra Winery. Each Sunday from 1-4pm you can enjoy Songwriter’s at Play with featured live music and a food truck.

Still Waters Vineyards Picture Perfect Sundays. Every second Sunday of the month from April to October, visit Still Waters for a Picture Perfect afternoon filled with live local music, delicious wines, and great food! 

WEEKENDS

Asuncion Ridge Vineyards offers complimentary live music in their downtown tasting room most weekends. Music begins at 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays with Sunday music starting at 5pm.

Be Kind and Respectful

Regardless of the venue you choose, respect the rules (check ahead if you want to bring children or dogs, don’t smoke unless it is acceptable by the owners, and clean up your own mess). Never bring wine or other alcohol to a winery venue, clearly selling wine is the reason they are open! And if a food truck or small caterer is there, keep in mind they have to crank out a lot of food orders in a short period of time, so be patient. Sit back enjoy the music and your food will be ready before too long.

Hope to see you for free live music somewhere in Paso soon!

15c – Go for the Pizza

Wine Selection

If you live in or have spent much time visiting the Paso Robles area, chances are you are familiar with 15c Wine Shop and Bar. Owner and sommelier, Ali Carscaden, first opened 15c in Templeton in 2007 and has offered a casual place to hang out and explore wine ever since.

With a nice selection of local wines (some hard to find from producers who do not have a tasting room) and a huge selection of international wines, this is my go to place when I am looking for wines for special dinners or wine tasting events with my friends. They always have a good selection of bubbles from the very inexpensive to the “out of my budget’ range. Ali, and her staff have a vast knowledge of the wines and are willing to help make the perfect selection. You’ll find wines in all forms as well as beer and cider.

Sitting at the bar and enjoying wine by the glass is a great way to try new wines and chat with other guests. While at the bar, you really should try some of the pizza and other “eats”.

Chef Nathan Clapp

The menu at 15c has always offered beautiful cheese plates, fresh salads, sandwiches and nibbles like Castelvetrano olives and nuts. It’s a great stop for lunch, an afternoon snack, or for after work appetizers and drinks.

Less than a year ago Chef Nathan Clapp join 15c and with him came some fun additions to the menu. Nathan followed his passion and attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu and then spent time in Italy immersing himself in the local food and culture. Pizza is his forte and he worked over a year and a half to perfect his dough recipe.

His menu changes with the seasons and you can typically find a couple of specials on the board. While I was there I heard guests raving about his burger (which looked awesome served with house made chips).

I’ve had Nathan’s pizza before – he was the executive Chef at Villa San Juliette Winery prior to joining 15c. I confess to skipping out of my own tasting room to head there for lunch some days. He really does make the best crust in the Central Coast.

No matter how good the rest of the menu looks, if Nathan is offering pizza, I’m all in. My go to is a Margherita — with his perfect crust as the base, the tomato, mozzarella and basil all come together into the perfect dish.

Check out their website for more information and special events (like their monthly brunch and Friday bubbles with oysters).

Curry Time

Indian Food

The options for dining out in Paso have come so far in the 18 years that I have lived here. There are, however, a few “holes” in the offerings and a big one is an Indian resturant.

With this chilly, cloudy weather I found myself craving curry-based Indian dishes. With the lack of options for dining out, it was time to start cooking.

Ingredients are Key

Having the right, high-quality ingredients is key to making any meal. While Paso lacks a good Indian restaurant, it does supply all the ingredients to make a perfect meal at home.

At this time of year, 90% of all my produce comes from my Talley Farms produce box and the Templeton Farms market (soon my own garden will be delivering a bounty of fresh items).

I love knowing that my ingredients were raised in my area by people who follow sustainable growing practices. With cauliflower, peas and cilantro in my recent produce box, I knew “ALOO GOBI” was on the menu today.

Tip: chop up the cilantro stems and saute with the onions to add additional flavor to Aloo Gobi. Add the chopped cliantro leaves just prior to serving.

Spices (and herbs) can make or break a good curry dish. We are lucky here in Paso Robles to have the Spice of Life. After rummaging through my cupboard, I found everything I needed to spice up a delicious Indian meal. The menu included Aloo Gobi, chicken curry and basmati rice. I like things on the spicy side and since I wasn’t having guests over for this meal, I cranked up the heat (I confess to breaking out in a little sweat devouring this meal).

Eat this with Ranchero Cellars Galaxie

Many people say that the best pairing with Indian food is beer. They may be right …but …well …I’m a wine girl! I hadn’t planned on making Indian food today, and I certainly didn’t think through the pairing. This was impromptu on all fronts.

I feel there are several white wines that tend to complement spicy dishes. Viognier, full-bodied white blends, Gewurztraminer, etc. are all good candidates. Sparkling wine and rosé tend to pair with most things and are a safe bet if you just don’t have a specific pairing in mind. Even a fruit forward, light-bodied red could work.

I happened to have a Ranchero Cellars Galaxie open and was sipping on a glass of that while I cooked. I decided to just stick with it for the meal and have to say it worked quite well.

The wine is 100% carignan, has a lovely combination of lush fruit in the mid-plate and balanced acidity on the finish.

Give it a try. I had the 2017 vintage on-hand; however, the 2018 will be released later this month (I’ve sampled it as well and give it a thumbs up). Amy Butler makes great wine, vintage after vintage.

Salsa time!

Mango Habanero with Tequila Salsa

Backyard Get Togethers

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method:

Combine all ingredients together. If the salsa has been sitting for awhile be sure to give it a good stir prior to serving.

Salsa is great on grilled meat.

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’ll plan a few tasting trips soon so I can report back with my top
rosé picks for this year. If you have any favorites post them in the comments.

Back Roads Wineries

For the second time, in less than a week, I found myself at Rava Wines & Events. First it was for the Rhone Rangers Wine Experience. This time it was for the Back Roads Wineries of Paso Robles tasting.

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.

Steve Cass, of CASS Wines, one of the master minds behind this very successful event.

VIP Tasting

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.

Clearly, with a pairing at each table, there were too many to list them all. I enjoyed several, including the crostini at CASS Wines, the meatballs at Pear Valley Estate Wine, the stuffed mushrooms at Rasmussen Vineyards and for a sweet ending, the chocolate wine cake at Penman Springs Vineyard.

The Main Event

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The Wine

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!