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!

Paso Rhônes

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.

Other Events

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.

World of Pinot Noir

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.

Grand Tastings

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.

The Food

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.

These dinners sell out every year. In fact you have already missed the opportunity for a few of these. If you are interested, check out the menus posted on-line and purchase your tickets today.

Attend this event and feel like a rock star. Details for all tastings, seminars, parties, and dinners, along with ticket purchase information can be FOUND HERE.

JUST you

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.

Dining Out

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.

Goshi’s

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!

The Hatch

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!

WINE

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!

Esprit du Vin

The Wineries of 46 East Paso Robles held the 18th Annual Esprit du Vin (the “Spirit of Wine”) January 19, 2019 at American Winery of the Year, Riboli Family of San Antonio Wineries, new event facility. This was an exciting evening of wine, cheese pairings, culinary delights and live music.

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:

Pear Valley Albariño

Penman Springs Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Rio Seco Cabernet Franc

I’m looking forward to the 19th Esprit du Vin in 2020 – early bird tickets are already available on-line.

Restaurant Month

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 entire list of participating restaurants (along with a link to each menu) can be view on the SLO Cal website. Each year, I make an effort to try at least one of the special menus. This year my pick was Villa San Juliette Winery located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail.

I made my selection for a number of reasons:

  • 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.

Central Coast Cider Festival

RedCiderGlassAlthough 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 VENUE

BristolCiderFansThe 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.

DeckPeople

THE CIDER

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.

ciders

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 FOOD

PigInBox2The 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
  • Anson mills cornbread muffins, spiced honey butter

FoodService2

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!

THE MUSIC

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 & Bar in Templeton. Taste, Meet and Mingle with some of your favorite cider producers! Call (805) 434-1554 for more info.

    • Bristols Cider
    • 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:

  • Festival Style Braustwurst with a pretzel bun
  • Apple sauerkraut, spicy stone mustard
  • Bavarian potato salad

 

 

Foodmaker Dinner at McPhee’s

I was lucky enough to receive a ticket to the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau’s “Foodmaker Dinner”. The dinner was a fund raiser to help support the local agriculture businesses.

I’m a huge fan of Ian McPhee and was delighted to hear they had selected McPhee’s Grill for this dinner as part of their Foodmaker Dinner series. “Agriculture knows quality and prime steaks and seasonal menus have made McPhee’s Grill a destination of choice for more than twenty years. Owner and Chef Ian McPhee embraces the concept of fine food that people understand.” – SLO Farm Bureau.

As we arrived we were greeted with a glass of 2016 Patelin de Tablas Rosé  and given some time to mingle with the other guest. Ian had prepared some wood fired pizza as appetizers for this portion of the dinner. Who doesn’t love a refreshing rosé and pizza?

Crabcake-2

Our first course was Ian’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cake severed over sugar snap pea and fennel salad. This is my kind of crab cake! It doesn’t have all the bread crumbs and isn’t fried crispy like so many people do. This one delivers the large lumps of crab for fresh flavors. The fresh peas and fennel really complemented the crab. (I talked Ian into sharing this recipe in my next book!).

A dish as fresh as this cries for a refreshing wine. It paired perfectly with J Dusi’s Pinot Grigio – a nice white that is less than $20 a bottle. Such a wonderful start to the sit down portion of the meal.

Steak-2

I expected something from the grill and was certainly not disappointed to see the slow oak wood roasted prime strip loin as the centerpiece for the entree. Cooked to perfection, this large (and yes I did eat the whole thing) steak was so tender with a nice sear and smokey aroma. Served with salsa verde, peppers, onions, peas, and grilled scallion mashed potatoes, this was so delicious — a very upscale meat and potatoes meal. The pairing with this course was the Hearst Ranch Malbec. This is one of my favorite Malbecs from the region and I need to get back over to the coast to taste the full line-up again soon.

ChocolateCake-2I had every intention of skipping dessert. Then I saw it was June’s Famous Chocolate Decadence Cake with Caramel Lime Sauce. I am such a sucker for a flourless chocolate cake. It didn’t disappoint! I decided something that good needs to just be enjoyed and savored, so no guilt. This decadent dessert was paired with Roxo Paso Melange, a port-style dessert wine that I could easily have instead of dessert.

Be sure to visit McPhee’s Grill and try some of his seasonal dishes. Ian has been in business at 416 S Main Street in Templeton since 1994. This is a local favorite where you can always count on excellent service, a nice wine list and very satisfying, delicious meal!

 

Somm’s Kitchen

Leg

I’m always excited when a new restaurant opens in Paso Robles. It wasn’t long after I heard that the Somm’s Kitchen had opened that I ventured in.

Wine

 

First let me say it is much more than a restaurant. The Somm’s Kitchen is also a wine shop and will be holding educational wine tastings and private events as well. Sommelier Ian Adamo has brought his passion for food and wine together in this new venture.

There are currently no tables at the Somm Kitchen — everyone dines at the U-shaped counter with Ian at center stage as a very hospitable host. The menu is a very creative collection of delicious small plates that can be enjoyed with wine in smaller portions or full size glass (and of course by the bottle).

 

I decided to enjoy the full experience and had Ian pair small portion glasses with each of my dishes. I gave him a few criteria – like don’t break the bank, and I wanted wines from out of the region (I drink Paso wines daily so it is nice to explore International wines sometimes). His talent for pairing shined — everything I had was perfectly paired.

Foie2

Let’s jump into the food! First up was the Foie Gras Torchon. I had seen a sneak preview of the menu and was dying to try this. I love Foie Gras and hadn’t indulged in several years. Sourced from Hudson Valley, poached in Sauternes and served with a delightful orange oil, I could have stopped right here and gone home happy. Ian selected a lovely Reisling to pair with this dish.

CherryDuck2

 

Next up, and also on my “I must try list”,  was the Smoked Duck with cherries. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the kitchen used Sous Vide for most of their proteins. If you follow my blogs, you will know I have recently began experimenting with sous vide myself — check out – Eat this with… for my first beef sous vide experience.

I’m a huge fan of duck breast, and the sous vide handling of the house smoked duck breast was awesome. The cherry sauce made it over the top delicious and the New Zealand Pinot Noir was perfect.

 

I had planned to stop there. I was thinking my first experience should be just a couple of tastes. But I couldn’t — it was too fun, too tasty and too inviting to go home!

Asparagus

So next up was from the “garden” – I love veggies, and who doesn’t love a poached egg on top of asparagus! I have to confess, I could have skipped the Créme Fraiche on the bottom … but my dining companion loved it!

Speck

 

I was in a “let’s go for the menu” kinda mood. So next up was the Speck. The chestnut ricotta middle with a quail egg on top was yet another fun play on flavors.

 

I wish I had ordered it, but managed to catch it coming out of the kitchen, was another side – Carrots in butter and thyme (I’ll try it next time).

Salmon3

 

There were a few “from the sea” offerings, and after seeing the Salmon delivered to other guests 4 times, I decided I had to have it! The Akarona King Salmon with Potato was delicious. Ian indicated it was started in a traditional fashion and finished sous vide for 2 hours. The texture and flavor were perfect! Paired with a New Zealand Pinot Noir this was another winning course.

Lamb

So after going light, I had to try out something from the “Land” section of the menu. I am a HUGE fan of lamb so the Colorado Lamb Sirloin with Sauce Violette caught my eye. This dish was so good! If there were not other diners at the counter, I might had shoved my face in the plate and licked up all the sauce. Sauce aside, I have to say the sous vide treatment of this lamb was spot on — perfect color, texture and flavor! Perfectly paired with a Syrah!

GFAppleCake

 

Don’t judge me, but I am not a huge fan of dessert. Having said that the people to my right and left were! I heard rave reviews of the Orange confit and the Apple cake. The apple cake is actually gluten free (which made me happy to hear) — and the orange confit is a very interesting dessert. Being from Canada, I was delighted to see an ice wine from Niagra on the Lake paired with the dessert — and even happier to report my friend with the dessert shared her wine with me!

Ian

 

If you are in the Paso area, you really need to check this place out! The restaurant is open Thurs-Sun 11:30-2 and 5:30-9pm. There were many items on the menu that looked awesome and I will be back soon. One of the best points is that Ian is behind the counter, providing information about food & wine while making the whole experience awesome!

 

For more information visit: https://sommskitchen.com/

Paso Albariño – New Event!

AlbarinoSummitWebOne of the things I love about Paso Robles is that you can find so many different wines that thrive in the area. Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the most widely planted grape in the AVA, the red Rhônes are the most talked about, the jammy Zinfandels remind people of the early days and well somehow, the white wines don’t get much attention.

That is all about to change for Albariño. On June 13th, over 20 Central Coast wineries with gather in Paso Robles at Brecon Estate for the sole purpose of shining the light on this Spanish varietal. This is the first ever event dedicated to Albariño in the USA and will include both a seminar and a grand tasting.

The seminar is already sold out; however, if you are interested in attending the tasting you may purchase tickets on-line. The $35 ticket includes tastes of over 20 Albariño wines, live flamenco guitar and food pairings reminiscent of Northwestern Spain.

I plan on attending the seminar and tasting so will post the details after the event. I am looking forward to exploring this grape in depth and I’m especially interested to see what the sommelier has to say about food pairing.