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.

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.

Albariño Summit Paso Robles 2016

Yesterday I attended the first ever Albariño Summit at Brecon Estate. The event began with a short seminar and was followed by a tasting where 24 wineries from California’s Central Coast poured their Albariño. There was also live music and Spanish-themed food for attendees to enjoy.

The Seminar prior to the tasting was a fabulous idea since it provided information regarding the history, winemaking styles and varietal characteristics of Albariño.

Apparently, there is still some debate regarding the origins of the grape: some say Portuguese, some say Spanish.  We were able to taste an Albariño from the Northern Portugal where some of the best Albariño is made and also a tank sample from Southern Portugal (this would not be bottled standalone but instead would be blended with other varietals). It was interesting to taste the cooler climate versus the warmer — and of course this came in handy when tasting Paso Robles based versus coastal Albariño later in the event.

During the seminar we also tasted a Tangent Albariño and heard from their winemaker. I was surprised to hear that there is currently less than 200 acres of Albariño planted in California. Tangent Wines, located in the Edna Valley, has the most planted acres. Clearly this is a varietal they feel does really well in their vineyards.

The final taste was a Brecon Albariño from their library. It was fun to taste a wine and hear about it while sitting by the very tank in which it was made.

A Few Facts

  • Prior to 1970 Albariño was not bottled as a standalone varietal in Portugal or Spain — today it is very popular, especially in the Northern areas of both countries
  • Albariño is a vigorous vine and will grow into old age with a large trunk and plenty of vigorous shoots. The vines are sensitive to direct sunlight and heat. The vine is easily identified by its heart shaped leaves.
  • The aromatics of this wine come from the grape (versus fermentation in oak). As a result, winemakers will often leave the crushed grapes in contact with the skin for greater aromatic extraction and will typically make the wine in stainless steel. Although, as we heard from the Brecon winemaker, it is sometimes aged oak barrels (he uses neutral oak and lets the wine sit on the lees).
  • Typical aromatics include: pine needles, turpentine, rose petal, banana and peach. There is also a salty element to Albariño that makes it pair extremely well with a wide range of seafood.
  • The grape is typically picked with a high acidity and can have a slight hint of green. As the wine ages it tends to show more yellow.

The Grand Tasting at Brecon, with plenty of trees for shade, was the perfect venue for an outdoor tasting. I wish I could say I tasted all of the Albariño poured; however, with 24 wineries pouring 1-2 wines that was way more than I wanted to tackle in a single event. I will say there were a few that really stood out including: Bodegas Paso Robles, Barr Estate, Shale Oak, TangentPear Valley and Per Cazo.

This was a lovely event complete with guitar music and food paired with the wine (ceviche, empanadas and fruit). The crowd was relaxed and I was happy to run into a few friends with several from other local wineries.

I hope they do this event again next year!

Photo Gallery (click to enlarge).

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.

 

Paso Robles Cabernet Franc

While some may view it as “the other Cabernet” or an “unappreciated grape”, to me Cabernet Franc is a star either standalone or as a component of a Bordeaux-style blend. It is after all the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape known as the king of red wine.

Last month I attended a panel discussion about Cabernet Franc at the WiVI Central Coast Conference hosted by Wine Business Monthly. The panel was interesting and they selected three different wine regions with a winemaker from each region participating in the panel and discussing 3-4 Cabernet Francs.

 

Venue

This month the Paso Robles CAB Collective held their annual Trade and Media event “CABs of Distinction” at the bucolic Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles, California. CAB in this case stands for Cabernet and Bordeaux, with the collective “promoting the full potential of the Paso Robles appellation in producing superior quality, age-worthy, balanced, classic Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux varietals to consumers and media worldwide”.

CabFrancFlight

I attended the En Primeur & Current Vintage Walk-Around Tasting and was delighted with the wines I tasted. I was, however, saving my palate for the panel session “The Other Cabernet”. Needless to say the panel was discussing (and tasting) Cabernet Franc. This time the panel was moderated by Bob Bath, a CIA Sommelier, and the discussion was dedicated to wines produced in the Paso Robles AVA.

Consistent comments from the panel:

  • Cabernet Franc, as a noble grape, deserves more credit
  • Often plays the role of “Best supporting actor”
  • “Coming out” in Paso and around the world
  • Paso Cabernet Francs are not as herbaceous, tend to have a nice ripe quality
  • Cabernet Franc is the “ultimate foodie wine”
  • Does extremely well when planted in “choice” hilltop sites

The panel included the following winemakers who discussed the wines we tasted:

Jeremy indicated only 3 acres of Cabernet Franc are planted on the estate vineyard. As a winemaker he felt Paso was well suited to the varietal since the grape is able to ripen and have a nice level of acidity. The decision to make a standalone Cabernet Franc is made each vintage based on what the grape delivers. The 2013 Cabernet Franc Viking Vineyard Signature Series we tasted clearly made the cut. With less than 300 cases made, this wine is mostly sold to club members and guests of the tasting room.

For Damian, making an estate Cabernet Franc was accidental. When he purchased the property, the fruit was not sold, so he brought it into the winery. The Cabernet Franc on his property was grafted onto old Chardonnay vines planted on the top of a hill with calcareous soils. Although Damian had experience with Cabernet Franc in Europe, Astralia and Napa, he wasn’t really a fan until he worked with the estate Cabernet Franc. The black tea leaf appealed to his tastes and he has now made the varietal a part of his offering. In some vintages he will do a little blending. We tasted the 2013 Cabernet Franc which had a little Malbec in the blend — I would say this was the best wine of the ones tasted during the seminar.

As a 4th generation winemaker, it was interesting to hear from Anthony about a California winery that has been making wine for 99 years. They do not grow any Cabernet Franc in their Paso Robles vineyards, but instead purchase the fruit from other growers. The reason given for this was that the varietal often has vineyard disease such as red blotch. We tasted the 2012 San Simean Cabernet Franc — it must have been a very limited production since I couldn’t find it on-line.

Mike actually let us sample two wines. The 2013 Margene Cabernet Franc which was very approachable, a little floral — this one was made by his wife with a little creative blending and I would say it had lovely feminine notes. The second was 2012 Cask 7 Cabernet Franc and was 100% Cabernet Franc made in 100% new oak. I have to say it may need some time. Of the two I give my vote to Margene. Once again, both of these wines are likely very limited in production since I was unable to find them on-line.

Overall, I think the panel made some good points, and I do believe there are some very good Cabernet Francs in the Paso Robles area. I do, however, appreciate and enjoy Cabernet Franc from a couple of regions in France as well as Napa. While the panel all emphasized how “ripe” Paso Cabernet Franc could be and how less herbaceous it was, I actually like the clove, tea leaf and herbaceous side of the varietal. Don’t get me wrong, I love the violet, floral nose and some ripe fruit, I just think if you let it get too ripe you have lost the essence of the varietal.