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!

Stock up on Beef!

If you drive around the Central Coast of California, you are bound to see happy California cows roaming the hillsides. With so many health benefits to grass-fed and grass-finished beef, we are lucky to have local producers here in the Paso area.

My go to source is Templeton Hills Beef. I know the owners well and am really impressed with the care they put into growing and managing their herds. Another perk is they deliver for free within the Paso Robles area (see their website for shipping to other areas).

It has been a long time since I indulged in grass-fed beef and decided it was time to order a box of some of my favorite cuts. I also have been reading so much about the benefits of bone broth and the bone broth diet, that I also ordered a couple of boxes of bones and decided to experiment with broth.

My order included a mix of knuckle bones (also known as soup bones), leg bones, riblettes and neck bones. The trick to getting a true bone broth (versus the traditional beef broth) is to use lots of bones (with plenty of marrow and cartilage) and simmer for a very long time (12-24 hours).

I made three different batches:

  • BATCH ONE – The first batch used up the less meaty bones. For these I sprinkled with sea salt and roasted in the oven at 450F for an hour prior to starting the broth — the result was a darker broth with more intense flavor (I simply used carrots, onions, salt, bay leaves and water to create the broth that was simmered in a slow cooker for 24 hours)
  • BATCH TWO – This was a mix of VERY meaty soup bones, a few riblettes, and some not so meaty leg bones. This batch was made the same as batch one but simmered in a large stock pot on the stove for 12 hours. I decided it still needed some more time, so I refrigerated the pot overnight (I didn’t want to leave the gas stove on all night) and the next day let it simmer for an extra 12 hours.
  • BATCH THREE – This batch was spiced up with plenty of garlic, pepper, and several herbs. It was also exclusively the meaty soup bones. Since the soup bones looked like little roasts, I expected this to be the batch with the most beef flavor (and I had already learned the extra time really helps, so this one also receive 24 hours of simmering).

I was happy with all three batches but I do have to say I think roasting the bones first was well worth the effort. Another learning exercise is that the meat on the bones doesn’t seem to add a lot of extra flavor, so going with some cheaper bones isn’t a bad thing. For future batches, I think I’ll go with the basic ingredients and then just flavor with garlic, herbs and spices as I go.

For now, I plan on sipping away on the broth I made (my freezer is full) and hope it really does help me sleep better, lose weight, have better skin and reduce some wrinkles!

Stay tuned to hear about what I did with all the other cuts of grass-fed beef. Spoiler alert — there was wine involved with those meals.