There’s only one thing better than spending an afternoon wine tasting, driving from winery to winery—and that’s having those wineries all in one place, pouring their very best reserve and library wines. Add some samples of Paso Robles’ best eateries, nice music and an utterly relaxed and you have a most enjoyable experience.
That’s what we were up to on the afternoon of May 19, 2016—wandering City Park in the center of Paso at the Reserve tasting event.
Mind you, that wasn’t the only thing going on during Paso Robles’ 34th Annual Wine Festival. One hundred and forty of Paso’s over 200 wineries had something special going on, from Winemaker’s Dinners that were held at individual tasting rooms, to educational seminars. But Friday afternoon it was all about Library, Reserve, White/Rosé, and Futures wines.
If you’ve not been to Paso Robles before, you are in for a bit of a treat. There’s a small-town feel with surprisingly great shopping, many world-class restaurants that would fit right in much larger cities and usually great weather. The winter and spring of 2016 have been subject to some very strange weather thanks to El Nino, and on that afternoon the wind was quite heavy and cold and the May sunshine didn’t have the usual wattage to it.
But no matter—that didn’t dampen attendees enthusiasm for the wine or the foods.
This event is a fantastic opportunity to meet the vineyard or winery’s owner and/or the winemaker him- or herself. Because there are knowledgable folks at each pouring location, the conversation is almost always wine-directed and you can learn a lot about the unique American Viticultural Area (AVA) that the Paso Robles area is. There is also no way you will be able to taste everything there—not just wine, but also food!
Our plan of attack was fairly straightforward: reconnect with old friends (wineries we’d been to and enjoyed) and to go looking for new friends—wineries we’d not yet visited but have had occasion to try their products.
First up was Victor Hugo Winery. Because the tasting room is open by appointment only, we simply had to take advantage of this winery’s presence. Pouring was a 2000 Syrah (yes you read that correctly, a 16-year old!) library wine. It’s a very aromatic, bold and spicy wine that is happiest after being decanted. This wine is simply everything you’d want from a Syrah.
Nearby we met an exciting new friend. We’d heard about The Farm Winery but knew very little but the fact that their bold red wines were worth seeking out. Staffing the pouring station were Jim and Azmina Madsen—founders and hands-on owners of The Farm. They were pouring a pair of wines—a 2010 Grenache with a touch-of-Syrah called “Touchy-Feely” and a 2010 red blend called “The Big Game,” a play on a Rhone-Bordeaux-style wine made with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah and 12% Petit Verdot.
We were smitten, not only with the wines but also with Jim and Azmina, who told us they would be having a very rare pouring event at Thatcher Winery the next day—and then told us the winemaker was on his way from Venezuela to be at the pouring.
There went our Saturday. We had to meet this winemaker. But there’s still more to do at the Reserve tasting, so off we went.
Next was Tablas Creek, an organically-farmed vineyard who was pouring a pair of wines—their 2011 Esprit Blanc de Tablas, a Rhone-style white consisting of 64% Roussane, 26% Grenache Blanc and 10% Picpoul Blanc. This minimally-minerally white has very pleasant stone fruit aromas and flavors, and begs to be put next to a mango salsa or our own tomato toast. Their red selection, 2011 Esprit de Tablas, is a southern Rhone varietal blend consisting of 40% Mourvédre, 30% Grenach, 20% Syrah and 10% Counoise. This wine is still young, with a fruity-jammy quality. All of the right parts are present, this wine just needs to spend a little time hiding out in your wine collection.
Pouring nearby was Penman Springs Vineyard, a place near and dear to Rae’s heart, as it was one of several wineries visited during her bachelorette party. After apologizing to Beth, the owner of the winery, for the rowdy behavior of several of the bachelorette party participants, we got to some serious tasting. We tasted 2012’s Meritage, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Petite Verdot, and a 2008 Reserve Cabernet. The super-hot summers in Creston, which is southeast of Paso Robles, does indeed do special things to the grapes. We took home a bottle of the Reserve Cabernet, and we suggest you contact Penman Springs yourself to get some for yourself—the supply is extremely limited and the wine is heavenly.
We promised to go back as soon as we found the perfect recipe to stand up to the Reserve Cabernet.
We had driven past Lone Madrone Winery and kept promising ourselves that we’d make a stop there. But here they were, with the winemaker Neil Collins pouring. His offering were a 2006 Nebbiolo, with strong spice and pepper on the nose and tongue that begs to be enjoyed with an authentic Ossobuco. He then poured a 2008 Nebbiolo that was made from the exact same grapes—an amazing wine with smooth tannins that have been developed by aging in French oak and stirring the wine as it aged. We’ve made a note to go back to Lone Madrone, especially on one of their “Burger Sundays.”
About a month ago we were at a local restaurant and the bartender brought out a bottle of Hearst Ranch Winery’s Malbec, and immediately regretted that we’d been drinking spirits. That Malbec was so special, we should have been enjoying that all evening. Right them we vowed to learn more about Hearst Ranch, and what do you know, there they were at the Reserve event. Pouring was the winemaker, Soren Christensen, and in the glass was 2013’s “The Point,” 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Malbec and 15% Petit Verdot. Our taster lingered over her sample, sorry to finish it and declaring it “yummy.” Also poured was a 2013 Cabernet Franc, a wine that is admittedly still a bit young, but the aromas of lavender and graphite on the tongue lets you know that this wine has all of the right parts, all it wants is to hang around a little bit longer. Definitely decant this wine.
Another winery we’ve driven by and keep saying “we’ve got to stop there” tasting room is Clautiere Vineyard, who was pouring a 2012 Estate Reserve Malbec. We don’t ever walk away from a Malbec, and this one doesn’t disappoint. There’s dark stone fruit of black cherry and plum, and a tiny hint of crab apples on the palate. We will definitely stop next time we are on the east side of Paso Robles.
We ended the tasting with our old friends from Chateau Margene, a boutique winery in Creston. Pouring for the event was the owner of the vineyard and winery, Michael Mooney. We first tasted Chateau Margene’s wines during a day trip to Morro Bay, and a couple of days later went out to the tasting room to sample more. At the Reserve event was something special called “Cask 4,” a very limited production of only 4 casks!
This very special wine is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon of clones 4, 15 and 8, aged in new French oak barrels for 23 months, bottled unfined and unfiltered. The only way you can get this wine if to come to the estate for a pre-arranged appointment or if you happen to catch winemaker Michael Mooney in the tasting room on Saturday or Sunday (and that doesn’t happen every Saturday or Sunday!).
Please mark your calendars now for next year’s 35th Annual Wine Festival on May 18–21, 2017. It’s definitely an event worth checking out—with organized events and lots of free time for you to go tasting on your own, why not call it a mini-vacation and ask for time off from work now, and make your reservations to stay in downtown Paso Robles simply for the convenience of being close to City Park. Thank you to Paso Robles Wine Country for inviting us.
What would you do at a wine festival? Is it all about the food? The wine? The music? Or the educational opportunities? Have you ever attended a wine festival? Tell us about special wine festivals where you live!