Travel, Etc. --> Return to Paso Robles
Sideways Country 2008 Part III
A Return to Paso Robles
About 100 miles north of Los Olivos is the town of Paso Robles and the most established wine growing areas of the Central Coast. With a climate that welcomes varietals like Cabernet, Syrah and Zinfandel, boutique wineries began to appear in the late 70s. Volume producers like J. Lohr and Meridian established large scale wineries in the area in the 1980s. But the real explosion has only come in the last seven to 10 years with the number of wineries growing from 50 in 2000 to more than170 today.
Linda and I first visited Paso Robles 10 years ago and it didn't leave much of an impression on me. It was a cow town. In fact, driving the area now, you still only see three things in the fields... cows, horses and grapevines. Last time we visited we stayed 30 miles south in Pismo Beach because we didn't want to stay at a Holiday Inn. We visited downtown Paso only once on that trip to find lunch. I felt a little out of place without a sweat stained straw cowboy hat, but we found pretty good BBQ and it looked like any other small downtown, a little worn and tired.
So... nothing prepared us for the new Paso Robles — although we should have known when we had our choice of two new boutique hotels when we booked our stay. This has to be the quickest case of gentrification in history. The two block wide, five block long downtown has been transformed. It is now home to 10 winery tasting rooms, a wine bar, excellent restaurants, art galleries, gourmet food and wine shops and upscale retail. It's not Healdsburg, but Paso is where they were 20 years ago and they are on the way. And, it seems that the October issue of Bon Appetit magazine agrees, naming Paso Robles as one of five up and coming foodie small towns with "a thriving farm-to-table culture and a first-rate restaurant scene," further saying "this is the next great California food town."
Our first thought was to stay at the brand new La Bellasera Hotel and Spa just south of town. It's a new wine country hotel featuring a 60 rooms a complete spa and a gourmet restaurant. Instead we opted for a smaller property where we could walk to any number of restaurants. We stayed downtown at the Hotel Cheval, a 16-room hotel with a central courtyard filled with fireplaces and comfortable seating, a wine bar and elegant contemporary rooms. Everything about this hotel was first rate, from the concierge service to the pastries and fresh fruit delivered to our room from the French restaurant up the street every morning. Yup, Paso now has two first rate French restaurants. The best part was that everything was just a short walk away.
1021 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA
Our first walk to dinner walk took us to Artisian, which serves contemporary American cuisine in a great art deco store front four blocks away. And the food was excellent. We shared an appetizer of crisp calamari with that was as tender an any I have had and complemented by two very creative sauces, a malt vinegar aioli and a chipotle cocktail sauce. The entrées were even better: wild boar tenderloin served with home made oreccchiette pasta in a sauce made with guanciale (a very good but obscure Italian bacon), and porcini mushrooms... wow! Linda opted for the pan seared day boat scallops that came with shellfish stew. The all California wine list was extensive, well chosen and fairly priced. Since our first appointment the next day was with Joe Barton at Grey Wolf, we selected his Jackal Zinfandel, which was a bargain at $38. All in all, a great meal at a restaurant we can recommend highly, and again, pretty reasonably priced.
1401 Park Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446
And, having mentioned the French restaurants... the following day we had lunch at Panolivo, a Mediterranean French Restaurant serving a wonderful breakfast and lunch with a decidedly French twist. They bake all their own breads and pastries. This was where the flaky fruit filled croissants we had for breakfast came from and the foccacia bread that held our lunch paninis was fresh and just crusty enough. And, speaking of paninis, these were pretty decadent. Mine was rotisserie turkey with brie, caramelized onion and cranberry jam served with crisp pommes frites... if they scored sandwiches, this could would have been a 95! Linda passed on the French fries but had the wonderfully authentic French onion soup instead. However, her sandwich was not any less exotic, with herb crusted rotisserie chicken, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion and fresh mozzarella. I only wish that we had had a few more days so we could try the Croque Monsieur or the BLTAL, a bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and lobster sandwich. Did I mention that I gained six pounds on this trip?
1344 Park Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446
We were contemplating a return trip to Artisan our second night but Joe Barton of Grey Wolf Cellars insisted we try Bistro Laurent, a classic French restaurant downtown... and he was right. Bistro Laurent turned out to be just what Joe promised, a little bit of France in rural California. Owned by chef Laurent Grangien, it is a classic casual French restaurant, with a fascinating menu and surprisingly reasonable prices. This time I started with the French onion soup, and it was perfect, with a broth thick with brown onions and the traditional large crisp crouton covered with warm melted Gruyère cheese. Linda was the adventurous one, beginning with interesting and very tasty salad with lentils and frog leg meat. I again played safe with my entree, a perfectly prepared beef filet in a black peppercorn sauce with puréed potatoes and haricots verts. Linda did it again with a crispy crab risotto with sautéed shrimp in and herbed beurre blanc sauce... a little hard to describe but really delicious... I almost regretted the steak decision. Another great dinner experience, and with a nice bottle of Rhône wine it was the most inexpensive dinner of the trip. Heck, we spent more that that the last time we went for sushi at Wasabi!
1202 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446
With 170 wineries to choose from within an hour's drive, we could only scratch the surface... there are 10 or more tasting rooms in downtown that can make for a fun afternoon of lunch followed by a leisurely wine tasting walk around town. We especially enjoyed a stop at the Ortman Family Winery tasting room. Chuck Ortman, the retired founder of Meridian Vineyards and Paso legend, along with his son Matt, who makes the wine, have founded a very nice Boutique operation. We spent a pleasant half an hour with Chuck's wife Lisa, tasting through some very nice Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir. They are located at 1317 Park St. Other tasting rooms downtown include Silver Stone, The Wine Attic, Hice Cellars, Anglim, Arroyo Robles, Bear Cave, Christian Lazo, Vinoteca and Mid Life Crisis Winery and probably a few more that we missed.
With so many wineries our recommendation for touring is just to get a good map and go exploring... a few worth seeing include Justin, which has great wines and while they are one of the most remote, they have a nice restaurant for lunch or dinner along with a bed and breakfast. And on the way you can visit Tablas Creek, just make a reservation for their tour at 10:30 am or 2 pm, and stop at Adelida, whose wines we hope to soon see in Indiana. Closer to town on Highway 46 you will find Castoro, (we still have some of their 90 Point $13.99 Cabernet) Dark Star Cellars, where you can check out Norm's goofy clock collection (try to guess the one we donated) and Peachy Canyon for some mighty good Zins.
Far and away the most exciting winery we found was Grey Wolf. This is tiny family run winery with a tasting room located in a farmhouse that used to be the family home, and the winery in a barn behind surrounded by grapevines. The winery was founded in 1994 by Joe and Shirlene Barton but in 1998. After the untimely death of his father, Joe Jr. took over as winemaker. Joe is a fruit science graduate of Cal Poly and a winemaker who learned his trade hands on. And he makes some of the most opulent, highly extracted Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel I have ever tasted. His wines are hand-punched in small open top fermenters and all aged in French and American oak. Last year Joe only produced about 4,000 cases but made 14 different wines, so these are truly small batch wines averaging less than 300 cases of each.
And they are exceptional! Robert Parker scored his Soulmate, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah, 93 points this year. In fact Parker has given Joe eight 90 point plus scores in just the last three vintages and I can think of a lot of prestigious 20,000 case wineries whose wines sell for twice what Joe's do that can't say that! Our wine club is in for a treat next month... we were able to get enough of Joe's Viognier and Lone Wolf Red to make them the October selections. Here are the wines we currently have in stock for Grey Wolf, don't miss these!
Grey Wolf Cellars Lone Wolf Red Wine NV Paso Robles, California $15
A Wine Guy Selection
From a tiny winery in Paso Robles comes this kitchen-sink blend of eight different varietals. What makes it different from its $15 shelf neighbors is the ripeness and depth provided by the warm Paso vineyards. A nose of ripe plum, blackberry and a little alcoholic heat lead to an ultra ripe, full bodied, almost candied blackberry and plum palate that is smooth all the way through to the finish.
Grey Wolf Cellars Meritage 2005 Paso Robles, California $28
A Wine Guy Selection
This Bordeaux-style blend of 45 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Cabernet Franc, 20 percent Merlot and 5 percent Petit Verdot is aged in 100 percent French oak for 28 months. The result is a big, intense, full-bodied, velvety soft wine with plenty of cassis and vanilla aromas and flavors.
Grey Wolf Soulmate 2006 Paso Robles, California $29
What the Wine Critics Thought - Wine Advocate 93 Points
The gorgeous 2006 Soulmate blend of 50 percent Syrah, 25 percent Grenache and 25 percent Petite Sirah boasts a dense purple hue as well as an exceptional bouquet of graphite, blueberry liqueur, black currants, licorice, camphor, and incense. Additionally, it possesses fabulous concentration, beautiful integration of acidity and tannin, and a sexy, opulent personality. Enjoy it through 2014.
What We Thought: The nose of ripe blackberry and spice leads you to an amazingly robust, full-bodied palate that oozes with rich, ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit supported by silky tannins that keep it smooth all the way through to the finish.
Grey Wolf Cellars
2174 Highway 46
Paso Robles, CA 93446
October 1, 2008