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¿Qué Pasa? Paso Robles 2

by Jon Rusciano

The next morning we arose before the chickens, our body clocks still on Central Time. The coffee someone loaded the night before was brewed and, although great stuff, was as thick as mud. That’s easy enough to remedy, with half a cup of water and a functional microwave. We awaited the time when Joe’s would be opened, and even though we walked in at 7 am. sharp, we were not the first arrivals. The locals know a good thing too. This place easily rivaled Sarafornia in Calistoga, with generous portions of great food and a staff of waiters who where as friendly as they come. We met Joe as well… a more welcoming and compelling individual cannot be found within a twenty mile radius.

After our repast, we returned to our Paso home to prepare for the first day’s adventure. Unlike most of our wine trips, this one was not completely planned, allowing a more relaxed atmosphere from my usually structured agenda and departure schedules. Most of the places opened at 10 or 11 am., so we opted to drive out to a location the guys found interesting, the farthest and most mountainous drive we could have made, Justin Vineyards & Winery. I looked at the map and the most direct route appeared to commence just behind our house on a road which snaked through the adjacent range of mountainous terrain. The drive was beautiful, but Calvin, even though riding in the front seat with me proceeding so slowly that I often pulled off the road to allow the hurrying locals to pass, became car-sick. It would not be a route we chose in the future.

Justin seemed a newly constructed facility, with a large glass windowed exterior, reminiscent of the Shafer Winery in Napa. We encountered a large square bar area upon entering, where an attentive staff awaited the opportunity of pouring tastes, for a fee. Calvin quickly regained his composure, once the motion stopped, so he was able to participate as well. The wines offered were their “Chardonnay, Reserve Malbec, Right Angle Cabernet, Zinfandel, Justification” (Cab Franc and Merlot blend) and “Isosceles” (Bordeaux Blend), all of their 2012 vintage. I must say, tasting each of these offerings yielded very little pleasure. All had what would have been exemplary fruity fragrances and flavors, yet were overshadowed by an abundant, bitter Calcareous limestone mineral taste. One of the guys purchased a bottle that we consumed at one of our subsequent evening meals. The assessment did not change, when coupled with food. This had me concerned that the 2012 season might have yielded a mineral problem for most of the region.

The next stop was back up into the mountains, but the distance was not significant, so Calvin’s problem did not reoccur. Our wine supplier Magid had exposed us to bottles of 2008 Daou “Celestus” a couple years earlier. Most of us enjoyed the bottles, so we were very hopeful that the Daou Winery would offer similar enjoyment. Although not as mineral-crippled as our first stop, these wines were noticeably affected. The 2013 “Chemin de Fleurs” was a Grenache Blanc based white with a floral nose of honeysuckle and orange- peel and a flavor of peaches and oranges with a clean finish. It was an impressive white. Their “Rose” was Grenache and Syrah blend, yielding a slight cherry and strawberry nose, but not the kind of flavor pop I was expecting from my recent exposure to Rose wines in Provence. The 2011 “Celestus” and “Reserve Cabernet” were laden with minerals and to my taste, not close to the quality of 2008. The only red I can offer an “honorable mention” was their “Reserve Zinfandel,” with a nose of oaky strawberry and clove spice with strawberry and cherry emerging on the tongue. The facility was very impressive, perched on a mountain top and offering not only their wines but also a menu of dining choices, which can be consumed on tables with stunning views of the surrounding hillsides and vineyards.

Our next visit was an appointment I had arranged at Denner Vineyards down the mountain on Vineyard Drive. We would have been very early, so the consensus was to stop in at Poalillo Vineyards, a very small establishment along the way, advertising food as well as their wines. It was lunchtime. The visit was very pleasant, with owners Susan and David Garretson personally attending to their drive-up guests. The guys ordered pizza, which turned out to be a warm-up of the frozen store-bought variety, but the cordiality of the proprietors was so compelling that no one complained.

Our 2 pm. Denner appointment was the final stop of the day, since we were opting for a more leisurely approach to winery visits on this trip. On my first visit in 2010, this was a place one could just drive up and taste. Since that time, appointments have become a requirement. The tastings were offered by General Manager Carol Roundsaville, our most friendly wine host of the day. She learned of my writing for Sally’s Place, so our tastings were complimentary (yet another of the perks of this gig). The first two of the wines in the line-up were superior to the rest, although this group had bested anything we had encountered that day. The 2013 “Theresa” was a lovely flowery white combination of mostly Roussanne and so many other unusual varietals which could not doubt yield a prize if they all could be pronounced correctly and quickly, three times in a row. She offered a flowery, lemony nose and a ripe fruity flavor. For a white, to an infrequent-white-drinker, it was impressive. Next was the 2012 Ditch Digger, my fave. This label has always been a Grenache and Syrah blend, combining with smaller percentages of other varietals. Noticeable was the peppery flavor of raspberry and clove. The 2012 “Dirt Worshiper” is primarily Syrah and yielded a subtle flowery, lemony nose and soft dark fruit flavors of Syrah, unblemished by overabundant minerals. Their “Syrah” was similarly structured with even softer caramel and dark fruit flavor. We were offered another “off the menu” taste of the 2012 “Grenache.” It yielded a perfumed peppery nose and sweet raspberry taste with moderate acidity.

Following our tasting we walked around the facility, admiring the wonderful views which abound from their perch overlooking vineyard paradise. Carol was most accommodating, making sure all our questions were answered about their operation. Nice lady.

We slowly returned to our Paso home and enjoyed the balance of the afternoon, talking about our day and dozing off on the soft living room furniture, awaiting our reservation for dinner at Il Cortile Ristorante, a bistro on 12th Street. Based on 10th Street, we opted to walk. It was a cool evening, yielding a most enjoyable 5 minute stroll to our destination. The restaurant was packed soon after our arrival, and we learned first-hand the reason after experiencing their great food and service. It offered the very best dining experience of the entire trip. Their bistro fare was what I would describe as “Nouveau-Italian,” with imaginative Antipasti of grilled octopus, duck carpaccio and sweet corn/goat cheese soufflé followed by Secondi dishes such as filet with peppercorn, herbal rack of lamb, venison medallions and herbal grilled salmon. We consumed bottles of wine we had collected during the day’s adventure. If we opt to return, the guys will no doubt make this place our haunt, dining there with religion and ordering different selections each visit.

Afterward, we slowly ventured homeward. Before very long the lights were out and everyone was fast asleep. The next day offered a very different experience, worthy of relating in my next chapter.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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