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¿Qué Pasa? Paso Robles 3

by Jon Rusciano

We could have slept-in the second morning, given that our first appointment was 11 am. at Booker Wines, but of course we did not.  Our early breakfast at Joe’s was a continuing delight.  They offered my standard egg-white omelet, with tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms and spinach, accompanied by rye toast and hash browns or fruit.  The guys ordered an array of combinations, rarely just straight menu offerings, and their orders were taken without a whimper.  Did I mention… Great Place!?

The drive to Booker was a very short one, taking less than ten minutes from the center of town.  I had visited here in 2010, impressed by the wines I tasted and purchased.  My two wine-friend-neighbors came to Paso a couple years back, and after visiting Booker, became Wine Club members.  Their Rhone blends have been superior to any I have tasted, until this trip.  Unfortunately, our visit came at a time when most of the wines had been distributed to the Club members.  Thus the star labels, except “Alchemist” (renamed Remnant), were unavailable for tasting.  Remnant’s 2012 wine was just OK, with a nose of sweet plum, yet a tannic cherry on the palate, with a bit more mineral bite than I would welcome.  The Syrah based “Fracture, Vertigo and Favorite Neighbor” were goners, yet our pretty host Chelsea was not shy to charge us the full tasting fee.  Their dessert wine called“Sweet” was a flowery citrus expression.  The grape was Petit Manseng, one I have never tasted, but reminding me of the Late Harvest Riesling at Trefethen Vineyards in Napa.  Entertainment came from their pet Weimaraner dog in the tasting room, as handsome and well trained as one which would grace a Wegman photograph.  That somewhat softened the blow of the fee.

Departing Booker down Anderson Rd., we came to Hwy 146 and another spot I had visited in 2010.  Grey Wolf Cellars would be the highlight of our day, since not only did they have available wines to taste and purchase, but most were classic Rhone styled wines of the 2012 vintage, uncrippled by minerals.  And, they had a grill with incredible lunch offerings.  It was past noon and stomachs were growling.  They have a comfortably homey, wood-siding-clad, house-like tasting room, nestled among some massive shady oaks.  It is the kind of place you would love to just sit out on the front deck with a grilled tuna sandwich and a glass of wine, watching cars pass down the highway, occasionally talking to their collection of rescue dogs which sit at your feet begging for a spare morsel.

We walked inside and were greeted by Shelly, one of the hosts.  Yet instead of a polished speech, her greeting was as down-home as if you were family coming to visit.  The reasonable $7 tasting fee is waived with any bottle purchase, and we did purchase bottles to be shipped home.  First in the line-up was the 2012 “Territory,” a Zinfandel blend with minor portions of Syrah and Petit Sirah.  It was a flowery nosed wine, with cranberry and cherry flavors and moderate tannins.  It was decent, but not one I would purchase.  Next came the 2012 “Preditor,” a 100% Syrah.  Its bold cherry taste made it last on my list.  Then came the “Barton Black Label‘E’ Street,” a classic Tempranillo with a finish which could fool an experienced drinker into believing it had been aged for over 10 years.  Impressive.  The “Tundra” was their Petite Sirah, not bad but still not challenging my belief that Petite Sirah is a mixing wine and not a stand-alone.  Finally came the 2012 “Soulmate,” an 80/20 blend of Syrah and Grenache.  That one offered a swirl of dark fruits and chocolate on the palate, prefaced by a spicy, flowery nose.  It along with the “E” Streetwere worthy of further exploration, and thus my purchase.

Next we had a 2 pm. appointment at Villa Creek Winery, a hike up Vineyard Drive.  The lunchtime visit at Grey Wolf had taken most of the spare time we had.  Our arrival was a bit early, but we were promptly greeted by our tasting hostess, Val.  The place had changed quite a bit since my last visit.  Before there was a folding table set up amidst the wine storage barrels.  Now one end of their metal building facility had been built out with a classy tasting room, with a glazed storefront entrance.

First on the agenda was their 2013“Roussanne,” an unblended white.  It was quite tasty, offering a nose of lemon and pineapple, with a palate of peach and pear nectar.  Next was their 2013, 100% “Fiano,” which yield a not-so-pleasant bold, tannic flavor which defies proper description by me.  Then we sampled the 2012 and 2004 “Willow Creek Cuvee,” a peppery dark plumb expressions, which were overburdened by minerals.  The 100% Grenache, 2012 “Garnacha” was filled with wild berries, yet yielded a very tart finish.  Honorable mention went to the 2012 “Avenger,” their Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache blend.  It had a nose of spicy graphite and plum, but showcased more of this trip’s Paso minerals than welcomed on my palate.  The previous 2008 vintage that I sampled and purchased in 2010 was far superior to this offering.  The visit was enjoyable and the guys liked the Avenger, but opted to purchase some older vintage bottles that Magid (our California wine connection) had in storage.

The final stop was 3:30 pm. at Linne Calodo Winery, down the hill very close to Hwy. 46.  We were attended to by Erica and Kelly, but neither offered any more than three of the wines that remained in their inventory.  I was very disappointed that none of the “Cherry Red” was available, since it was one of my favorites from the previous trip.  Equally disturbing was the fact that we were charged the full $25 per person tasting fee for their limited selection.  They did print out a personalized tasting menu for our party of four, so I guess that made up for it...Not. The 2012 “Rising Tides” was a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, a rather ordinary offering, billed as “intoxicating and addicting.”  I walked away unscathed.  Their 2012 “Outsider” was a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Mourvedre. This one was a soft, spicy blend of clove, pepper and cocoa.  It was very enjoyable, and I purchased a bottle for later consumption at home.  The 2012 “Professional” was a Southern Rhone blend from their line of outsourced “Slacker Wines.”  Its fragrance was cinnamon spice and a spicy plum flavor, yet in my book, not quite a star. We did not stay long, opting for a quick return to our Paso home, after a brief fill-up at a local petro station.

The evening would provide another culinary delight.  Our server at the Villa Creek Restaurant had provided us with a list of the best places to eat in town.  We selected the top three for the remaining nights of our trip, and this evening we opted for the second on the list, La Cosecha Bar and Restaurant, located again on 12th Street, yet across from the Park.  The evening was cool again, and we became apprehensive, discovering the entire front of the place was opened to the elements.  Our table was close to the front, but as the place became populated with the dinner crowd, the warmth of bodies crammed closely together at the tables kept the temperature comfortable.  Service at this restaurant was not to the level of the previous night’s experience, but their Spanish style Bistro dishes were no disappointment.  There were seafood starters of ceviche, octopus/arugula salad and crab cakes, followed by dishes as varied as short ribs, duck breast, sea bass, lamb shank and honey-glazed pork chops. 

We passed on dessert, yet walking back along 12th, we all stopped in front of a new frozen yogurt shop called Lily’s Yogurt.  The attraction of brightly painted walls magically drew us inside.  They offered free tastes of everything they sold, and we, of course, started sampling.  Before long everyone had a cup filled high with their favorite combinations.  It made the walk back “home” more frigid than it otherwise would have been, but no one complained.  Arriving, we were all tucked away in our beds in a heartbeat, with the coming day offering different kinds of experiences than the first two days.  My final chapter will chronicle our adventure.

Booker Wines

Grey Wolf Cellars

Villa Creek Winery

Linne Calodo Winery

La Cosecha Bar and Restaurant

Lily’s Yogurt
(no website available)

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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