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spacer.gif^ Livermore, CA | Paso Robles, CA | San Luis Obispo, CA | Santa Barbara, CA       >> Tasting Dispatches
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DECEMBER 2008 – Down the Foxen Canyon Trail
– From Santa Maria to Solvang, CA


foxen_open.jpgIt's become our holiday tradition over the last four years to visit the Central Coast wine region as a gift to ourselves, since we refuse to go back to the cold-weather climates of our childhoods. This year we went before Christmas looking to avoid the crowds on the post-holiday weekend. Boy did we ever. Clearly everyone was at the mall on the 21st because I encounted only 4 other people while out tasting on the westside of Paso Robles. Sure I was pretty far out of town, but I guess wine wasn't on their lists. Visited three newbies to the scene: Thacher Winery, Croad Vineyards and Mondo Cellars. Thacher's wines were the best, but Croad had a truly amazing tasting room. Each was selling their first vintages, which were fairly tasty, so it'll be interesting to see how they develop.

Since we were going to break up our drive home with an overnight stay in Solvang, I decided to avoid the highway and meander down Foxen Canyon on our way south from Paso. It's been quite awhile since I've been on this stretch, evidenced by several new wineries on the trail. There are 14 along the way with 12 of them being open daily, which is quite unusual for this area and lucky for us because it was a Tuesday, generally not a popular wine tasting day. Granted if you wanted to visit all of them you'd have to speed taste since they are only open from 11am-4pm. I can't say I was overly impressed with the offerings, but it sure was a fun and scenic drive. If you're looking for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, this is not the trail for you. Most of the wineries feature Rhone-style wines.

LIFE LESSON LEARNED: Get a Tasting Journal and write things down, because after the second winery things really start running together and by the fifth you won't remember a thing.

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RIVERBENCH VINEYARDS: Tasting Fee – $8
foxen_river.jpgLongtime growers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, the winery was established in 2004. Their first wines are from the 2006 vintage and all come from grapes grown on the estate. The tasting room is in the property's original farmhouse which was restored in the Craftsman style with a solid oak bar and duel-sided fireplace. The tasting room is at the far northern end of the trail. Though I tend to like Rhone-style wines the best, their Pinots and Chards were flavorful and well-crafted. We particularly loved their 2006 Estate Pinot, which was bright and lively and worth it's $36 price tag. If Burgundy-style wines are your thing, this is a must stop.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


foxen_sisquoc.jpgRANCHO SISQUOC: Tasting Fee: $8
It has been a long, long time since I've been to this winery. Don't let their address fool you. Though technically on Foxen Canyon, it takes about 15 minutes to get to the tasting room along their long and narrow driveway. Though they are certainly friendly and have the largest variety of wines at fairly inexpensive prices, I can't say the drive was worth it. They make everything from Riesling to Sangiovese and it's this lack of focus that I believe brings down the quality. I did enjoy their Pinot Noir and Italian blends, but the rest of the wines were pretty mediocre. The grounds are a nice place to picnic and their prices are affordable, I just didn't want to buy any. They have been around for over 30 years so clearly they have fans. They will also certainly be pouring your favorite since they have over 15 different wines.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


FOXEN VINEYARDS: Tasting Fee: $10
We didn't have time to actually taste here, which unless you're a member of their wine club isn't the friendliest of experiences. Their single vineyard wines are still some of the best from this region, but I haven't been impressed with their regular offerings over the last few years. Stopped to get their 2006 Toasted Rope Syrah, which I had at a party recently and was blown away. Bogarted my fair share and sort of planned this foray just so I could get a bottle for myself. I don't usually spend $40, but after seeing Parker's 95 point score I figured it would be money well spent.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


TRES HERMANAS WINERY: Tasting Fee: $8
foxen_hermanas.jpgFounded in 2001, this mostly Rhone-producing winery opened their tasting room doors in 2007. After checking out their wine list, I thought their offerings would be right up my alley. After all, I love Syrah and Viognier and was intrigued by the fact that they made a Refosco (an obscure Italian varietal), Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. For such a big tasting room, the bar was a bit small and the service pleasantly informative, but not what I'd call friendly. The Refosco was their best wine, but I wasn't willing to part with almost $40 to own it. It was worth about $10 less, but was clearly priced due to its obscurity. The Syrah's were good, but there are much better versions in this area in the mid-$20 range. I really enjoyed the 2007 Viognier, which is made in a lighter style than the fruit bombs currently coming from Paso. I liked it enough to buy it, so I hope it's worth its $25 price tag on closer inspection.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


foxen_zaca.jpgZACA MESA: Tasting Fee: $8 (7 tastes)
One of my early favorites in this region, it's been at least 5 years since I've been to this winery. They've been around since 1972 and are one of the largest wineries in the region. They also specialize in Rhone varietals, so I was sure I'd find something to enjoy. Though the bar was busy and they only had one pourer, she kept everyone happy and never lost her place. I skipped the Chardonnay and went straight for the Roussanne, which is still rare to find bottled on its own. It was nice, but not for $25. Loved the 2006 Z-Cuvee, which is an inexpensive GSM-blend. A real pleasure for $20 and consistently good bang for the buck from year to year. Would have purchased if I wasn't overloaded with wines of this type already. Gave their high-end version, the 2005 Estate Z Three, high marks as well, but it's not yet tasting worth it's $42 price. Have to be truly wowed to plunk down that amount of green. They also make a Mourvedre and Grenache, but they aren't available for tasting. Worth a stop for Rhone-lovers and a great place to have a picnic.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


foxen_curtis.jpgCURTIS WINERY: Tasting Fee: $10
Another Rhone-style wine producer, Curtis has been around for over 15 years. A place I used to love and decided to check out again. While the wines were pleasant, I wasn't blown away and nothing really stuck out. Since they're in the $20 range, they are good buys, but not as great as I remember. Though there was only one other couple at the tasting bar, it was hard to get the pourer's attention. Can only assume they were club members, since he could barely spare any time for us. A stop for only the most devoted Rhone drinkers. Was disappointed.
– For more information CLICK HERE.





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