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90+ point rated wines under $20
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JULY 2009 – Catching Up in Paso

If you've followed our exploits enough, you know that we just love going to Paso Robles. Love the people, love the wine, love the landscape. We've visited the region five times since last December, which is definitely a record for us. Even though I make every effort to visit new wineries, I still have about 50 I haven't been to...and the number is constantly growing, which I find amazing in these times. It's hard enough to find time for the ones we love, while still attempting to see what we might be missing and yet, I can't stop myself from trying.

This time around we only tasted at wineries we had never been to before, which can be sort of a crapshoot. Even when you do your research and think you're going to LOVE the wines, it doesn't always happen that way. I have several friends who can attest to their disappoint and will now only come with us when we visit previously vetted wineries. I can't really blame them. Most people aren't willing to drink through the dregs to find the winners. Personally I find the hunt fascinating. Unfortunately, with each vintage the task gets harder and harder. Luckily, we made new friends and found a lot of nice wines this time around.

TASTING LESSON LEARNED: If you really want to visit a certain winery, contact them beforehand to confirm their hours. You can sometimes sweet talk your way in, but be prepared if you don't want to be disappointed.


PR_derbywine.jpgDERBY WINE ESTATE: Tasting Fee: $5 - refunded with purchase
Since their tasting room is located directly on Hwy 46 East, I've been aware of them for some time. We've driven by them a lot. However, it wasn't until I tasted their wines at the LA Wine Festival in June that I felt compelled to make a visit. We had a great time talking to Giovanni, their cellar master and would have bought a few bottles then. So, when this trip was arranged I figured I'd see if the wines were as good as I remembered. (We originally tasted them at the end of a long hot day.) Even though we arrived a half hour before they opened (damn that old wine map), they generously poured for us anyway. While the wines were well-crafted, I was still most impressed with what I liked from the fest. We came for the 07 Pinot Grigio, the 07 Mosaic Rosé and the 06 MOCAB (a 60/40 mourvedre/cab sauv blend) and left with a bottle of each. I also liked the 06 Pinot Noir, but I've had better for less money. If I'm paying over $40 a bottle it better knock my socks off.
Twitter Handle: DerbyWineEstate
– For more information CLICK HERE.

PR_vinesmary.jpgVINES ON THE MARYCREST: Tasting Fee – Free
Victor Abascal was another one of the winemakers I met at the LA Fest, though I didn't get much time to chat. His table was always busy (a good sign) and once I found out they were open for tastings on the weekends I basically tasted and ran. I knew after the first few sips, we'd be visiting. We weren't sure what to expect when we rolled up to the tasting/barrel room, as he and his wife Jennifer are small producers just starting to bring their wines to the public. They specialize in Rhone blends, naming each wine with the title of a classic song that tries to describe the essence of what you'll find in the bottle. They are super friendly people, living their dream...even if it means that Victor has to keep his day job as a sound engineer in Los Angeles. If you don't mind a rustic experience and are a Rhone fan, then you need to make the time to visit them. We'll definitely be back. Our favorites were the 05 & 06 Satin Doll, 06 Round Midnight and 05 My Generation. They don't make a lot of each wine so visit them before they're all gone. Twitter Handle: Vines_Marycrest
– For more information CLICK HERE.

PR_calizawinery.jpgCALIZA WINERY: Tasting Fee: $10 - refunded with purchase
I'm a big Rhone wine whore. Love Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, alone or together. Can't get enough. So, when I'm researching new places the wineries that focus on these varietals go to the top of the "must visit" list. This winery came to my attention while perusing the Paso Vintners Association website, a font of information for anyone looking to come to the region. Their tasting room has only been open for about 6 months and they're currently pouring their first wines which were made from the 2006 vintage and have received big scores from Parker – if you're into that sort of thing. They make a white Rhone blend, a rosé and then three monster red blends: The Azimuth (GSM with a bit of Tannat & Alicante Bouschet thrown in), The Companion (50% Cab Sauv with Syrah, Mourvedre & Tannat) and a straight-up 100% Syrah from the Russell Family Vineyard. We left with the rosé and the Syrah. Also loved the Companion, but could only afford one $40+ bottle. Carl and his wife were open and friendly, clearly enjoying pouring their wines and never leaving the glass empty for long, which we like. If you're a Rhone lover, they are worth the stop.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

PR_donatifamily.jpgDONATI FAMILY VINEYARD: Tasting Fee: 4/$5 or 8/$10
I haven't been to this winery since they took over the tasting room from the previous owners, who did not make very good wine...in my opinion. They're another new kid on the block I kept passing by, even though they have a prominent location on the corner of Vineyard Drive and Hwy 46 West. I guess it was hard to overcome the past association (something I'm sure they still have a problem with). I became intrigued with them after following their tasting room employees on Twitter. They make me laugh everyday with their exploits in the wine world, so I decided I had to meet them in person. Even though they make Bordeaux-style wines, one has to be open to all tastes to continue learning, so off we went. Not only were the wines pretty good for the price, but the tasting experience was a blast thanks to Brandy. She makes no bones about how much she loves her job (who wouldn't) and was both fun and informative. Loved their 07 Pinot Blanc (a rarity in these parts), 06 Claret & 06 Sorelle Per Sempre, as well as their 07 LV Cabernet Franc, a sweet wine with real finesse. If you're looking for a good time in Paso, along with some fine wines, don't miss out on the fun happening here. Twitter Handle: DonatiFamily
– For more information CLICK HERE.

PR_ortman.jpgI'd been to their tasting room in the Edna Valley (just south of SLO) before, but not to their new one in downtown Paso. I remember liking their wines, but not taking any home. I might have continued ignoring them (the list is so long), if I hadn't heard of the option to try a vertical of their Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noirs. I love Pinots from this vineyard, so when I saw on Twitter (yes, that again) that they were pouring their 04-07s, I just had to go. If you've ever had Pinots from this vineyard you'd understand. It's a rarity for a TR to offer this sort of tasting, but really eye-opening when you drink wines that are treated the same from different vintages side by side. Loved the odd years. 07 is shaping up to be a killer Pinot year. Have loved most of the ones I've tried across CA and Ortman's was no exception. Their 06 Willamette Valley Pinot was also lovely. The husband preferred the Rhone blend, so I deferred. Along with the 07 Fiddlestix PN, left with a bottle of their 07 Syrah rosé, 07 Sangiovese and 07 Cuveé Eddy. The tasting room is small, but well-appointed. Karlie, our pourer, was sweet and knowledgable. Wish I had her life at 23. Hell, I wish I had it now. Twitter Handle: TasteOrtman
– For more information CLICK HERE.

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