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spacer.gif^ Livermore, CA | Paso Robles, CA | San Luis Obispo, CA | Santa Barbara, CA       >> Tasting Dispatches
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90+ point rated wines under $20
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AUGUST 2009 – Dog Days of Summer

PR_grapes.jpgI know, you have to be some kind of crazy to leave one over-heated place for another; however, at least Paso Robles has wine tasting and 1/10th of the population. On this particular weekend the tasting rooms were deserted. I guess only dedicated professionals like us and my new Twitter friend @CtlCstUncorked were willing to brave the triple-digit heat in our ongoing efforts to find the best wines the Central Coast has to offer. (Check out where he went.) With new wineries opening every month, I have to stay on the trail or I'm never going to catch up. My goal to visit all the Paso tasting rooms seems further away than ever, despite this being our 6th trip since December. There has to be a peak sometime soon, right? While the empty roads and glasses did not make the wineries happy, we were thrilled to find we had the town practically to ourselves. Off weekends are the best if you want a really great tasting room experience because the staff has the time to spend with you and really delve into what makes their wines special. Sure, the festival parties and tastings are fun, but real knowledge and friendships come when you're the only one at the bar. So choose your tasting time wisely.

TASTING LESSON LEARNED: If you're going to wine taste in the high heat of the summer, bring plenty of water and a cooler for your purchases. Leaving bottles in your car (even if you can find shade) is asking for spoiled wine. Best to just have the winery ship what you want once the weather has cooled.


PR_pier46.jpgPIER 46 SEAFOOD:
OK. Clearly, this place is not a winery. We found them through Twitter and since our regular lunch place – The Art Cafe & Bakery – is still closed to the public, we needed a new place to bulk up before our day of tasting commenced. I will admit right up front that I am not generally a seafood lover, but with everyone from Paso tweeting away about how great this place is, I decided to give them a shot. Besides, at the very least I figured I could get fish and chips, if the rest of the menu looked to "fishy." Mostly a market, Pier 46 does have a few tables inside and out, as well as a bar along the back wall, for in store dining. It's not fancy, but it's not supposed to be. It's a joint in the best sense of the word. I told Jo (one of the owners) via Twitter, that we'd be in for lunch. We were both thrilled to meet in person and she couldn't have been more friendly or gracious. The rest of the staff was equally pleasant and the food came out fresh, quick and hot.

The Man was delighted with the Fish Tacos, which were enormous and made with red snapper topped with cabbage, Pepper Jack cheese, cilantro, lime and a special spicy sauce. I choose something safe – Breaded Shrimp and Chips. It seemed simple, but was full of flavor, especially the half regular/half sweet potato fries covered in Truffle Salt. Oh my god, they were so good. I wasn't even going to eat the fries because I'm trying to watch my weight. I ate every single one of them. Well, I did share some with the Man. Educating their customers about how to cook their products is as big a push here as selling the seafood. They'll even cook or cater for you. Whatever you want, anything they carry...and they have everything. Jo is so passionate she may make a seafood lover out of me yet. Located in Templeton at Vineyard Dr. & the 101 right near the Trader Joe's (so smart). It may seem obvious, but the menu is all seafood.
 – Twitter Handle: Pier46Seafood – For more information CLICK HERE.

PR_sculpterra.jpgSCULPTERRA WINERY: Tasting Fee: $5/8 pours
We've been by this winery many, many, many times on our way out to Cass and just never stopped in. They opened the doors to their massive and beautiful tasting room and sculpture garden in 2006, though they've been growing grapes and pistachios for decades. Their list is more Bordeaux than Rhone focused, so I figured I'd get around to them sooner or later. Their time came this trip, since we were sticking on the eastside of Paso and I wanted to go to a few new places. The grounds are impressive, as are the sculptures scattered across them, but I have to admit to finding it a bit out of place amongst the dusty fields and ranches surrounding it. Would have enjoyed it more I'm sure if it wasn't 100+ degrees outside. The staff was helpful, knowlegdable and very busy. Clearly everyone else knew about this place long ago. I think their list is a bit unfocused, though we did enjoy all their whites (Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay & Viognier) and their blends, especially the 07 Figurine (Cab Sauv/Merlot/Zin), 07 Statuesque (equal parts Cab Sauv/Syrah/Petite Sirah) and 06 Maquette (63% Cab Sauv/25% Merlot/12% Petite Sirah), which showed the best due to its additional year of aging. I was also impressed with their 07 Petite Sirah, but it needs at least 2-3 years to show what it's really made of. Their other single varietal wines were well-crafted, they just didn't have the depth of flavor of the blends, which I highly recommend.
 – Twitter Handle: sculpterra – For more information CLICK HERE.

CLAUTIERE: Tasting Fee – $5/Full List
Initially this was on of my favorite tasting rooms in Paso, but due to the proliferation of newbies, I just haven't had the time to get back for at least 4 years. Just down the road from Sculpterra, I decided to check back in and see how the wines were progressing. While we had a great time talking with Marissa in their funhouse meets Mardi Gras tasting room, none of my tasting buddies or I fell in love with any of the wines. Perhaps we were too warm, but everything seemed sort of flat and old. Still enjoyed the Grand Rouge and Mon Rouge, along with their Mourvedre, but really wanted to like them more. Their current releases are from the 04/05 vintage which is a bit unusual and perhaps the reason the wines were missing the brightness of fruit I remembered. Am hoping it was the heat. Certainly one of the more unique and fun tasting rooms in the region. Rhones lovers will want to check them out.
 – Twitter Handle: ClautiereWine – For more information CLICK HERE.

BARREL 27 WINE COMPANY: Tasting Fee: $5/8 pours
PR_barrel27.jpgI've been a fan of this union of the talents of Russell From and McPrice "Mac" Myers for a few years now and was super excited to see them open a tasting room in Paso. Got a chance to meet Mac at the Rhone Rangers event in February and fell immediately in love with their 06 Right Hand Man Syrah ($18). You won't find a better Syrah at that price point from the Central Coast. Believe me I've tried most of them. They are sourcing grapes from all over the region for their mostly Rhone-focused wines. Most of their offerings are under $30 and showcase how great Syrah and Grenache can be. They each have their own higher-priced labels (McPrice Myers and Herman Story), which are sometimes available for tasting here and worth every single penny. Just ask Nicole what's she got behind the bar. But be warned, if she does share, you'll be buying. I wasn't a fan of the 07 High on the Hog White blend, which I found slightly flabby and too alcoholic, but the 08 version is a delightful, fruity and refreshing blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne for $15. Also couldn't resist the case blowout of 05 Rosé of Syrah ($7 a bottle), which is still lovely though on it's way out i.e. the half price discount. We've still got another 6 weeks of heat to go in Los Angeles, so I'll be enjoying every bottle. Also purchased a few more Right Hand Man's along with bottles of 06 McPrice Myers L'Ange Rouge Grenache and 06 Herman Story Nuts & Bolts Syrah ($36 each). I just had to have them. Their tasting room is located in an industrial park and nothing fancy, but you won't care. I'd rather they spend their cash where it belongs and is doing the most good – in the bottle.
 – Twitter Handle: barrel27wines – For more information CLICK HERE.

PR_ac.jpgALTA COLINA WINERY: Tasting Fee: $5/Full List
Being a Rhone fanatic, this winery has been on my list since they opened to the public earlier this year. Plus, I kept hearing about them on Twitter from other Central Coast wine lovers. In a mutually advantageous agreement, they share space with Villacana, which is the nearest other winery to their vineyard. (They have a small bar and offices upstairs from Villicana's tasting room.) They are currently tasting their 07 wines from the first vintage to come from their property. Bob Tillman, the owner and winemaker, gave us the grand tour and we greatly appreciate the time he took to show us their small, but first-class operation. He was a delight to talk to and the passion he has for both his vines and wines shows in every bottle. (Scott Hawley is their consulting winemaker.) Their wines are on the pricey side for the region ($40+ for the reds), however, we still couldn't resist purchasing their 07 Old 900 Syrah (named after the bomber Bob's dad flew on in WW2) and 07 Ann's Block Petite Sirah (first vine planted by his mother Ann). All their wines are aged in oak barrels, mostly French, which we got to see in person and from which got samples of their 08 GSM and Old 900 Syrah. Would have bought those as well, but will have to wait until they're bottled, I suppose. What tasting in Paso is all about. Small producers with a personal touch.
 – Twitter Handle: AltaColina and ACBob – For more information CLICK HERE.

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