Back when the Central Coast was just getting on the map, Castoro Cellars was finding petrified whale bones under their soil, proving its value for growing grapes. If this area was once covered by ocean, imagine the nutrients it has.
In the last 30 years, they have become known for Zinfandel wine grown organically while most of their neighbors have begun producing Rhone wines. Situated right across Highway 46 West from Paso Robles, their vineyards still benefit from the hot summer days and cool breezes at night rolling through the Templeton Gap. Stop in while you’re traveling through the Central Coast to get a taste of their history.
Named after the natural alleyway created by the Templeton Gap, ZinAlley takes full advantage of what this natural wonder does for vines. The scorching hot days and cool nights are the reason its dry-farmed head-pruned Zinfandel vines thrive and produce deliciously rich complex juice. Their winemaker is as real as it gets, even foregoing advertising and marketing because he prefers to run a business on old school tried and true practices like word-of-mouth the recommendations of many happy customers. Living off what is now the Turley estate, he honed his Zin skills early and still takes advantage of distinctive practices like using dried stems for a smoky flavor rather than green stems that can impart abrasive herbal qualities.
A self-proclaimed glorified home wine maker, he is happy to tell customers the real history of Central Coast wine. Stop in to ZinAlley when you’ve had it with stuffy pretentious wineries and their standard family history stories or tales of the town. ZinAlley is a one-man show and their fearless leader will give you the straight dirt on the soil, climate, vines, and winemaking history of this ripe rich region.
Feed the heresy in your thoughts or your unconventional side the luscious and rich wines at Cypher Winery. Their unoaked Chardonnay has that vibrant crisp bright green apple fruit like the famed Naked Chardonnay you may recall from Four Vines. Yes, that label was sold but the heretic behind the Heretic is now making wines at Cypher.
If you’re part of the cult following for Mourvedre and you crave that “dirty sexy Frenchman” barnyard earthy flavor that reminds you of mushrooms, theirs has the stone fruit flavors you’ll that hit the spot and the forest floor so common in this grape. Their Kiler Canyon is big yet smooth, a wine that typifies Paso style. And, who doesn’t love a Zin Bitch.
Opening a new restaurant in March, Cypher is using their food industry experience to play well with their wines. An onsite organic garden will be the secret ingredient to their delicious farm fresh food right outside the rustic tasting room on Highway 46 West.
If you’re a Zin Bitch, been to Zin Fest, or you just love Zinfandel, you’ve no doubt heard of Larry Turley. He is not only famous for making rich luscious Zinfandels and bringing this grape to its potential as a world-class varietal, he has intrigued wine buyers and sommeliers across the land, showcasing his wine on some of the best fine dining menus around. But what you may not know is what a crusader he is for old vines.
Remember, a grape vine takes about 30 years to reach its potential in terms of grape production. Thereafter, it produces fewer grapes with more concentrated flavors. It is up to wineries to make the tough decision of quantity or quality with older vines and the sad truth is most vines are grubbed up and replaced after 50 years of age. But, heroes like Turley and his team of viticulture and wine making geniuses pursue the old and threatened vines for their complex flavors and even historic qualities over mass production.
The fruit of their labors is powerful, dense, and richly complex Zinfandels with many layers and textures that play well with food pairings yet stand alone as if a sipping cocktail. Silky and smooth yet bright berry overwhelm and the layers build a long lasting finish. Even their dark brooding Petite Sirahs have the bright blueberry aromas and distinctly California flavors with dark brooding complexity. Turley is worth a stop on your next trip to the Central Coast or checking out next time you see it on a wine list.
For a town with ideal soil and climate for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, San Luis Obispo does not have many wine bars downtown. It’s almost like they don’t think of themselves as a genuine wine village. Now, the Luis Wine Bar on Higera has an abundant and tasteful selection of local wines as well as flights that showcase the flavors of Edna Valley. The management also do a great job of incorporating wines from their neighbor to the north, Paso Robles, and south, Santa Barbara.
If you think wine bars don’t have good food offerings, remember that they aim to pair their products best so you’re going to get really high quality cheese and olive options yet no full kitchen for a burger and fries. But Luis gathers high quality cheese, nuts, bread, and cured meats from local providers. So, they serve a mouthwatering assortment of dishes that pair well with wine flights of many varieties.
With free wifi and floor to ceiling accordion style windows that bring the outdoors in, Luis is quite possibly the best place to spend a warm afternoon or happy hour while still responding to a few last minute emails.
Many talk about the Templeton Gap for its refreshing cooling effect on the grape vines in Templeton. Yet, few go into detail on how it works or what it does to the grapes. High pressure wind flows from the Pacific Ocean through an hour glass shaped opening in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, giving it more power to spread through the land east of it in northeastern and southeastern directions. The El Pomar area of Templeton gets the tail end of this cool air flow without the gusts that kick up dust or toss the grapes around. It must be true because an aviation expert drew this diagram for me at the Hansen Winery tasting room.
The best way to understand the complex yet balanced flavors this brings to the grapes, is to taste wines in the El Pomar area of Templeton. Hansen specializes in the king of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon. That doesn’t mean they only have reds, not that there’s anything wrong with that. They start a tasting with a rose wine made out of Cabernet Sauvignon. This vibrant robust wine has a hint of color but a big full mouthfeel you’d expect from a red wine yet the dry crisp finish of a white. Then, their selection of award winning cabs delight and amaze with sensational flavors and many layers and textures. These hand-made wines from small lots are the best representation of this grape in the area.
Soaking in AronHill’s view of a vines rising and falling in almost every direction as far as you can see, you may be surprised you are in the Templeton Gap. You may even be surprised you are in the Central Coast. Views that take your breath away are not just in old wine country. Some are in the most secluded and unknown regions with charmingly warm and welcome hosts.
Templeton is definitely an unsung wine hero with a refreshing cooperative relationship with its next door neighbor, Paso Robles. While Paso quickly became known for Zinfandel in the early days of its emerging growth, AronHill was smart enough to grow Zin’s cousin, Primitivo. Since then, Paso’s vineyard landscape has shifted toward Rhone varietals while AronHill’s Primitivo has flourished and adored the cooler breezes of the Templeton Gap. Primitivo looks and smells a lot like a Zinfandel but has Italian characteristics like tart berry and cherry flavors with bright acidity that play well with food.
AronHill has not only unleashed this virtuous grape, they can prepare a sumptuous lunch to pair perfectly with this bold and complex wine. Imagine a taste of the deep rich blueberry and cherry liquid with a whiff of smoky caramel and spice chasing down a pear gorgonzola salad or warm crusty salami goat cheese Panini. Better yet, go any day of the week; their onsite bistro serves lunch daily and the sun shines almost every day this time of year.
If you don’t feel like driving to one of those far out wineries, the best place to taste in downtown Templeton is Clavo Cellars. It is on your way to or from lunch or dinner at the classy and delicious McPhee’s Grill and the evening live music at AJ Spurs Saloon and Dining Hall. But, really, the reason to go is their delightfully balanced and refined wines.
The first wine in the line up really knocks your socks off. If you are tired of Viogniers tasting like perfume or making you smell that overwhelming floral fragrance, try Apparition. Its time in cement and neutral oak barrels gives it a creamy texture and thickness rarely found elsewhere. Yet, its fresh acidic banana and tropical fruit flavors shine with a smooth silky texture. Their Grenache Blanc is not sweet like most. This one has tart lemon zest and refreshing banana that make it a great pairing for rich dishes. Actually, all their wines are a little on the acidic side, making them age better and a great pairing for your favorite dishes.
Their Grenache sparkling wine is one you don’t see often but should really try. It is dry with plenty of sumptuous green apple, rich lemon curd, and no sugar aftertaste. If you enjoy a Petite Sirah, make sure you give theirs a try. Its tannins are silky and blueberry flavors are more tart than jammy, allowing the deeper dark cocoa black currant flavors to emerge. This is a bright round wine for just about any meaty meal.
Paso Robles’ next door neighbor to the south is the quaint little village of Templeton with western styled storefronts that remind you of the gold rush architecture. Walking about a half dozen blocks in their downtown area, you can accomplish quite a few things without driving at all. You could waste a beautiful sunny warm day wine tasting, shopping (antiques or feed and grain for your livestock), touring its museum, and enjoying lunch or dinner with live music.
You may not stumble over as many wineries and tasting rooms as you would in Paso Robles. But you can enjoy wide open spaces, similar climate, and fewer crowds or traffic snarls. Templeton’s climate is similar to Paso Robles simply because it is located just 5 miles away. But the Templeton Gap, not a jeans and t-shirt store, is an eastbound series of passes through which air flows from the ocean, blanketing Templeton in natural air conditioning in the afternoons. So, while it gets warm, it does not suffer the extreme heat of Paso Robles. As you can imagine, the grapes love this cooling effect so it is worth tasting just to compare.
French wine makers appear to adore Paso Robles as much as the rest of us. But they most certainly have different reasons. Anyone can tell France and Paso have similarities in climate and soil. Yet, Paso has more soil types than any other viticultural area. This allows for a diversity of grape varietals and flavors.
Sebastien Noel a Frenchman with a California winemaking soul who is most excited about the Paso Robles growing region for its many different soil types. He is in love with his California fruit yet bound and determined to bring French techniques and styles to the Central Coast.
Where can you taste wines like this? Currently, he offers tastings in the private room of a beautiful spa and bar called Twist on Spring Street. Yet, he will surely soon expand and become one of those popular tasting rooms that line the square. So, catch him while he’s hot and take advantage of the opportunity to get a fab haircut, massage, or mani/pedi, while wine tasting.
Our tasting began with one of the best rose wines found in the state. A rose wine is one that is made out of red grapes but designed as a white wine. They end up with a beautiful rose color but Sebastien’s is more of a coral or salmon color and is refreshingly absent of sweetness or a sugar aftertaste. It also has the generous big body that red wine lovers seek so it could just be the best of both worlds.
France’s best kept secret is a walnut wine that Sebastien is working to craft with the same spirit and flavor that he remembers from his homeland. This may sound sweet but it is made from the tart bitter green shell of the nut so imparts little sweetness yet the rich texture and layers of a most unique libation. I imagine this makes it an ideal pairing for rich cheeses. Be on the lookout for this walnut wine to hit the market as soon as California law figures out how to classify it.