Monthly Archives: April 2014

Hog’s Breath Inn

Once Clint Eastwood’s favorite, the Hog’s Breath Inn is a great place for a patio fire pit kind of night or Giants game in the afternoon. They serve meaty dishes like these baby back ribs with sweet potato fries. But they made the meat really tender by braising it first and then grilling it in their own succulent barbecue sauce. Ask for extra sauce.

HogsBreath


Talbotts

You may think this winery is synonymous with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and they do serve a tasting flight that includes 3 of each. So, if you’re not a Chardonnay or Pinot fan, you’d naturally skip this one. Well, you would not only be missing some highly well crafted wines you’d also be missing a surprise museum. Their first Chardonnay has such bright pineapple that enhances the soft tropical flavors in a crisp refreshing wine elegant enough for summer sipping or picnics. Their second is all green apple with a hint of popcorn and even caramel next to a toasted croissant. The third brings a little creamy texture with the flavor and richness of lemon curd or a tart apple crisp. The Pinot Noirs start with tart bright earthy cherry yet get a bit more brambly and purple. Their last Pinot has more plum and spice than bright red fruit. So they may only have two varietals but their styles cover the map.

But this tasting room is really a destination on your next motorcycle tour. It is like a motorcycle museum. Owner, Robb Talbott showcases a collection of motorized cycles that amaze even the most classically trained wino. An extra collection on display you’ve probably never seen before is a series of old fashioned pedal cars. You really have to see it to be brought back to a time in your life when this was your primary mode of transportation.


Carmel Valley Village

When most people visit Carmel, they go to the charming coastal town called Carmel-by-the-Sea. Years ago, it became all the rage for golf enthusiasts and their shopping travel companions (arm candy). Visitors from San Francisco or the Bay Area comb the streets of this village as if they don’t have enough shopping and restaurants at home. When wine tasting rooms began opening, it turned this quaint town into a wine destination. City slickers may find walking the narrow and sometimes cobblestone streets fun and charming but the locals cling to their old school ideas that homes and stores don’t need addresses.

If that’s a bit too extreme old school for you, head 10 miles east to Carmel Valley Village where it is 20 degrees warmer and you can actually see vineyards. A country vibe awaits and buildings have modern conveniences like street numbers. Mail actually gets delivered! People are friendly and welcoming, unfrazzled by traffic and over congested streets. Parking is plentiful. Shopping and restaurants are all within walking distance of over 20 wine tasting rooms.


Common Ground

You know that fun feeling you get from wine? Of course you do! That’s why you drink it. An even better feeling is the one you get from buying wines with a good cause. A wine with a special purpose can make you buy it even if you don’t like the taste. Lots of wines taut their proceeds go to charity and buyers reach for their credit cards before they even decide if the wine is unrepugnant.

The Common Ground wine from MUST Charities delivers both on its charitable cause and quality in flavor. Its big berry, dark cherry, and plum hit you up front but it’s the many layers of cocoa, eucalyptus, and smoke that unfold later, giving it its big body and longevity. If you are in the central coast of California, check out an Albertson’s grocery store and pay less than 20 bucks for a bottle of this virtuous wine.


Wine Ingredients

Remember years ago when all food products were required to list their ingredients? Now, some even contain a handy list of allergens if you are too lazy to read through the tiny yet lengthy list of ingredients you cannot even pronounce. This is helpful if you need to quickly figure out if ingesting it will make you sick or stop breathing. It is also helpful to those with unique diets to read “vegetarian” or “vegan.”

Why are wines exempt from such labeling? If you think the list of ingredients in the wine you drink stops at grapes and sunshine, wake up and smell the sulfur. Sure, grapes naturally have all the ingredients to turn grape juice into wine. The grape skins provide the yeast to turn the sugar in their pulp and juice into alcohol. But very few winemakers these days are keeping it that simple.

Daring wineries like Bonny Doon and Ridge Vineyards have chosen to put ingredients on their labels. They even go so far as to explain a few of the simple additives like water, egg whites, and tartaric acid on their websites. Whether their labels include chemicals used on their grapes is unknown. But the list of allowed additives is shocking not to mention the pesticides used in most vineyards.  If you prefer to live in a world where most vineyards don’t use RoundUp, you should probably also avoid googling the gastrointestinal side effects of that pesticide. Pests are lookin’ much better, aren’t they?!

Winemakers who don’t use pesticides or additives are more than happy to talk about their noble practices. They may say they make “natural wines” but be sure to press further to find out what that means to them because some are more extreme than others. If all this makes you wonder why more winemakers don’t make natural wines, you should know that these practices produce fewer grapes and most wineries would rather sell you more wine of questionable quality. It’s not a new story. Wine is like any other manufactured product that suffers quality and flaws in the system. So, if you want to be the change, just stop buying manufactured wine.


LXV

The newest tasting room in downtown Paso Robles is the kind of place where most patrons are greeted with a hug. LXV Wine is located one block from the square on a street with unique boutiques, restaurants, and antique stores. But what’s really unique is their wine pairings.

Even if you enjoy wine and food pairings, you’ve no doubt brought a wine home that tasted differently than it did during the tasting. While most wineries pair wines with cheese or food that can alter the way the wine tastes, LXV Wine pairs with herbs and spices that unlock the wine’s additional layers without changing its core flavor and balance. Here is where you can really explore the wine at a different level.

Their rose of Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chenin Blanc starts with crisp strawberries and bright red cherries. Then, a tiny bud of lavender mellows the acidity just enough to feel this wine’s creamy texture along with its bright red fruit. Next, a Viognier is one of the most balanced in the state and many wine experts agree if you read their awards. It begins with tropical fruit, the lightest hint of this grape’s hallmark floral fragrance, and even a whiff of orange blossom. But a nibble of pepper balances the tropical flavor allowing the thick rich creme brulee and banana to emerge.

The first sip of their Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo blend is full of cherry, berry, and plum thanks to Grenache and Syrah. Yet, a morsel of Garam Masala’s cinnamon and clove unleashes the Tempranillo’s smoke quality and soft supple leather textures. But their big bold Sangiovese Petite Sirah blend ends the lineup with a bang. While Sangiovese is not known for its boldness, the Petite Sirah emboldens it, bringing just enough blueberry to match wits with Sangiovese’s red fruit after a delightful pumpkin spice pairing. Regardless of your fondness for any of these flavors, give your senses a boost and allow them to discover more of what a wine has to offer by visiting LXV. Try to make it on “Naan Nite” when they pair with Indian bread and dips.


Ambyth

Lots of wineries these days are organic and even biodynamic. Some go above and beyond these practices and make natural wines, using fewer additives or chemicals. Yet, even fewer go as far as Ambyth Estate who does not even use herbicides. They use these clay tanks to extract as much true grape flavor as possible.

Their wines have lively bright acidity with crisp lip smacking grape flavor you haven’t tasted in a while. They make them the old fashioned way so be prepared to taste something akin to old world wines. For example, their Marsanne has wonderful layers of melon, thick lemon meringue, and an elegant body with luscious crispness. Their reds are aged in neutral oak barrels to keep their crisp acidity and grape typicity on the forefront. Bring your vegetarian and vegan friends to this tasting room for a true lesson on natural wines.


Chateau Lettau

For those of you who love Albarino or those who are just understandably tired of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as your white wine options, check out Chateau Lettau in Paso Robles. Adjacent to the downtown square, they’re serving an Albarino with that lively tart crisp acidity, a hint of butter, and the richness and thickness of lemon meringue. It is an absolute smash movie popcorn wine.

Viognier lovers will surely enjoy their Chardonnay for its floral fragrance.  It may be its time in French oak that gives it this character but it is definitely a French style Chardonnay. Their Zinfandel is also uncharacteristic for this varietal. It may have a little of that hallmark jammy flavor just from berries but its balanced with anise and pepper. This is a smooth light zin.

Whenever you plan to visit their tasting room, make sure it’s a Friday night when they really get the room rockin with live music. They’re also open late, which means you can show up after your workday and end the work week properly.


15C

A sure sign that a town is quickly becoming a wine destination is the opening of a wine bar that quickly gets packed with people every night. 15C is proof Templeton is on the move. The town right next door to Paso Robles already has one or two tasting rooms downtown within walking distance of salons, restaurants, and shopping. Now, they also have a fab wine bar where you can get a taste of a few different wines, selected by someone more savvy in the juice than yourself, for the price of a glass. This is always best if you cannot decide what glass to order or if you want to surprise your palate with a variety from a region or showcase a varietal or type of wine. It is also the choice if you simply believe in variety.

15C has a wide following on any given weekday after 5PM, the local choice for happy hour or a great escape for those god-what-a-day kinda days. Outside and roadside patio dining and pounding make it the cure for any type of day.
I tasted a white flight of wines that included a bonus rose. That’s about a 2 ounce pour of 3 white wines and a pink wine for only 8 bucks! So, really, it’s cheaper than a glass of wine and a great way to meet the locals. Free wifi and a fab Chrome from Ranchero Cellars will keep us coming back.


Temple Ton

Ever wonder why life keeps taking you to certain places? Me either. Instead, it’s probably best to get a little zen, thank your lucky stars that life is such an adventure, and just enjoy where the road takes ya. This month, its a cat sitting gig in Templeton for free rent. What can I say. Wine blogging doesn’t pay! Luckily, he’s a wonderfully fuzzy cool cat. So, I’m enjoying this town all over again!

Templeton is such a quaint town with a ton going for it and tremendous potential. Even though it is located between two larger towns, Trader Joe’s chose Templeton as a location over its neighbors to the north and south: Paso Robles and Atascadero. It also has quite a few great salons, restaurants, and shopping all in a strollable downtown area. Its short distance from Paso Robles makes it more than just an overflow location. It could become a wine destination all its own for those who prefer cooler breezes and less traffic. A newly opened wine bar is now thriving on Main street beckoning others to follow. More on that after I test it.