Every winery has a personality. Even large wineries managed or owned by some corporation can create and market their unique qualities and differentiators. But the wineries that make a huge impact let the winemaker’s personality shine through, making the wine a beautiful reflection of that brilliant character.
A trip to Pisoni Vineyard will wow you. The wow factor here is not only its multi layered and complex wines, which truly express their region’s potential. But the adventurous spirit of Pisoni’s namesake, winemaker, owner, and renaissance man, Gary Pisoni just might change your way of thinking about wine. Pisoni’s unconventional ideas are part of his success. Some are highly confidential yet so entertaining that even he can’t keep them secret. Vineyard practices like picking the leaves off the morning sun side is just the beginning. His theory: all the work you do loves you back when you drink the wine.
Pisoni wines are equally entertaining. The luli Pinot Noir has that unmistakable ripe raspberry and bright cherry that Pinot Noirs love to show off but layers of a eucalyptus log roaring on the fire and toasting nutmeg or chestnuts in the background give this wine complexity. If this sounds romantic, that’s probably because it is; this wine has all the textures you need for a lux meal when you’ve got love on the menu. Maybe luli means “love in a bottle” or “loves you back.”
Any road trip between Santa Barbara and the San Francisco Bay Area deserves a wine break. One of the most picturesque stopping points about half way through your journey is Paraiso Vineyards just north of King City and Paso Robles. Upon stopping, the first thing you notice is a lovely cork tree growing right outside their tasting room.
But what takes your breath away is the view of its hillside and sprawling valley while sipping sumptuous wines. Their Chardonnay has a lively blend of red apple, citrus, and pineapple flavors from partial time in French oak and stainless steel. It’s thickness and hint of banana must be what the French contributes. It would be a lovely pairing for rich salads or saucy lean meats.
Their flight of several Pinot Noirs showcases the versatility of this region. The first Pinot starts with tart currants and raspberry but the second Pinot has more richness with flavors of cherry and berry with a dark musty earthiness and a bit of spice. The third Pinot has more firm rich blueberry and dark black cherry with a balanced and complex body. This is the meaty one who can stand up to a steak or barbecue dinner. Their Zinfandel might surprise you not because of its lively berry profile but because of its subtle earth and spices of clove and sage. It must be its proximity to the coast that ensures the fruit is not overripe and its body has a velvet texture.
Finish the tasting with a dessert wine you certainly won’t see very often. It is a port varietal called Souzao aged into a port styled dessert wine with lots of plum, vanilla, and caramel flavors. An afterglow of cocoa rounds out the berry and plum but what lingers is the smokey vanilla and caramel. This one really rounds out your meal or dessert.
The people at RiverStar Vineyards are not only blending stars. They also create new wine styles that shine. They have invented a delightful new way to end your meal. Making a dessert style wine out of plain and simple table grapes, they’ve found a slightly tart and sweet way to polish off the flavors in any dish with a blanket of white pepper atop a crème brulee body.
But, to start things off, they pour a Sauvignon Blanc with more big pineapple and subtle apple flavors than severe grapefruit. Next, a Moscato changes all the sensations in your mouth with its slight sweetness. Orange blossoms meet your nose while citrus and honeysuckle cross your tongue. Finally a very peppery Viognier finishes the whites probably because of its robust body with all that jazzy spice.
The reds are equally unique, leaving you with a different way of feeling about these varietals. Their Merlot has a brick red hue and a smoothness born of Hungarian oak barrels. It’s slightly creamy texture is evident as its cherry and plum flavors linger. An award winning Syrah represents the halfway point between a cool climate tart wine and a hot climate jolly rancher with plenty of plum, cherry, and apple yet a creamy mocha texture. But their blends are what make this tasting memorable. An Eclipse made from Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel has bright red and dark fruit all at once while smoky spices fill your senses. A Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel blend has the nice acidity you crave from these grapes with the structure you expect from a Bordeaux.
Finally, dessert arrives in the form of a lovely liquid tootsie roll. Hard to imagine yet way too easy to drink. But their Twilight is a chewy deep dark chocolate port style wine made out of a single port grape: Touriga Nacional. Its ripe plum is its only sweetness but sets the cocoa free. If you’re already too sweet for a sweet way to finish, their Syrah port style wine has the lightness of wine because they don’t add brandy. Yet, 18% alcohol may be the perfect finish for your dish or any day.