Restaurants & Bars 3

Paso Robles weekend--winery tour report (long)

Al@Fairfax | Feb 22, 200501:04 PM

The suggestions of eight Hounds who gave us Paso advice provided a list too long for us to try them all on this one day of tasting. At least without ending up dazed and confused at the side of a creek. So we picked and chose and hit a few places that for us were very high notes.

We started at Turley. We have enjoyed their zins so much that the tasting fee did not put us off, and besides the glasses are Riedel! The first taste of zin was really good. The second taste, even better. By the last zin we tasted, we had reached zinfandel heaven. These wines are so well-crafted and such excellent expositions of the possibilities of this grape, that it is a pleasure just to experience what these experts can do.

A pourer at Turley suggested a winery I did not know, L'Aventure, and this was a surprise treat. It is at the end of a dirt road and through a gate down another dirt road. We wondered what we were getting into. Would AAA haul our poor Accord out of a mudhole in some remote SLO county gulch? But as we emerged from the trees we found a tasting room full of happy wine seekers who had managed to get there before us. Stephan Asseo, the winemaker, left a successful career in France in order to be able to blend grapes in ways not allowed by the strict wine laws there. Hence, the name L'Aventure. He is a great talent. We like French style wines, usually. Not big fruit bombs, not heavily oaky, but what is sometimes described as austere that I think of as more clear and crisp. His Rhone style blends were definitely that way and would be brilliant with food. However, the 100% cabernet, I was surprised to find, was hugely fruity, very Californian, but with a wonderful depth and elegance that I am still savoring. We also liked very much his zinfandel--very different from the luscious Turley wines, more of what some would call a claret style. But fine. Too bad he will phase it out as it is not a French grape which he would feel more comfortable with.

We ended our tasting at Tablas Creek which was the winery which brought us here to begin with. It was our only white wine tasting of the day, and what a treat to have that fine Roussane and their blend. The reds, which we knew and liked from prior experience, were nice to taste in their home. Again, not overly fruity, with the fruit and the acids nicely balanced and with subtle layers of taste as the juice flowed across the palate. These people are masters.

Between these tastings, we stopped at Justin. As we had been warned, we needed reservations for lunch but had not made them since we did not know when we would get there. It was packed and hard to find parking. The tasting room was full. The tables were full. And it was about to rain. We bought some terrific cheeses and a split of Justin's very nice basic cab, retreated to the car and had fruit and cheese and wine for lunch and watched magpies and western bluebirds in the vines. We did not taste at Justin, and in fact were a bit put off by the heavily commercialized visitor center after the more simple and winemaking-centered places we had visited.

Those hills and valleys, vineyards and oak studded hills were so beautiful and so peaceful and were uncrowded compared to Sonoma wine country just north of where we live. Napa, of course, now beats Yosemite in annual visitors and the limos and buses and vans make it almost impossible to get around that little valley. We saw one tour van on our entire day's driving around the spectacular hills west of Paso. Perhaps locals and those who enjoy visiting the region should take advantage of it. I suspect that the Justin model, decent wines plus lots of other ways to spend money, will be the way of the future here. It is just too lovely, the wines are just so fine, and the area is a half day from either LA or the Bay Area. That is a lot of potential visitors.

This is not entirley a gloomy forecast. We used to enjoy Healdsburg, in Sonoma's Dry Creek region, when it was little more than a rural center. There were few dining choices. Now the town square, a space not unlike Paso Robles'. has pricey New York based restaurants, hotels you can't afford, clothing boutiques, and many wonderful restaurants. It is a tradeoff. Lose the peaceful small town and uncrowded country roads, but get Willi's Wine Bar and Seafood or Lindsay Shere's bakery and flocks of tourists, as happened to Healdsburg. So just enjoy Paso as it is now, take pictures, treasure memories. Napa-ization may be around the corner. Fine in its way, but not the Paso you know.

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