Paso Robles wineries: A little wine tasting
Paso Robles wines with verve
It has been a long time since my last post. Strangely, it wasn’t languor or laziness that kept me from my blog: It is the process and the content that I have chosen to create.
Perhaps I should call my blog a blogazine, because magazine is what I think when I research and write. It takes time.
At the end of last month, I went to Paso Robles for the weekend. I interviewed primarily small wineries, some even smaller than the ones I featured in my pieces on Santa Barbara. They are or have been members of the Garagistes, a group of small wineries – 1,500 cases or fewer – that bring passion, intensity, and creativity to winemaking. Having lived for several decades in the Bay Area, I am partial to garagistes, a derogatory term, in Bordeaux at least, for those who practice their craft in a garage. Silicon Valley, after all, has had its own famous garagistes. Think Steve Jobs of Apple Inc.
In the world of drink, I spoke to Stewart McLennan, chief garagiste and founder of the wine festival where winemakers can create a splash. The Garagiste festival is held in Solvang and Paso Robles every year. This year it will be held on the weekend of April 1st in Solvang; in November it will be Paso Robles’s turn to host. McLennan is the owner of Golden Triangle Wines and joint owner of Lefondusac.
There were others. The wonderful owners of Four Lanterns Winery, Diablo Paso, Giornata Wines, and Écluse Wines, the only one without Garagiste in its history. After I enjoyed a delicious glass of grenache blanc at a Paso Robles restaurant, I spoke to the winemaker, Amy Jean Butler, the owner of Ranchero Cellars when I returned from my trip. It was my first time tasting grenache blanc.
I record the interviews and slowly and painstakingly (not least because of severe tendinitis!) transcribe them. It is a remarkable process, as it allows me to hear the voices of my interviewees like I can’t when I’m actually talking to them. Here I am in the silence of my office, focused only on their voices. The nuances come through. I hear not just their words, but them.
I have, of course, done all of this work, but life happens. I took the WSET 2, the second level of the wine and spirits certification course after my Paso Trip. Studying for it was fun; remembering the details was challenging. And my other journalistic work continues, some with deadlines.
A taste of the good stuff
On my return from Paso, I drank two wines I had bought there. I had never before tasted a vermentino and opened my bottle of the 2014 Lefondusac vermentino with a friend, who had come over for lunch. Our meal was simple. I liked the wine very much. Wonderfully floral in its aroma, its lemon peel on the back palate gave depth to our bland turkey sandwich.
As this blog is my attempt to learn about wine, I have to confess that though it appealed to me, the bitterness of the wine surprised me. This was my first experience of this flavor in a wine. I looked up the varietal and saw that that is a characteristic flavor. What a relief! But I wonder at the emotion. I tasted it, really liked it, and that’s all that should have mattered. It didn’t. I think many of us novices hear the voices of professional critics out in the ether or on the pages of glossy magazines somewhere, telling us that we are not fit to drink what man and nature provide so generously.
After I had taken the WSET, I had the Giornata 2013 sangiovese with my homemade Indian-style garbanzo beans. Typically, I serve a riesling or sauvignon blanc (because they taste good) with Indian food, but now that I knew that high acidity wines complement high acid foods, I poured with confidence. I’ve almost never had red wine with Indian food and was pleasantly surprised at the pairing. Newly armed with my knowledge of how to tell tannins, I declared to my husband that this one was medium in its grippingness. A wonderfully floral aroma and blueberry and red fruit on the palate was about as far as I came.
Both wines, actually all three, including the grenache blanc from Ranchero Cellars I had in Paso Robles but haven’t tried at home, were very good. I had felt the same way about the Santa Barbara wines –smaller wineries offer a taste that is different from that of their larger counterparts. What it is, I don’t know. What I do know is that I go back for more.
In the next several weeks, I will write about the amazing folks I interviewed on my trip and will continue to taste the wines I acquired. Stay tuned.