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Saturday, 06 February 2016 22:53

February 5, 2016 Wine Pick of the Week

Ecluse Rendition Picmonkey

2013 Rendition


Écluse Wines & Lock Vineyard

Paso Robles

Alcohol: 15.2%

Suggested Retail: $38


“Rendition, the identity Écluse gave to the wine we’ve chosen as this week’s ‘Pick,’ is what’s called a ‘proprietary name.’ The custom in America is to label wines by the name of the predominant grape used. Under current law, this means 75% or more of such variety. But what if a winery makes a wine that contains less than that percentage of an easily-identifiable grape variety? A wine that is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon—but less than the magical 75% standard—would have to be called ‘Meritage’ or something as prosaic as just a 'red wine' if not given one of these proprietary names.

Saturday, 16 January 2016 16:36

January 15, 2016 Beer Pick of the Week

Firestone Pivo Pils Picmonkey

Pivo Hoppy Pils


Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Paso Robles, CA

Style: Dry-hopped Pilsner

Alcohol: 5.3%

IBU’s: 40

Serving Style: Six-packs of cans or bottles, kegs (our sample from draft)

Availability: Widely distributed on the West Coast


Appearance:   “Brilliant straw or light golden color. Big, frothy white head.”

Aroma:   “For a pilsner it’s quite floral and hoppy on the nose, but in a really good way. There’s also some citrus when you waft the glass by your face a second time.”

Taste:   “There’s a wonderful balance here. You still get a generous amount of hops, but it’s offset by the malt. The good carbonation gives your mouth an almost sparkley feeling. Finishes crisp and clean.”

Food Affinity:   “Sautéed sand dabs with freshly made coleslaw. Simple schnitzel served with lemon wedges. Salted Marcona almonds with rosemary.”

    --Guest reviewer Ginny Austin is a restaurant consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area

Friday, 27 November 2015 15:56

November 27, 2015 Beer Pick of the Week

Firestone Walker Union Jack Picmonkey

Union Jack


Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Paso Robles and Buellton, California

Style: West Coast IPA

Alcohol: 7.5%

IBUs: 70

Serving Style: 12-ounce cans, 12 and 22-ounce bottles, kegs (our sample from draft)

Availability: Year-round in much of the U.S.


Appearance:   “Light amber or dark golden in color. Creamy head that dissipated quickly.”

Aroma:   “Pronounced citrus nose. Mostly grapefuity, but there seems to be some tangerine or orange notes and a bit of spice, too.”

Taste:   “Strongly-hopped, but great balance here. The malt is very welcome. Seems to be reminiscent of British IPAs, though I know it has much more hops. A lot of personality in this beer. Good carbonation, too. One pint invites a second.”

Food Affinity:   “Given the flag reference, I’d think a Scotch egg with some Colman’s mustard would be nice right now, as would some really good fish and chips done in a light, clean batter.”

  --Guest reviewer Stanley Morrison is an English ex-pat who does kitchen remodels in California.

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 17:23

Navigating a Wine Wall

winewall Picmonkeyphoto courtesy of Peachey Canyon Winery

By Robert Henson, winemaker at Peachey Canyon Winery

August 5, 2015 - If you’re not lucky enough to be a winemaker (ahem) you probably get most of your wine from the wine sections of grocery and specialty stores. Unlike winery tasting rooms, however, stores have giant walls of wine and no friendly tasting room associates to help you navigate their depths. Plus, you’re probably in a hurry. So with that in mind, here’s some insider information about how to get the most out of that wall of wine.

Don’t limit yourself to wines at eye level

You know how it’s well-known that grocery stores put all the sugary, “kid friendly” cereals at equally “kid friendly” heights on the shelf? It should not surprise you that they do the same with just about every other kind of merchandise. What the store is trying to move is what’s going on its eye-level shelves, and while there’s nothing wrong with those wines, it’s definitely worth your time to explore the many bottles on the top and bottom rows.

Take advantage of endcaps and sales

There’s nothing wrong with a wine on sale, especially in a retail environment. I’ve had people ask me if there’s “something wrong” with wine that’s on sale… and the answer, thankfully, is no! Unlike wineries, stores can sometimes use wine as what’s called a “loss leader,” meaning they can sell wine for a loss in order to entice customers to buy. If wineries did that we’d be out of business fast, but big companies like Costco, Beverages and More, and Trader Joe’s can make up their profits outside the wine aisle.

Don’t judge a wine (only) by its label

This goes both ways: wines with old school labels showing a chateau might be great, and so might be wines with a super modern label (what the wine industry keeps referring to as ‘millennial’). A winery that chooses to invest a lot in its label isn’t necessarily ignoring its wine, they’re just also focused on enticing their customers with some great art. And a winery that hasn’t changed their label since circa 1983 might just be too busy making wine to do so… it’s hard to tell until you try the juice.

Listen to what a wine label does tell you

While the styles of wine labels vary widely, the regulatory government bodies that oversee wine production in the U.S. require a lot of things to be included on the label, and many of them are useful to consumers. Many wineries also include descriptions on their bottles to help consumers choose wines that they like. Look for varietals and blends similar to what you know you like, and try exploring regions too. Wine labels often show the wine’s AVA — like ‘Paso Robles’ — take advantage of that to try more wine from a favored region.

Rely on scores that reflect your tastes, but don’t only rely on scores

Wine scores are popular with shoppers because they’re easy. What’s easier than choosing a 93 point wine next to a wine without a score listed? Of course as a winemaker, it’s always an honor to get a good score — it means someone likes the wine, never a bad thing! The thing is, however, scoring wine is actually a complicated subject, and scores are only worth something to you if you take the “scorer” into account. Let me put it this way: do your tastes align with Robert Parker’s, or do your tastebuds have more in common with Matt Kettmann (of Wine Enthusiast)? Because they don’t have the same preferences all the time, and you probably don’t either. If you’re going to use scores when finding wines, make sure you agree with the person assigning the scores. Not to mention that not all wines are sent out for scoring — plenty of great, small lot wines aren’t sent to very many publications, so of course they get less press. It doesn’t mean the wine’s not good.

Use technology

We live in an era connected by the internet and most wineries are now using websites and/or social media. Our [Peachy Canyon’s] wine labels include a link to our website, and I know that is not unique to us. Many wineries include links, QR codes, and social media indicators on their bottles now specifically to help connect to consumers. If you’re in a store and you have a question about a wine, often the winery’s website can help… and it’s conveniently right there on your phone. Some wineries, like mine, even try to answer questions on Twitter in real time. You won’t always get someone immediately, but it’s easy and worth a try.

One of your greatest resources as a wine drinker are the wineries. Most wineries — especially here in Paso Robles — want to connect with you and give you all the information you need to find what you like. Whether on Facebook or face-to-face, we want to interact with the people interested in our wines.

Editor’s note: We think Robert Henson’s article is full of good advice. If you’re thinking of visiting wineries in his part of the world (Paso Robles), we suggest you check the Central Coast listings in Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of Wineries, Lodging and Dining options, and even Craft Beer purveyors.

Gary Eberle photo Picmonkey

TASTE News Service March 5, 2015 – The California State Fair has announced that Gary Eberle,  founder of Eberle Winery, is being honored with the 2015 Wine Lifetime Achievement Award. Each year the California State Fair Winery Advisory Task Force puts forth recommendations and selects an honoree through an open meeting process. Gary Eberle joins the ranks of industry legends Robert Mondavi, Jerry Lohr, Mike Grgich, and Dr. Richard Peterson in receiving this prestigious honor.

“I’m honored to receive this recognition. I pursued wine enology because it fascinated me – the vineyard aspect of growing grapes and the technical art of making age-worthy wines. It’s taken me on a journey that I’m still enjoying today,” said Eberle.

Gary Eberle, who has worked for 42 years building the acclaim of the Paso Robles region through his brand, is affectionately known as the “Godfather” of the Paso Robles wine industry. He is the chief promoter for the winery and works with customers, distributors and restaurateurs to tout the virtues of the Paso Robles American Viticulture Area (AVA), which he help co-found in 1983.

Gary began his academic studies at Penn State College where he played football and earned a Bachelor’s of Science in biology. He then attended Louisiana State University before heading west to California. Gary received a degree in enology from U.C. Davis in 1971. “I chose Paso Robles based on Dr. Olmo’s recommendation that Paso Robles was the place to grow world-class Cabernet Sauvignon,” said Eberle, “And I think we’ve achieved that.”

Once in Paso Robles, the former Nittany Lion launched his career as partner and winemaker with Estrella River Winery & Vineyards. In the late 70s, he decided to pursue his own project and acquired nearly 64 acres just down the road from Estrella River Winery. Shortly thereafter, Gary released his first Eberle wine, the 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon and opened the winery and tasting room in 1983.

His contributions to the California wine trade are significant. Eberle Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine to place the Paso Robles AVA designation on its label. Gary Eberle was also the first to plant Syrah on the Central Coast and make a 100 percent Syrah varietal wine in the United States. These milestones have proven to be important, as both Syrah and Paso Robles have become significant forces in California’s wine industry.

The State Fair awards, which also include Winery of the Year, Vineyard of the Year and Agriculturalist of the Year, will be formally awarded at the State Fair Gala on June 25 at Cal Expo in Sacramento. The California State Fair takes place July 10 – 26, 2015 in Sacramento.


Editor’s note: If you’re planning to visit Eberle of any of the wineries in the Paso Robles AVA, first check out the Central Coast listings in Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to websites of all the Wineries, as well as links to hundreds of nearby Lodging and Dining options.

Saturday, 28 February 2015 12:51

February 27, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

sofia red bottle shot Picmonkey

2013 Sofia Red

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

 Paso Robles

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $17


Named for the daughter of the famous filmmaker and winery owner, Sofia Red is put up in an unusual, and undeniably beautiful, bottle. This is the debut vintage for the red wine, though there have been earlier releases of two sparkling wines, one of them non-alcoholic, a rosé, a Riesling and a Chardonnay. 

Sofia Red’s composition is the trendy ‘GSM’ blend of Grenache (62%), Syrah (37%) and Mouvèdre (1%). These are grape varieties native to the Rhône Valley of France, though they are popular in California and Washington these days. While the Coppola winery is situated in Northern California’s Sonoma County, the fruit for this wine was grown in the warm climes of Paso Robles on the Central Coast.

Our reviewer was intrigued by this wine, but he wasn’t expecting to like it, assuming it was targeting an audience of women who drink aromatic and slightly sweet wines as their preferred cocktail. It’s likely that he guessed the audience the winery had in mind, but says he may have dismissed the wine way too early.

“Sofia Red exhibits some aromas of cherries and raspberries and gives the consumer layered berry flavors backed by a bit of spice. Tastes were light and lilting and, perhaps surprisingly, showed a hint of complexity. Finishes with a long, cherry-like conclusion that was too sweet for Taste California Travel, but probably hits right in the middle of that ‘sweet spot’ sought by the makers.”

Food Affinity: “A likely winner with Sunday brunch—French toast with cinnamon, syrup and sausage? For evening fare, baby back (pork) ribs or salmon bisque might be interesting.”

paso TTBsubavas 100914B Picmonkey

TASTE News Service October 10, 2014 - The United States Department of the Treasury has approved the establishment of 11 new viticultural areas (AVAs) within the greater Paso Robles AVA. The announcement concludes a seven-year process by a group of Paso Robles vintners and winegrape growers who created a unified approach to develop a comprehensive master plan for the greater Paso Robles American Viticultural Area .

These new AVAs are based on meso-climactic, geological, and historical information which highlight each individual district to be unique as a winegrape growing area. The 11 AVAs are as follows: Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch, and the Templeton Gap District.

“These new AVAs will be a powerful tool for wineries to explain why certain grapes are particularly well suited to certain parts of the appellation, and why some wines show the characteristics they do while other wines, from the same or similar grapes, show differently,” said Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard. “Ultimately, the new AVAs will allow these newly created sub-regions to develop identities for themselves with a clarity impossible in a single large AVA.”

Jason and Robert Haas of Tablas Creek PicmonkeyJason and Robert Haas AVA labeling provides information to consumers and trade about what is in the bottle, helping them make a better informed buying decision based on expectations of the region. Thanks to a conjunctive labeling law spearheaded by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance in 2007, the Paso Robles AVA retains top billing on a wine label with the individual districts serving as a way to fine-tune location and potential character of wines. While Paso Robles wineries are not required to use the sub-region on the label, when they do, Paso Robles will be printed with equal or more significance.

"Our AVA is an incredibly diverse region that has taken its rightful place on the world wine stage,” said Steve Lohr, chairman and CEO of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, and former chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “These sub appellations will allow growers and vintners to tell their stories more clearly, which in turn will give consumers and the trade a much greater understanding of Paso’s diversity and complexity. Prior to this, Paso Robles was the largest non-county California AVA not currently subdivided. It is also an area with more diversity of rainfall, soils and climate than almost any other comparably sized region. We have been a great believer in this initiative since the beginning, and are proud that it has been accomplished in a way that will strengthen the Paso Robles brand with conjunctive labeling."

Editor's note: If you're thinking of a visit to this beautiful wine region on California's Central Coast, we suggest you check out Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to Winery  websites, as well as links to websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options. There's even a section of listings for craft Beer purveyors in the region.

Sunday, 24 November 2013 20:08

Il Cortile Debuts Fall Menu in Paso Robles


Il Cortile Carole and Santos MacDonal PicmonkeyCarole and Santos MacDonal of Il Cortile

November 25, 2013 (Paso Robles, CA) - Il Cortile’s Chef Santos MacDonal is highlighting fall flavors with his new menu, including those of white truffles.

The Paso Robles restaurant's new seasonal menu was created to emphasize locally and regionally-sourced ingredients for their homemade pastas, seafood and meats. Gnocchi and risottos are made from scratch daily. These can include Kabocha squash gnocchi (homemade kabocha squash gnocchi on a bead of parmesan fonduta with a brown butter sage sauce), Fettuccine di coniglio (fettuccine with slow roasted rabbit in a white wine herb sauce), Cervo e cotogna (pan-seared venison medallions with a red wine sauce and quince) and Vitello ai funghi porcini (veal chop with porcini mushroom sauce, finished with truffle oil).

White Truffles de Alba PicmonkeyItalian white truffles from Alba Il Cortile is highlighting truffle season with three dishes. Their Carpaccio, made of thinly sliced sirloin, is complemented with truffle cream sauce and shaved black or white truffles over the top; the homemade fettuccine dish is made with a parmesan fonduta, a drizzle of white truffle oil and white or black shaved truffles on top; the risotto also features a parmesan fonduta, a drizzle of white truffle oil and white or black shaved truffles over the top.

" I love the white truffle season because we get the white truffles from Alba in Piedmont, Italy and you can just taste the old world influence,” said Chef MacDonal. “They are fragrant and delicate at the same time. The flavor is so unique. I like to express them in many ways, with a traditional dish like White Truffle Risotto or make them with our homemade Fettuccine. Our carpaccio dish is a different way to use the truffles and makes that dish so rich. It is real comfort food! "

Located in downtown Paso Robles, the restaurant pairs its Italian cuisine with wines from a substantial list including selections from Central Coast wineries, along with Italian, Spanish and South American varietals.

Editor's note: Before starting your trip to the Paso Robles area, or anywhere on California's Central Coast, it's a good idea to visit Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. In it you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to wineries and craft beer emporiums.

Friday, 11 October 2013 01:08

October 11, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week



shark red-sm Picmonkey

2001 Shark Red


Producer: Greg Norman Estates

Appellation: Paso Robles

Alcohol: 13.9%

Suggested Retail: $15


“For readers who haven't followed golf in recent years, we can tell you that Greg Norman has been one of the most prominent exponents of that international game. Reputed to be an extremely successful businessman, his Greg Norman Estates wine operation is a by-product of that success. The company produces wine from his native Australia, as well as Argentina and the United States. The fair-haired Aussie has been dubbed “The Great White Shark” and his PR arm says that he's an ardent diver who has indeed swum among Great Whites.

“Fruit for the 2011 vintage of Shark Red comes from Paso Robles on California's Central Coast. The composition is nearly half Syrah, the grape known as Shiraz in Norman's native Australia (48%), with smaller amounts of Petite Sirah (25%), Mouvèdre (11%), Grenache (9%), Merlot (5%) and Malbec (2%). Paso Robles is a great growing region for these grape varieties, most of which are native to the Rhône in France.

“Shark Red is an agreeable California red wine. The nose is beguiling—there is the aroma of white pepper, dried flower petals and maybe some raspberries. The promise of this olfactory sophistication isn't fully realized in the taste of the wine, but the rest of it isn't bad. There are very decent flavors of blueberry and blackberry fruit, but their application is either minimized—or maximized, depending on your taste--by the relatively sweetish finish. It's actually borderline lush on the palate and is a good bottle of wine at the suggested retail price of $15.”

Food Affinity: “With access to the ingredients ingredients and time to cook, we'd try this with moist, oven-roasted rabbit prepared with onions, morels and a few green olives. A simpler alternative would be the meal we enjoyed after tasting this wine--broiled lean ground sirloin, accompanied by fresh red and golden beets.”

Visitors seeking a unique wine region have flocked to the Paso Robles area for years. With more than 270 wineries to choose from, there’s no shortage of wine experiences in California’s “Rhone Zone.” And now that experience starts the moment guests enter their rooms.

Robert Hall room at Paso Robles InnRobert Hall room at Paso Robles Inn.The Paso Robles Inn has launched a unique wine partnership with local wineries. The concept involves infusing various winery characteristics into the décor, ambience and amenities of each of the deluxe mineral spa rooms – starting with the unique naming on the guest room door.Eighteen deluxe mineral spa rooms at this Central Coast property are dedicated to the winery-branded project, coinciding with the hotel’s major renovation. Winery partners have provided representative touches in art, furniture and accessories to create a different theme for each room. Guests receive complimentary tasting vouchers at the winery sponsoring their room, as well as a glass of the featured wine in the hotel’s Steakhouse Restaurant. The suites feature a variety of decorative items, from a real grape vine in the Ancient Peaks Winery room, to wine barrel chairs in the DAOU room, to murals over the spa tubs and glass lamps filled with corks. Other touches include wine barrel art, sculptures, coat racks and photography from the vineyards.

“There certainly is no lack of creativity demonstrated by our wine partners,” said Noreen Martin-Hulburd, CEO of Martin Resorts which owns and operates the Inn. “This is a really exciting and interactive way for us to help tell the story of Paso Robles, and to celebrate our region’s reputation for wine, travel and hospitality,” said Nina Leschinsky, Direct to Consumer Sales Manager for Ancient Peaks Winery. “Each of the winery themed deluxe rooms has been transformed into a unique experience for guests. We put a lot of thought into decorating our room, so that it is tasteful, educational and entertaining.”

Robert Hall, owner of Robert Hall Winery, says “The Martin Family has always been such a strong supporter of local wineries. We are proud to be part of the Paso Robles Inn’s wine branded deluxe suites and decorating the room for guests with Robert Hall Winery images and furniture made from barrel staves was a very fun project.”

who’s who of area wineries represented in the rooms

Those familiar with Central Coast wineries will know most of the participants. Ancient Peaks Winery, Broken Earth Winery, Castoro Cellars, DAOU Vineyards, Donati Family Estate Winery, Eberle Winery, Hope Family Wines, J. Lohr Winery & Vineyards, Le Vigne Winery, Peachy Canyon, Rio Seco Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Sextant Wines, Tables Creek Vineyards, Tobin James Cellars and Vina Robles are among the winery partners. (Paso Robles Inn’s dog-friendly rooms were chosen by Eberle Winery and Rio Seco Winery.) Because Paso Robles has a growing craft beer movement, the Inn also selected a brewing partner for the concept; Firestone Walker Brewing Company.

wine tradition in Paso Robles

Commercial winemaking can be traced to the 1870s when Indiana farmer transplant Andrew York planted vineyards on his homestead. In the 1920s and 30s several families immigrated to the area to establish family vineyards and wineries.

The Paso Robles region and the establishment known today as the Paso Robles Inn, gained more notoriety when Ignace Paderewski, the famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, visited Paso Robles Hot Springs. He sought the healing mineral waters which brought relief to his ailing hands, fell in love with the area, purchased 2,000 acres, and planted Petite Syrah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio vineyard.

In the past decade, the number of wineries in this American Viticultural Area (AVA) has swelled from 50 to more than 270 bonded wineries, ranging from nationally distributed, to mid-size and boutique. The area’s Zinfandel grape historically gave the area its start as a wine grape producing region and is celebrated annually with its own festival in March. Today the region is touted as California’s “Rhone Zone” for its production of Syrah as well as Viognier and Roussane, though Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelaise varietals remain king, comprising 50% of the region’s total acreage.

Editor's note: A link to the website of the Paso Robles Inn, as well as links to hundreds of Lodging and Dining options are found in the Central Coast section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in that directory are links to area wineries and “beer-centric” establishments in the region.

(Information for this article supplied to TASTE News Service by Travmedia sources.)

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