Guest Post: Diane Ghilardi Shares Paso Robles (Story in photos below this post)
Paso Robles – 12/28/10 – 12/31/10
I can’t begin to explain the peace that comes over me when I visit Paso Robles. My husband, Jim and I frequent Paso several times a year. We stay at The Canyon Villa Bed and Breakfast, an intimate getaway with luxurious Italian architecture and the best gourmet breakfasts we’ve ever experienced. Diane and Jim Babcock are wonderful inn-keepers with impeccable attention to detail. Diane is very knowledgeable about the area and is great at learning her guest’s wine styles, steering them to the wineries she thinks they will enjoy the most.
The Tuesday after Christmas, we headed out to Cambria for the day. We took a nice stroll at Leffingwell Landing on Moonstone Beach. I was amazed to see the tidepools full of sealife. In our quest for a peppery Zin, we returned to Harmony, population 18, about 2 miles South of the W 46 off of Hwy 101. Harmony is a great side trip with beautiful countryside, a glass blower, ceramist and the original post office for Cambria. We had the pepperiest (is that a word?) 2004 Zin a few years ago at Harmony Vineyards. We were told 2007 was even pepperier, but reserved until Zinfest, when they will be pouring verticals. Can’t wait!
On the way west into Paso, we took a jaunt out Vineyard Avenue to Tablas Creek to try their new releases. Their signature red is Esprit de Beaucastel. I am intrigued because Tablas Creek follows the Châteauneuf du Pape tradition of blending Rhone varietals, which produces complex wines that are better balanced and richer than single varietal wines.
Tuesday, dinner was at Artisan, the highest reputed restaurant in Paso Robles. With a view of the kitchen process from the patrons in the dining area, we observed owner/manager Michael Kobayashi wiping and polishing the edges of each and every plate that comes out of his kitchen. Presentation is flawless. I chose the sea bass with lobster risotto, which can only be described as “heaven on a plate.” There were large pieces of lobster in the creamy risotto topped with a golden-seared sea bass. My husband had the Hanger Steak with cheesy, garlicky aligot potatoes, of which I ended up HAVING to finish for him. And yes, we had dessert, a cheese plate for me, and Jim chose Artisan’s hand-crafted ice creams that included chocolate fudge, vanilla creme fraiche and pumpkin cheesecake, all in one dish. The wine list is extensive, with many of the best wines of Paso to choose from. Reservations are a must on any night of the week at Artisan. Two celebrities (whom I shall not name to protect their privacy) happened to be staying at The Canyon Villa while we were there. The gentleman told us that the salmon dish he had at Artisan was better than anything he had ever had in any L.A. restaurant and that “nothing in L.A. can touch Artisan.” He said it may have been the best meal he has ever had. Kudos to Chef Chris Kobayashi!
Wednesday we again headed out to Vineyard Avenue to Denner, one of our favorite wineries. The Comus Club at Denner is a great place for members to sit in front of the fireplace and relax with exceptional wines and conversation. Carol, the General Manager talked with us about their soon-to-be released Mother of Exiles bordeaux blend, which club members were able to taste. Because Ditch Digger and Dirt Worshipper, two of their most popular wines sold out in about 6 days, they are anticipating this will sell out quickly also. It is an incredible red blend, so we have our preorder on file!
In search of a peppery zin, we continued up Vineyard to a newer winery recommended to us called Paolillo. We did buy the 2004 zin, however, it is not nearly as peppery as the Harmony zin.
Another new experience for us was Caparone Winery in San Marcos. Dave Caparone and his son Marc use traditional minimalist techniques to produce very different wines than typical Paso region wines. I amimpressed that in 1988, Caparone Winery established the first American aglianico planting and produced the first American aglianico wine in 1992. Here is more information from their website on Dave’s initial experiences of this unusual varietal: http://caparone.com/clonal.html. In Dave’s spare time he restores classic cars. Because we were with mutual friends, he showed us his latest projects, two ’37 Lincoln Zephyrs, one of which will be in the upcoming movie, The Green Hornet. Beautiful cars.
Of course we stopped by to see our friends, Pam and Steve Lock at Ecluse Winery, tasting all their new releases, plus some amazing barrel samples. Steve shared the ’09 cab in a barrel and the ’09 syrah aging in two different barrels. I preferred the syrah in new oak, which will be aged for 30 months, and has only been in the barrel for 13 months. I told Steve he could bottle that for me now, it was so wonderful! Ecluse has won Double Gold Best of Class with his blends, up against $150 Napa wines and consistently makes wonderful reds. I don’t think there has been an Ecluse we haven’t liked over the years.
A favorite restaurant of locals that we had to revisit this trip is Thomas Hill Organics. They serve organic produce from their farm and the menu changes weekly, depending on the season. With a wonderful open-air patio and pizza oven, it is always a pleasant experience with a wonderful meal at THO. On Wednesdays they have a wine pairing with a different local winery. This night happened to be Venteux. I have refrained from red meat for the past 6 months or so, but had to experience the wonderful duck tacos and beef tenderloin with root vegetable puree. OH MY GOSH! Wonderful!
Thank goodness for Saxum’s recent accolades of their Robert Parker 100 point James Berry Vineyard blend and Best Wine of the Year in Wine Spectator, which is raising awareness that Paso is producing wonderful wines, With over 250 wineries now, we love learning the passion and art of winemaking from the many winemakers who are hands-on in their tasting rooms. It is the personal and friendly level, as well as the fabulous dining experiences that keeps us coming back to our “happy place.” Zinfest in can’t come soon enough!