Wine country. Everyone knows about Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara of course, but Paso Robles has really broken out into becoming well known for wine. Already in town for the Eddie Vedder show in Santa Barbara, we drove up highway 101 to Paso Robles for a day of wine tasting, and a night of relaxation. After checking into La Bella Sera Hotel and Suites (more on that later) we waited outside for our wine tour to pick us up. The Wine Wrangler pulled up, and Zabrina aka "Z" came out and introduced herself as the guide for the day. http://www.thewinewrangler.com/ Super cool girl who had a tour all mapped out for us - wineries that are off the beaten path. Our first stop was Wild Horse - I have had their wines prior and see them in the stores all the time, so I was excited to try their Private Reserve. 5 complimentary tastings were offered starting from light and working your way down to dark. http://www.wildhorsewinery.com/ We started with a '10 Viognier, which was light, crisp and had notes of honeysuckle and citrus. Next, a '09 Chardonnay with citrus and caramel notes - nice buttery finish. Needless to say we asked right away about shipping! Moving to the reds, a '08 Unbridled Reserve Pinot Noir, '08 Unbridled Reserve Zinfandel and finally a Syrah. The final taste, their "Blaufrankish" is their most popular. All were smooth and flavorful - we ordered a few bottles to be shipped. The hosptality was great and good atmosphere. Perfect way to start off the tour!
Up next: Hidden Oak Winery http://www.hiddenoakwinery.com/ Located off the beaten path, this up and comer is perched on top of a hill with fabulous views of miles and miles of vines. Inside the simple tasting room we were hooked up with 5 tastes: '09 Viognier, '07 Cabernet Sauvignon, '09 Zinfandel, 'Petite Syrah. My favorite was the Cab- full bodied peppery and smooth along with the Petite Syrah which has a hint of vanilla. Nice hospitality and location.
Considering we'd tasted 11 wines already we were in need of some lunch. Stopping on Pomar Juntion's grounds and purchasing a glass of Chardonanny for lunch, we sat outside and enjoyed delicious sandwiches, the view and wine before heading into the tasting room. Pomar was our favorite stop. Enjoyed the '09 Espiritu Chardonnay, '09 Viognier, '09 Pinot Noir and an "09 Syrah. My top picks here were the Chardonnay and Viognier; in which we brought back a bottle of the Chard to enjoy at the hotel. Loved the grounds here - it would be perfect for a wedding! http://www.pomarjunction.com/
Veris Cellers is known more for their sparkling wines and port. Our tour mates bought a bar of dark chocolate to enjoy with these wines and YUM. 60% cocoa goes quite nicely with the sparkling raspbery, peach and almond wines. We did also taste an '05 JanKris Picaro, which is 50% Zin, 25% Merlot and 25% Cab. To me it tasted like raisins instead of a smooth red. Overall, the hospitality was very friendly, beautful grounds, and one of the sweetest house cats resides and hangs out. http://www.veriscellars.com/
The final stop on our trip for the day was Rotta. We were there for over an hour tasting, yes, twelve wines. Twelve. This brings our final count for the day up to 32 wines. Starting with a '09 Chardonnay, 10 wines in between, and ended with a '07 Port. At which point, my tour mate was able to bring out her chocolate. There is also a dessert wine that is dubbed "Sex in a glass" by Gale, whom was our hostess; the wine tastes exactly like creme brulee. Too sweet for me! http://www.rottawinery.com/
Tips for wine tasting:
1. You don't have to finish your 1 oz. pour.
2. Use the spitoons to pour out your taste.
3. Do not use water to clean out your glass - that's a big no-no while tasting.
4. Drink a ton of water in between stops.
5. Eat breakfast and lunch; good bases in your tummy.
6. Ask about shipping policies and if they ship to your state.
7. Take a tour. Do not drive!
On to our hotel for the night, La Bella Sera. http://www.labellasera.com/index.php This place is gorgeous! Not only is it tastefully decorated, cozy and offers free wine tasting at 5:30, the rooms are spacious, clean, comfortable and our room had a large wet bar, and sunken in jacuzzi tub. Perfect. We had reservations for the night for dinner at the restaurant downstairs, Enoteca. Starting with an heirloom tomato salad with blue chees crubmles and mustard vinaigrette and the clam chowder for my husband we moved on to the crispy sausage and cheese ravioli with a chipotle ranch and also green chile sauce for dipping. We were of to a fabulous start of flavors! Entrees consisted of the Porter House pork hop with au gratin potatoes and asparagus and I really enjoyed the coconut crusted halibut with curry/cumin jasmine rice with shitake mushrooms, peppers and onions. Are you hungry yet?! This meal was seriously delicious and the service was also up to par. Hotel restaurants sometimes get a bad wrap, because it's in a hotel. But this one definitely ranks up there as a favorite and one of the best. After dinner we took a cab into downtown Paso for a drink and stopped into Vinotecca. Sitting at the cozy bar, we sampled a wine flight and a glass og chilled white Sangria. The only thing that was a surprise to us was that there was a cover charge for the live band - that ended up on our bill and not disclosed to us when we sat down. $3.00 isn't a big deal at all, but a heads up is always nice. Vinotecca has a nice atmosphere; a bit of a cougar hangout - definitely an adult hangout.
Overall, our trip to Paso Robles was a huge success. Perfect day of wine tasting, dinner, restful sleep in the plush soft bed at La Bella Sera, and a delicious breakfast downstairs at Enoteca to send us back to Santa Barbara. I'd highly recommend the wine tour - the tour itself is $125/person and well worth it for free tastings. Unpretentious and friendly, Paso Robles is must.