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Vol. 8 No.3. March '00

Central Coast

Vineyards & Wineries Visited -

Journal and tasting notes from a visit to several Central Coast wineries.

Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included following the winery write-up. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken.

Mon, Mar 20, 2000

After attending the Santa Barbara Futures Tasting on Sunday, we decided to head up to Edna Valley and Paso Robles for a couple of days to do some more wine tasting. Left Santa Barbara about 8:10am, intending to stop at Laetitia. Unfortunately, they haven't changed their Champagne-house hours and didn't open until 11:00. So, we decided to catch it on the way back, and headed for Talley instead.

Arrived at Talley / Saucelito Cyn tasting room about 10:30. It's been a while since we've been here (Nov. '96). Nice to see the lack of crowds on weekdays. Friendly hostess pouring complimentary tasting of 7 wines from the Talley and Saucelito Cyn selections. (Saucelito Cyn doesn't have a tasting room of their own, so they pay Talley to pour their wines.) Concentrating on reds, we tried 4 Talley wines and 1 Saucelito Cyn (the Cab wasn't available) . Talley is building a new tasting room on the property, which is certainly necessary, but sort of a shame. The current building is a refurbished 1863 Adobe house that really has character. Out about 11:05.

Tasted at Talley:

1998 Talley Oliver's Vnyd Chardonnay - Edna Valley. $20. Sweet citrusy nose and mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Bishop's Peak Cuveé - Paso Robles. $12. Medium rose color. Stemmy nose with a hint of vegetal quality. Buttery, stemmy, and toasty mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1997 Talley Pinot Noir Estate - Edna Valley. $28. Restrained nose of stemmy fruit and toast. Good fruit on palate, crisp acidity and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1997 Bishop's Peak Cabernet Franc. $18. Nose of stemmy blueberry. Light mouthfeel with a stemmy and fruity taste, and dry off-sweet finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Saucelito Cyn Zinfandel - Arroyo Grande. $19.50. Nose of burnished cherry and wood. Moderate mouthfeel, slightly bitter off-sweet fruit, medium finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

 Arrived at Edna Valley Vnyds 11:15. This was another winery we hadn't visited in a while. Since our last visit (Nov '96), they've built a beautiful new tasting room and wine shop, with a fabulous view overlooking the vineyards to the North. Long owned by Paragon Vnyds, they must've come into some additional capital since the joint venture with the Chalone Wine Group (Acacia, Carmenet, Chalone). Our arrival time couldn't have been more perfectly planned, since the winery was expecting 100 people on buses at 12:30. (No desire to get caught up in that kind of crowd.) Friendly and informed lady named Micha (sp?) doing the pouring. Complimentary tasting included 4 choices from a selection of 6 wines. Tailgated for 15-20 minutes, then out about 11:55.

Tasted at Edna Valley:

1997 Edna Valley Semillion-Sauvignon Blanc - Central Coast. $8. Sweet grass and clover nose. Slightly sweet mouthfeel, with grassy and some herbal flavors. Dry off-sweet finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Edna Valley Pinot Blanc - Chalone Vnyd. $14. Dry lemony nose. Crisp lemony mouthfeel, slightly sweet finish. This is the first Pinot Blanc by Edna, made from Chalone fruit. But it sounded as though it might be the last effort as well. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Edna Valley Pinot Noir - Paragon Vnyd. $18.50. Nice stemmy nose and mouthfeel, aromas and flavors of black cherry and toast. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Edna Valley Syrah - Central Coast. $16.50. Spicy dried raspberry nose. Medium mouthfeel initially, but packs a big core of fruit in the center. Slightly drawn and dusty finish. From Fess Parker fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

 Arrived at Seven Peaks about Noon. This is one of the newer wineries in Edna Valley (tasting room opened in 12/98), and is a joint venture between Southcorp Wines of Australia, and the owners of Paragon Vnyds. Quaint tasting room is a former school house that stood right next to the highway. Nice lady pouring everything on the 6-selection list at no-charge. "Seven Peaks" refers to the mountainous peaks to the North that separate the valley and San Luis Obispo from the Paso Robles area. Although the label screams "grocery store" with its plain graphic motif and colors, the winery is making some nice wines. Possibly with a little more time and the Aussie influence, some very nice wines may come out of here. Out at 12:30.

Tasted at Seven Peaks:

1997 Seven Peaks Chardonnay - Central Coast. $13. Lots of malolactic quality and grass in the nose. Smoky and buttery fruit, noticeable residual sugar on finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Seven Peaks Chardonnay Reserve - Edna Valley. $20. Nose of citrus and tropical fruit. Less sweet in the mouth than the regular bottling, with some bitterness noted at mid-palate. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Seven Peaks Pinot Noir - Edna Valley. $20. Burnished black cherry nose , with a bit of singed quality. Big mouthfeel, stemmy and slightly bitter fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Seven Peaks Merlot - Central Coast. $15. Fleshy, slightly burnished cassis nose. Angular, yet very ripe fruit on palate, flavors of cinnamon and cherry cola. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Seven Peaks Shiraz - Paso Robles. $20. Ripe floral nose. Burnished astringent mouthfeel with lots of oak and tannins. Dry and slightly bitter finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Seven Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon - Central Coast. $14. Fleshy and veggie, with aromas of cranberry and cherry. Dry, and fruity mouthfeel, with flavors of cherry and cranberry. Aroma/Taste: B/B

 After a lunch break in San Luis Obispo (SLO), we arrived at Wild Horse at 12:45. Very nice to visit here during the week when the crowds are down (weekends here are a zoo). Just a couple of other people in the room when we arrived, so our pourer, Don, was able to chat with us a bit and promote the Hospice du Rhone, a Rhone-varietal festival coming up in June. We selected 5 wines from extensive list of 22 wines for complimentary tasting. Out at 2:05.

Tasted at Wild Horse:

1997 Wild Horse Malbec - Paso Robles. $16. Cassis, black cherry and shoe polish in the nose. Fruity mouthfeel, and nice core of fruit, but also astringent and a bit hot. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1996 Wild Horse Syrah - Central Coast. $13.(special price $8). Egg and mothball nose. Shoe polish and mothballs. I suspect something went way off here. Aroma/Taste: C/C

1997 Equis Syrah - Paso Robles. $18. Nose of blackberry and shoe polish. Lots of jammy blueberry and blackberry in the mouth, with a very long and tannic finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1996 Wild Horse Merlot - Central Coast. $25. Fleshy nose of cassis and some beet. Fleshy, slightly bitter mouthfeel. Long finish that sweetens up a bit. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. $18. Nose of sweet cassis, with hints of veggie. Candied, burnished casis fruit in the mouth, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

 Arrived at Tobin James at 2:25. The tasting room is still very much country-western in appearance, with an obvious saloon-look, inside and out. You get the feeling right-off, that this is a place that thumbs its nose at anything approaching wine snobbery. In fact, their motto on the tasting sheet is, "the only rule in the tasting room is to have fun." Well, I won't quarrel with a rule like that! So, I decided to put away my snobby ways, and get with the program. We were able to select 7 wines off a list of 15 wines. Friendly and very efficient young lady doing the complimentary pouring. Goblet-style wine glasses didn't lend themselves to swirling or really checking out a wine's aromas - but hey, that could be construed as snobby, and I'm just supposed to be having fun here. Time passes, and I feel myself resorting to my old ways - still trying to sniff and taste, instead of just enjoying the wine. Here I am swirling to Shania Twain, playing from the speakers. Well, it looks like you can lead a horse to wine, but you can't make him drink. Took a few photos around the place, and out at 2:50.

Tasted at Tobin James:

1997 Tobin James Chateau Le Cashflo. $9.50. Moderately spicy and fruity nose. Light and fruity mouthfeel. A quaffer. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Tobin James Sangiovese "Stampede". $18. Dried cherry nose. Dry cherry/strawberry mouthfeel and finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Tobin James Zinfandel "Primo". $16. Ripe Zinberry nose and mouthfeel. Medium, slightly dry but fruity finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Tobin James Merlot "Heavenly". $18. Fleshy and very stemmy nose. Moderate mouthfeel, stemmy finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Tobin James Zinfandel "Renegade" $16. Light Zin aromas on the nose. Big mouthfeel of ripe fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1997 Tobin James Petite Sirah "Ranchita Cyn" $18. Nice ripe nose of blackberry and plum. Moderate mouthfeel, surprisingly light in intensity in blackberry flavors. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Tobin James Cabernet Sauvignon "James Gang Reserve" $28. Nice ripe nose. Sweet fruit, moderate mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

 Arrived at Meridian at 2:55. This is getting to be one of our routine stops (along with Eberle) nearly every time we're in Paso Robles. Sure, maybe Meridian has a grocery store cachet, and yes their wines are everywhere (approaching 100,000 cases). Nevertheless, they still make a very solid product - which is usually above average,and frequently reaches excellent quality (like many others in the Beringer stable). Interestingly, they've been encouraged by the parent company to label all the non-Paso Robles wines as "California," rather than "distract the customers" with the occasional Alexander Valley appellation on the label. With only a few people in the room, we had lots of attention. Sheri Taylor poured 8 wines at no charge.

One funny thing happened while we were there. Two ladies came into the tasting room, and stepped up to the counter to peruse the wine list. One of the other staff asked if they'd like to taste. "Sure," they replied. Then one of them asked, "Do you know how many carbohydrates are in the wines? I'm watching my carb intake." This was a new one on me, and I thought they must be putting this guy on; but apparently not. The staffer looked over some of the bottles to see if any sort of nutritional information had been placed on the labels. Nope. So, he begins to look through all sorts of handouts and catalogs to see if this information has been recorded anywhere. No such luck. The carb-watcher ended up tasting a couple of whites, and presumably gave up the carb-watching for the duration. Out at 3:40.

Tasted at Meridian:

1997 Meridian Sauvignon Blanc - California. $8. Grassy, citrus nose and mouthfeel. Long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Meridian Chardonnay - Santa Barbara County. $10. Sweet tropical and pineapple fruit in the nose. Lots of residual sugar in the mouth, tropical fruit, and toast. Tasty cookie-cutter stuff. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Meridian Merlot - California. $12. Fleshy candied cinnamon nose. Fleshy mouthfeel, with hint of vegetal flavors. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Meridian Cabernet Sauvignon - California. $12. Cassis-induced nose, with aromas and flavors of cassis, vitamins and oak. Some heat noted on finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1995 Meridian Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - California. $22. Nose of cassis, cinnamon, and plum. Wow! Big smoky fruit, nice and chewy mouthfeel, with flavors of cassis, cinnamon and cedar. 96% Alexander Valley fruit. 35 mos in French oak. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

1997 Meridian Syrah. $19. Very fruity, ripe and shoe polishy nose of boysenberry and blackberry. Big fruit on palate, with a nice spicy and peppery finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Meridian Zinfandel - Mastan Vnyd, Paso Robles. $18. Smoky, sweet, ripe nose. Young mouthfeel, with flavors of dried raspberry, chocolate and cherry. Very nice. This vnyd is apparently the result of a split of the Mastantuano holdings. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Meridian Zinfandel - Dusi Vnyd, Paso Robles. $18. Very restrained nose of blackberry and black cherry. Easy ripe mouthfeel, smooth across palate, smooth long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

 Arrived at Sylvester at 4:00. This winery had just opened at the time of our first visit (Nov '96), so I thought it might be interesting to drop by and see what, if any, changes had been made. It looked about the same as the first time - without the crowd, that is! There wasn't anyone in the tasting room during our entire visit. But, I'm sure the previous weekend really cooked! (Actually, the Paso Robles annual Zin Festival had every winery quite busy over the past weekend. So, I'm sure the whole town was probably trying to get some rest.)

This winery is a complete surprise. It has an unknown name, it's off the beaten-track just past the correctional facility, and they make magnums of ...burgundy! Aside from the attractive tasting room and small deli, everything says don't expect too much in the way of wine from these folks. However, winemaker Nick Martin has done a very nice job with each of the varietals, and even with the "jug" wines. Now, who wouldn't want a tasty magnum of $9 wine, huh? Wines aside, our pourer made this visit an absolute blast. We all took to each other immediately, and the kidding began. As the first of the "Kiara" labels was being poured, I teasingly asked if she happened to be Kiara. "Oh, sure ...I'm Kiara," she replied, noticing that we were making notes. We knew she was kidding; she knew she was kidding. But, from then on, it became a challenge to see if we could discover what her name really was. By the end of the visit, she asked where we'd been that day, and where else we might be going. She then suggested visiting Hunt Cellars. Without missing a beat, my buddy asks, "okay, who shall we say sent us?" "Oh, Theresa," she replied, forgetting that no time-outs had been called in the game. "Gotcha," we said in unison. Nice visit - we had a fun time, and some good wine. Out at 4:45

Tasted at Sylvester:

1998 Sylvester "Kiara" Chardonnay. $13.50. Lightly floral and citrusy nose. Apparent residual sugar components in both nose and mouth. Nice easy mouthfeel, some citrus and crisp finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Sylvester "Kiara" Sangiovese. $10. Lightly spicy and dried cherry nose. Light mouthfeel, burnished cherry flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Sylvester "Kiara" Zinfandel. $10. Very light fruity nose. Nice berry flavors and mouthfeel, medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1997 Sylvester "Kiara" Merlot. $12. Stemmy and smoky fruit in the nose. Fleshy light mouthfeel, but fruity and well balanced. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1996 Sylvester Merlot Reserve $17. Burnished ripe black cherry nose. Medium mouthfeel, ripe black cherry flavors, slightly stemmy finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Sylvester "Kiara" Syrah. $12. Initially quite vegetal in the nose. But, this seems to blow off with some swirling. Stemmy mouthfeel, with traces of green bean and spicy tea. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1996 Sylvester "Kiara" Syrah. $14.50. Very spicy rich and concentrated nose. Sweet mouthfeel, blackberry and pepper flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1996 Sylvester "Kiara" Cabernet Sauvignon. $13. Nose of cassis with some green bean. Sweet black cherry and cinnamon, with a hint of green bean, and moderate finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1996 Sylvester Cabernet Sauvignon "Italian Bottled". $17. Spicy cinnamon and cassis nose. Dry and spicy cassis on the palate, fairly high acid finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

NV Sylvester Cabernet Sauvignon. $13 (magnum). Light aromas of cassis. Light flavors of cherry and spice. Aroma/Taste: B/B

NV Sylvester Burgundy. $9 (magnum). Smoky dill and cassis nose. Light fruity mouthfeel. Moderate body, decent balance. Syrah/Zin/Cab blend. Aroma/Taste: B/B


 Arrived at Hunt Cellars at about 5:05. The temporary tasting room for this new label opened last Fall, and the permanent facility is expected to be completed this year on the same site, just off Hwy 46 West. Wines are currently made at HMR and Sylvester, until the winery itself is completed. Owner and winemaker David Hunt garnered some favorable responses from his debut at the ZAP wine festival. Very friendly lady chatted with us and poured 5 wines for $3 tasting fee. Out at about 5:35

Tasted at Hunt Cellars:

1997 Hunt Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - Edna Valley. $14. Light grassy and buttery nose. Medium mouthfeel, some grass and toast flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Hunt Cellars Sangiovese - Paso Robles. $18. Nose of dried cherry and cranberry. Moderate mouthfeel, slightly tart berry flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Hunt Cellars Syrah - Paso Robles. $18. Spicy berry nose, but nearly overcome with stemminess and a slight vegetal quality. Light to moderate mouthfeel, high in acid, long in finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1996 Hunt Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Paso Robles. $25. Ripe cassis nose, with hint of green bean. Moderate mouthfeel, cassis flavors, moderately long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Hunt Cellars Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $24. Bright and ripe smelling nose. Moderate body and mouthfeel, long smooth finish. Fruit was sourced from 5 different Paso Robles vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

Headed into town to Bistro Laurent for dinner. Excellent! Probably the best salmon I've ever had. Good day: 8 wineries, 51 wines.

Tues, Mar 21, 2000

Left Atascadero about 8:00 for a breakfast stop and then headed for Tablas Creek, our first and only appointment of the trip.  Had tried to connect with Alban for a visit, but kept playing phone tag. Well, that leaves more fun for later trips.

 Tablas Creek

It was 1989 when the joint venture between Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel purchased 120 acres in the rolling hills on the Westside of Paso Robles. The pH of the shallow limestone-clay soil and the local climate appeared to be very close to that of Chateau de Beaucastel, and they felt that this location would produce Rhone varietal wines with their own particular qualities. They believed that using French vines, rather than American vines, would give the wines a great heritage, yet also impart a true sense of California "terroir."

Send In The Clones

While awaiting customs clearance on the French cuttings, planting began in 1991 using American vines. This afforded the winery an opportunity to get into the swing of the operation. Beginning in 1993 with rootstocks supplied by Beaucastel, Tablas Creek began to work at propagating the French cuttings for planting. Setting up a full nursery, it was their original intent to only produce material for themselves. However, interest, or rather demand, for the French (Tablas) clones from many Central Coast vineyards (Zaca Mesa, Beckmen, Tensley), as well as such stalwarts as Ridge and Phelps added a new dimension to their project. The Grenache, Mouvedre, and Syrah fruit grown from these clones made a stunning debut in several wines at the recent Santa Barbara Futures Tasting. Tablas Creek should be highly commended for its good neighbor attitude and willingness to "share the wealth," as it were, with its nursery program.

A Three Hour Tour

As we pulled in past the gate for our 10:00AM appointment, we noticed some unusual features in the stone retaining wall around the back and side of the winery. Oddly, there seemed to be square cutouts spaced evenly about every 50 feet. Drainage, we wondered to ourselves. No, these were portals that had been left open purposely to reveal the substrate limestone, a nice testament to Tablas Creek's seriousness about the local terrior. We were met inside by Denise Chouinard, who then introduced us to Neil Collins, the cellar master and vineyard manager for Tablas Creek. Originally from England, Neil worked with John Munch at Adelaida Cellars until '97. As Neil related, the past experience with Munch had him making some very extracted wines, something that raised a few eyebrows with his new employers. "These seem a little too extracted," they would say. "Too extracted?" he'd mutter to himself, not sure there really was such a thing. But, this seems like a perfect match. Neil knows what he wants to put into a wine, and more than that, he knows how to get the most out of the Tablas Creek fruit - balance, structure, complexity, and some extraction.

Robert Haas had already started conducting a tour of the vineyards and facility for a large group from the Japanese Wine Press, so Neil elected to carry on, leading us back and forth between the two storage rooms, trying to stay out of the way of the main tour. As we tasted each wine, it was very instructive to see the differences that each of the components give to the final blend of both the red and the white. Though they've been experimenting with various techniques and varietals, they have no intention of bottling their wines as single varietals, at least not for public consumption. Neil mentioned that they have also been experimenting with some co-fermenting techniques. But, because of the different ripening rates for each variety, the practice probably won't get very wide spread. Nevertheless, one can't help but think that playing with a blended wine, rather than a single varietal, is a lot more fun, and challenging.

Honor Among Thieves

Back and forth we went, from tank to barrel to bottle to tank, with Neil practically forcing us to taste wine. He would drop the wine thief into a barrel, extract it, and aim it at us. What could we do? We tried to resist - but it was futile. We spent about 90 minutes with him just discussing Tablas Creek and winemaking, in addition to tasting through an array of fine wines in the making. One of the more enlightening comparisons was trying the two Westside Syrahs (the American vs. the French clone) side by side. Same varietal, same growing conditions, same wine-making techniques, same French oak, but different parents. Yet, they were day and night apart. Many of the barrels were "works in progress," thus not intended to be final products.

The '94, '95, and '96 vintages yielded wines which were made with fruit from the American vines, and labeled as 'Adelaida Hills Assemblage Rouge' ('94), and 'Tablas Hills Cuvee Rouge' ('95-6). The 1997 bottling marked the first vintage that wines have been made from the French clones, and this vintage is labeled 'Tablas Rouge'. A new winery was completed in in time for the 1997 harvest; previous vintages were made at Adelaida Cellars, a short distance away. The fruit is dry farmed, using organic methods to control pests and disease. Only native yeasts are used in fermentation, and very little new oak is used in barrel aging. Current production at Tablas Creek is about 3,000 cases, with an intended production of about 25,000 cases by 2008.

Unfortunately, all goods things must end. As we were standing in the reception room thanking Neil for the great time, Robert Haas stepped out from the office to introduce himself and thank us for coming by. A very nice gesture. We continued to chat a bit about the internet, and web sites. Tablas Creek currently has a webpage under the parent company site, Vineyard Brands, but it sounds as though they're putting the final touches on their own site as we speak. It was a fabulous visit! Everyone was very friendly and gracious, and I couldn't be more impressed with an organization and its staff if I tried. Out about 12:10.

Tasted at Tablas Creek:

'99 (from barrel) blend of 50% Roussanne, 25% Marsanne, 25% Viognier. Very aromatic, with sweet floral and apricot notes. Some [expected] residual sugar on palate, but excellent balance. This is roughly the % mix in the final blend. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

'99 (from barrel) 100% Vermintino. This was taken from a small plot and done as sort of an experiment , something that would even-out the acids in the Roussanne and Marsanne. Wine from this grape is apparently bottled on its own as "Rolle" in Provence. Somewhat neutral in nose, with just hints of sweaty lemon or flavored tonic water. Undergoing secondary fermentation, so still lightly spritzy in mouth. Aroma/Taste: B/B

'99 (from tank) blend of 50% Roussanne, 50% Viognier. Nose of floral and apricot notes, with very nice balance of residual sugar and acids. Has a full mouthfeel, without a ponderous or oily texture. Very nice. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

'98 Tablas Blanc. (from bottle) Blend of 50% Roussanne, 25% Marsanne, 25% Viognier. Very aromatic, with sweet floral and peach notes. Excellent balance, lightly crisp, long smooth finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

'99 (from tank) 100% Mourvedre. Huge meaty nose of chocolate, mocha, rare steak juices, and black raspberry fruit. Big on the palate, chewy texture, long finish. None of the funky vitamin/Ovaltine nose here, just dense and delicious smelling and tasting. Super stuff! Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

'99 (from tank) blend 63% Counoise, 31% Grenache, 6% Syrah. Big chocolate, blueberry and blackberry nose, with the Counoise somewhat suppressing the floral qualities of the Grenache. Initially, blueberry jam all over the palate. The sweet chewy fruit picks up a stern backbone at mid palate and finishes with a nice melding of flavors and balance. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

'99 (from barrel) 100% Counoise. Massive blueberry jam nose. Huge and fleshy mouthful of blueberry fruit on the palate, with a nice sweet finish. 15.3% alcohol. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

'99 (from barrel) 100% Grenache. Sweet raspberry/blackberry and floral nose. Hefty mouthfeel, with a massive core of fruit, and substantial streak of acids and tannins. 16.5% alcohol. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

'99 (from barrel) 100% Syrah "AV" (American Vnyd) - Estrella (thought to be from Chapoutier) Clone, from Qupe. Off-sweet blackberry nose. Still undergoing Malolactic, so palate has a slight spritz and aspirin-like aftertaste. Very fruit forward, with complexities in background. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

'99 (from barrel) 100% Syrah "VF" (Vignes Francaise) - Beaucastel (Tablas) Clone. Very gamey, with old leather and intense barnyard qualities in the nose. Good chewy mouthfeel with an herbal and leather off-sweet taste. In contrast to the "AV" Syrah, this has many of the complexities in the foreground, with a brooding black fruit background. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

'99 (from barrel) blend of 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Counoise, 10% Syrah. Dense nose of blackberry/blueberry fruit, with floral and gamey notes. Big on mouthfeel, delicious blackberry fruit, long smooth and seamless finish. Very nice! Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

'98 (from 1200 gal barrel) blend of 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Counoise, 10% Syrah. Complex nose of blackberry fruit, with some floral and herbal and leather notes. Moderate-full mouthfeel, complex black fruits, long smooth and fruity finish. While less chewy than the '99, it still has substantial if subtle flavors. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

'97 Tablas Rouge. (from bottle) Blend of 34% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 6% Counoise. Dense nose of blackberry/blueberry fruit, with floral and gamey notes. Big chewy mouthfeel, forward blackberry fruit, long smooth and seamless finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

Arrived at Justin at 12:20 to an empty tasting room. Justin is probably farther West than any of the other Paso wineries. But, the drive is beautiful, as is the tasting room and the adjacent Justin Bed & Breakfast. Tasting used to be done in the center of main room, with the host/hostess stepping up to each patron with the next pour. While this may have seemed more intimate than a tasting bar, it wasn't nearly as efficient, and frankly seemed a bit more awkward, at least to this patron. However, they've made some much-needed changes to their tasting room recently. By knocking out a wall into the previous bottle storage area, they've constructed a very nice retail room with tasting bar. Tasting room manager, Nancy Heffner, poured the wines du jour, and graciously offered us something extra from behind the counter, Justin's Cabernet-based Port called Obtuse. Normal tasting charges are waived for members of their 'wine society.' A Canadian couple arrived shortly after us, and having tasted the goods, were interested in purchasing some wine for shipment to …Michigan! (It's certainly nice to live in California!) Tailgated a bit with the Baldwin's cheese-loving dogs, then headed out at 1:15.

 Tasted at Justin:

1998 Justin Sauvignon Blanc - Paso Robles. $12.50. Sweet grassy nose. Sweet residual sugar and grassy mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Justin Chardonnay - Paso Robles. $18.50. Nose of grass and hay. Some buttery consistency, but fruit seems very faint. Underwent 100% malolactic fermentation. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Justin Chardonnay Reserve - Paso Robles. $22. Nose of oak, grass, smoky wood. Nice crisp bite to mouthfeel, long finish. No malolactic fermentation used. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Justin Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $22.50. Barrel sample From Carousel Vnyd. Creamy vanilla and cherry nose. Moderately chewy mouthfeel, sweet creamy consistency, long finish. They need to make more of this stuff! Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

1997 Justin Merlot - Paso Robles. $n/a. Candied cherry and asparagus nose. Light, slightly fleshy mouthfeel, tart and acid-driven finish. Apparently, most of the future Merlot will go into the blends, so this may be the last of the varietal bottlings. Okay by me. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Justin Shiraz - Aussie Style, Bin 24 - Paso Robles. $20. 81% Syrah, 19% Cab. Somewhat restrained, yet spicy nose. Spicy and acid-edged mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Justin Isosceles - Paso Robles. $37.50. Nose of chocolate, oak, and cassis. Toasty cassis flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

1998 Justin Obtuse - Paso Robles. $n/a. Barrel sample of the Cab-based Port. (They also have made a "Traditional" port in the past, using 3 of the Portuguese varieties. But, they are now making the Cab-based one exclusively.) Aroma/Taste: B+/B+


 Arrived at Martin & Weyrich at 2:05. Previously known as Martin Brothers (Tom & Nick), this winery has been in the area since 1981. David Weyrich has been a silent partner in the venture from the start, but with the departure of the both the Martins in 1998, the Weyrichs have become sole owners. Adding 'Weyrich' to the label, they are keeping the Martin name visible for the time being, as both a tribute, as well as for marketing reasons. Speaking of labels, just about every wine in the M&W line has its own distinctive label. I wonder if some "commonality" wouldn't help a bit with brand recognition. They do produce an interesting wine or two, but this time I found more than a slight vegetal quality to most of the line. I suspect that most of the fruit for these wines came from the hotter Eastside vineyards. Out at 2:25

 Tasted at Martin & Weyrich:

1997 Martin & Weyrich Sangiovese Il Palio - Paso Robles. $15. Nose of dried cherry and pomegranate. Lightly spicy mouthfeel, moderate fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Martin & Weyrich Nebbiolo - Paso Robles. $15. Dried toasty nose that seems very light on fruit. Smoky dried cherry and oak mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1996 Martin & Weyrich Nebbiolo Vecchio - Paso Robles. $25. Overripe burnished nose. Slightly fruity, very dry oaked finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1997 Martin & Weyrich Zinfandel La Primitiva - Paso Robles. $15. Nose of raspberry, celery, and stems. Light raspberry and vanilla flavors, dry astringent finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1997 Martin & Weyrich Zinfandel, Ueberroth Reserve - Paso Robles. $22. Nose of raspberry and anise, with slight vegetal aromas. Nice core of spicy raspberry fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1997 Martin & Weyrich Zinfandel, Dante Dusi Reserve - Paso Robles. $24. Nice spicy cherry/raspberry nose. Sweet cherry fruit, medium mouthfeel, medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Martin & Weyrich Cabernet Etrusco - Paso Robles. $20. Very austere and slightly fruity nose. Sweet mouthfeel, with a burnished finish to the fruit on after palate. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

 Arrived at Eberle at 2:30. Always a pleasant stop, especially on weekdays when the normal crowd is much less. As with Meridian, a stop here has become a staple of trips to Paso. The tasting room is usually pouring from 6-12 wines, and there is nearly always a gem or two to discover amid the full lineup. Plus, aside from the opportunity to taste lots of wines, they offer a tour that covers the expansive caves dug into the hillside. If you haven't paid a visit to Eberle, you should certainly include it on future visits to the area. This winery was among the first, if not the first, to establish the Paso Robles region as a major player in the Central Coast. Their bottlings of Syrah, Zin, and Grenache, were among the first vineyard-designated wines produced in the region, an arguable sign that specific vineyards are of a worthy note. Out at 3:15.

 Tasted at Eberle:

1998 Eberle Counoise Rosé - Lauridsen Vnyd, Paso Robles. $11. Somewhat tart and sour nose. Sweet fruity mouthfeel, long peppery finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1997 Eberle Cote du Robles - Paso Robles. $14. Nose is a bit tart and sharp. Dry, slightly tart thin mouthfeel, sour medium finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1998 Eberle Sangiovese - Paso Robles. $16. Smoky nose of sweet dried cherry. Dry and slightly acidic mouthfeel, long toasty finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Eberle Barbera - Paso Robles. $14. Dry and burnished nose. Toasty smoky mouthfeel, good core of fruit, toasty tart finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1997 Eberle Syrah - Steinbeck Vnyd, Paso Robles. $18. Dry and faintly fruity nose. Fruity, medium mouthfeel, blackberry finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1997 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah - Lauridsen Vnyd, Paso Robles. $18. Slightly leafy and vegetal nose. Big mouthfeel, sweet fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1997 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon - Estate, Paso Robles. $25. Spicy, raisiny fruit, with hints of leaf and stem. Ripe, sweet burnished cassis, long toasty finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Eberle Zinfandel - Steinbeck Vnyd, Paso Robles. $16. Sweet ripe fruit, pepper and spice in the nose. Initially sweet mouthfeel gets a bit tart and sweet/sour toward long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Eberle Zinfandel - Sauret Vnyd, Paso Robles. $20. Very spicy and nearly Port-like in ripe aromas. Good mouthfeel of slightly off-sweet fruit. Very good palate coverage, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Eberle Muscat Canelli - Paso Robles. $12. Spicy and a bit tart in the nose. Light on the palate, with nice smooth slightly spicy finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

 Arrived at Treana at 3:25. Previously known as Hope Farms, this family-owned winery has struck out in a new direction by making some label changes, and by hiring a new winemaker (Chris Phelps, formerly from Dominus) to increase the quality of their product. Another of the changes involved purchase of the "Liberty School" label from Caymus. Long a second label for Caymus, Liberty School offered consistently good efforts from Napa fruit back in the '80s. But, with the rise of Napa fruit quality, and the resultant price increases, the label turned to other AVA's for its fruit. The last stop was Hope's Paso Robles fruit, so the label purchase seemed like the next obvious step. Nice lady doing the pouring of 3 wines for $3. While there, an older local fellow dropped in for what appeared to be a usual routine. He'd buy a glass of Treana red for $6 and nurse it awhile before going home. Out at 3:38

 Tasted at Treana:

1997 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon - California. $13. Somewhat light nose and mouthfeel. Briefly fruity at otherwise long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1997 Treana Red - Paso Robles. $32. This is the 2nd vintage of this proprietary blend of Syrah, Cab, Merlot, Petite Sirah, and Sangiovese. Light nose of cherry and spice. Good coverage of cherry fruit on the palate, slightly grainy finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1996 Merlot, Late Harvest - Paso Robles. $18. Nose seems Porty and raisiny, with notes of leaf and vinyl. Sweet, fleshy and leafy mouthfeel. 16% alcohol . Aroma/Taste: B/B

 Arrived at Peachy Cyn at 3:40. Formerly located adjacent to the original winery on Peachy Canyon Road behind proprietor Doug Beckett's house, the tasting room has now been relocated to an old house at Bethel Rd and Hwy 46 West. This old house has had a history of serving as a tasting room over the recent years (Castoro, Live Oak), and conveniently close Castoro and Dover Cyn tasting rooms. Still expanding production, last year Beckett purchased an existing winery near Lake Nacimiento, however the tasting room will probably stay in its current location for the foreseeable future. Friendly lady (Susan) pouring 6 wines from list. With only one other group in the room (the couple from Canada), we had plenty of time to leisurely taste the wine. Maybe too much time, since we were taking a sip and pouring out the remainder. Out at 4:45

 Tasted at Peachy Cyn:

1998 Peachy Canyon Incredible Red, Zinfandel Bin 108 - Paso Robles. $12. Light berry nose. Moderate mouthfeel, light tannins, medium finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Eastside Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $15. Spicy light nose. Spicy berry fruit in the mouth, somewhat tart mouthfeel, and some heat on the finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $19. Faintly Syrah-like nose. Fruity, with grainy tannins and a slightly hot mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel - Lakeview Vnyd, Paso Robles. $21. Nice fruity berry nose. Fruity, slightly sweet mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. $21. Ripe smoky fruit and chocolate, hint of veggie. Surprisingly thin mouthfeel, with moderate flavors. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Merlot - Paso Robles. $23. Ripe, fleshy and stemmy nose. Slightly tart and a bit thin on fruit. Long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel - Benito Dusi Ranch, Paso Robles. $26. Big jammy nose. Tart/sour mouthfeel. (85 yr-old vines). Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel - Snow Vnyd, Paso Robles. $26. Nice boysenberry/raspberry nose. Big core of fruit in the mouth, but finishes too tart. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Peachy Canyon Especial Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $28. Somewhat restrained nose, with some Cab qualities. Sweet tannic mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Peachy Canyon Westside Reserve Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $23. Restrained raspberry nose. Slightly sweet mouthfeel initially, but flavors get a bit tart and acid toward finish. Aged 6 mos longer than regular Westside bottling. Aroma/Taste: B/B

 Arrived at Castoro Cellars at 4:47. Located on Bethel Rd just off Hwy 46. Very nice tasting room is well-appointed and spacious. Our pourer offered us complimentary tasting of anything from the list of 16 wines. I'd always thought that there must be a Mr. Castoro who owned the vineyard or something. Nope. Owner/winemaker Niels Udsen, who worked for a time as a cellarman in Italy, apparently exhibited an industrious approach to his work &endash; enough so that he became know as 'The Beaver,' or Il Castoro in Italian. I can hear Eddie Haskell now, "Hi, Mrs. Cleaver, is young Castoro at home?" As it turns out, the Beav was leaving for the NCAA Basketball Eastern Regionals, the lucky dog…uh, I mean beaver. Speaking of sports, after hearing where Udsen was going, a fellow taster at the counter was telling the staff pourer that he was scheduled to leave later that evening for England to watch a soccer match. Seizing the opportunity to tweak a soccer fan, I questioned why he'd travel so far to see a soccer match, since "…soccer isn't a real sport." The room fell silent. Instinctively, people began backing away from the bar, and from the both of us. They probably assumed that it was going to be broken wine bottles at 5 paces. I assured the fellow I was kidding with him, and he seemed to see the humor in it. (...well, it isn't a real sport!). Out at 5:30 to cause trouble somewhere else.

 Tasted at Castoro Cellars:

1997 Castoro Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve - Paso Robles. $15.95. Fleshy cherry nose. Stemmy and a bit hot in mouthfeel. Large extraction and lot of chewy body. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Castoro Cellars Merlot - Paso Robles. $14.95. Big stemmy and fleshy nose. Nice mouthfeel, if a bit astringent at the finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Castoro Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. $12.95. Nice fruity nose. Medium-full body, nice balance, medium-long finish. A Cab for $12.95? Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Castoro Cellars Seidici Anni - Paso Robles. $17.95. Nose of cassis, mint, blueberry, and even some melon. Moderate fruity mouthfeel, a bit tart on the finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Castoro Cellars Zinfandel - Sierra Foothills. $12.95. Very ripe nose and mouthfeel. Sweet and succulent. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Castoro Cellars Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $12.95. Nose of raspberry and spice. Spicy raspberry mouthfeel, smooth medium-long finish. A blend from 5 vineyards. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Castoro Cellars Zinfandel - Cobble Creek, Paso Robles. $17.95. Nose of boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry. Soft, yet concentrated mouthfeel . Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Castoro Cellars Zinfandel - Giubbini, Paso Robles. $17.95. Big blueberry and boysenberry nose. Big fruity mouthfeel, slightly acidic finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Castoro Cellars Zinfandel, Vineyard Tribute - Paso Robles. $17.95. Sweet fruity nose. Sweet raspberry mouthfeel, long smooth finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Castoro Cellars Zinfandel, Late Harvest Port - Paso Robles. $14.95. Burnished raspberry nose. A bit coarse on the palate, but spicy and tasty. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Headed into town to Villa Creek for dinner. Decided to do some spicy nachos, beer and margaritas while waiting to meet up with Brad and his brother for dinner. Brad brought bottles of '97 Andrew Murray Hillside Syrah, and the ultimate stone killer, the seldom-seen '98 Noon Eclipse. (There's what we needed - a day of wine tasting, followed by some beers and margaritas, followed by some killer wines.) Joined later by Cris Cherry and Justin Smith. Terrific time. Another good day of winery hopping: 7 wineries, 61 wines.

Wed, Mar 22, 2000

Without a pressing schedule for the trip home, we stopped by the 'Wine Outlet' in Atascadero. Very nice selections of wines in general, and of the Central Coast in particular. Found some Mat Garretson wines and a La Cuvier Cab Franc (by John Munch).

Arrived at Laetitia at 11:15. The former Champagne house, Maison Deutz, is now making sparkling wines as well as still wines under the Laetitia label. Current crop of wines includes the Laetitia and the Barnwood lines. Complimentary tasting of 6 wines from the regular list, or by the taste from the Reserve list, which included the Barnwood wines. Friendly guy doing the pouring. Out at 11:45

 Tasted at Laetitia:

NV Laetitia Brut Select - Arroyo Grande. $16. Yeasty lemony nose. Fairly large mousse, and doesn't tred lightly on palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1992 Laetitia Elegance Reserve - Arroyo Grande. $23. Very toasty nose. Toasty mouthfeel, clean finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1994 Laetitia Cuvee M - Arroyo Grande. $30. Well, here's a weird descriptor - tuna on toast! Maybe it blows off, but this is also being served in a regular wine tasting glass. Toasty, clean long creamy finish. Aroma/Taste: C+/B

1997 Laetitia Pinot Blanc - Estate, Arroyo Grande. $23. Light sweet lemon and clover nose. Big mouthfeel, clean long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Laetitia Chardonnay - Estate, Arroyo Grande. $23. Slightly restrained nose of apple and grass, with a residual sugar note. Clean lemony flavors, medium finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Laetitia Pinot Noir - Estate, Arroyo Grande. $23. Nice extracted nose of black cherry and cola. Full flavored mouthfeel, long finish . Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

 Arrived at Daniel Gehrs at 12:25. With his newly opened small tasting room in Los Olivos, Dan Gehrs has much better exposure to the wine crowd than he had with his wines being served in nearby Solvang. Skip Muench doing the pouring from list of 8 wines for $3 - keep the glass. One other customer was there when I arrived, and she was there when I left. She seemed fascinated by the "keep-the-glass" method of tasting used by many of the Santa Ynez Valley wineries. So, I donated my unwanted glass to the effort. Out at 12:50.

 Tasted at Daniel Gehrs:

1999 Daniel Gehrs Chenin Blanc - Pinnacles, Monterey. $11. Some residual sugar noted. Nice fruity mouthfeel, and even a bit Viognier-like.. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Daniel Gehrs Chardonnay - Santa Barbara Co. $16. Crisp, fruity and citric. Clean finish. No ML used. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Daniel Gehrs Viognier - Santa Barbara Co. $16. Apple and pear aromas. Lots of residual sugar and the fruit seems quite sweet up to the clean finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Daniel Gehrs Syrah - Paso Robles. $20. Fleshy, buttery and creamy blackberry nose. Nice creamy fruit on palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Daniel Gehrs Merlot - Santa Barbara Co. $18. fleshy candied cherry nose. Fleshy mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1995 Daniel Gehrs Fireside Port - California. $25. Sweet cassis/raspberry nose. Lighter on palate than anticipated. Moderate mouthfeel, soft finish. 19.6%. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Daniel Gehrs Black Muscat - California. $12. (375ml). Light extraction. Good sweet spicy sweet nose. Spicy mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Daniel Gehrs Orange Muscat - California. $12. (375ml). Spicy candied orange rind nose. Spicy orange rind in mouthfeel, long spicy finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

 Wrap up: another stupendous trip - very nice visits everywhere. We got to make some overdue return trips to some wineries, and picked up 3 or 4 new ones in the process. Without a doubt, the crown jewel had to be the visit to Tablas Creek. Nice facility, very nice people, and some terrific wines.

Total stats for the trip: 17 wineries, 126 wines.

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