Monday, May 25, 2009

Impressions of the Pass of the Oaks - El Paso de Robles, California

Back from Paso Robles.... there three days and three nights, took in 2 wineries, 3 restaurants, 1 run through town, and a wedding at a winery.

First, let's talk about the two wineries visited:

Tablas Creek

Located on the west side of Paso Robles, tucked in the hills, this not-so-large property has rolling vineyards many planted 15 to 20 years ago, so the vines are by Paso standards older than others. The winery sports a cute sign pointing to Domaine de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone.

We had an extensive, guided tour of the Tablas Creek estate, which produces wines only from estate grown fruit. There are a great deal of varieties planted here, including all 13 varieties allowed in Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as some Northern Rhone varieties, such as Viognier, as well as some Spanish and Italian varieties.

After the extensive tour, an extensive tasting:
2007 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc
This is a blend of white wine grapes from the Rhone, though Viognier is from the Northern Rhone and the other three are from the Southern Rhone. The Viognier dominates here, with a rich aromatic nose, and a palate that is full-bodied, pleasant, 13.5% alcohol.
2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc
This is a blend of white grapes allowed in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and this is where I learned that Viognier is not one of them! As for the Picpoul variety, I also didn't know this is from the Southern Rhone; I only know Picpoul de Pinet..... which the tour guide had not heard of (Pinet that is). This is an expressive, interesting white wine, with nuances of poached pear, creamy oak and malolactic fermentation, though not overly oaky.
2007 Roussanne
100% Roussanne
Rich wine with some neutral oak, savory peach/pear, but not fruity. Great roast chicken wine, in my mind.
2006 Grenache Blanc
100% Grenache Blanc
Lemon/citrus nose, reminiscent of Riesling, bright acidity on the palate, and doesn't taste anything like its 15.3% alcohol.
2008 Vermentino
100% Vermentino
An Italian white variety. Fresh aroma, floral. Fresh and zippy with good acidity, citrus, orange, and lower alcohol. Refreshing.
2008 Rose
Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, Counoise
A deep red colored Rose made from 48 hours on the skins - juicy, full of red berries and watermelon, a touch of pepper. Very ripe fruit flavors. A good wine for cured salmon
2006 Cotes de Tablas
Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise
Fashioned after a Cotes du Rhone, this wine shows more tannin than I'm used to in Cotes du Rhone, more body and fruit and power, but a pleasant red wine nonetheless.
2005 Syrah
90% Syrah, 10% Grenache Noir
Nice depth, spice, a little tannin, dark berry fruit, and some complexity from aging. A solid Syrah.
2006 Grenache
90% Grenache, 10% Syrah
Fruity nose; on the palate, tea, berries, and some sweetness. 15.3% alcohol.
2006 Esprit de Beaucastel
Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Counoise
Their signature wine, their version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This vintage is sweet, fruity, showing some alcohol, but mostly fresh red berries.
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel
This vintage is rustique, with animal/brettanomeyces/barnyard nose reminiscent of a French wine. Not so much that it is a negative, just an interesting point with this vintage.
2004 Esprit de Beaucastel
This vintage shows nice development in the wine, no barnyard flavors, very nice.

Halter Ranch

Halter Ranch is a neighboring estate that is much larger than Tablas Creek. The estate is younger, and most vines were planted around 2000. The wines made here are also all estate-grown, and in fact, the estate grows so many grapes, that it sells some to neighbors, such as Justin.

California sales manager Jim Witt gave us a private tour of the property in his truck, and we drove around the vast site which boasts 250 acres under vine, and a total property area of 1000 acres.

At certain points he had to get out of the truck to open and close gates which were part of the fence system that allowed the local deer to migrate through the area without having access to the vineyard.

At one point in the tour, we got out to visit what Jim told us was the largest oak tree in the world. This oak tree on the Halter Ranch property gives its Bordeaux-style blend Ancestor its name.

Of the wines we tasted at Paso, I most enjoyed their Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
My favorite restaurant in Paso turned out to be Villa Creek.

We had a nice meal with Villa Creek's 2006 Avenger:

The Sheppard's plate
Below, the Cassoulet:

And roast lamb:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Off to Paso we go, we go

I have been to Paso Robles once, long time ago, almost 10 years ago. I went with a friend, and we drove up to run a half marathon through wine country, and I remember we did some wine tasting also, and that was before the days I knew to spit when tasting..... I remember being somewhat inebriated after some tasting. I'm sure though, that I wasn't the only one...

I also remember Paso Robles being very small town, and we couldn't really find a restaurant to eat at except for one small Italian place, and because a whole lot of out-of-towners were there, the place was packed, and we had to wait a couple of hours to have a seat for dinner, and then when we did eat, the food was non-descript.

I have heard that since my last visit, things have changed. A plethora of new wineries have been established. Restaurants have opened. And of course, I have changed. I will be looking at the wineries and vineyards with different eyes, and I will be tasting the wines with different taste buds. For since that last visit, I will have had 4 years of being "in the business," plus have visited wine regions in France and Germany, not just California wine regions!

With three restaurant recommendations from friend and former coworker Bennett, hubby and I made reservations at all three establishments. We will be dining at Artisan, Bistro Laurent, and Villa Creek. And that's just in Paso Robles! On our way up, we'll be stopping in Santa Barbara to lunch at Hungry Cat and after a quick lunch, I'll actually be doing a presentation of some Rudi Wiest wines for them, since our wines do so well at seafood restaurants.

As for wineries, my plan is to visit Halter Ranch, Tablas Creek, and Justin. I look forward to reporting on these.

Finally, the original reason for our trip, we will be attending a wedding of a good friend on Sunday evening at a winery called Meridian.

I hope you all have a very lovely Memorial Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stefanie Hasselbach from Gunderloch Estate, Rheinhessen Germany

A great evening yesterday with winemaker Stefanie Hasselbach, 6th generation of family-owned winery Gunderloch Estate in the Rheinhessen. Her older sister just recently had a baby, making Stefanie's niece the 7th generation of this family to own Gunderloch. Amazing isn't it??

I met Stefanie at The Wine Country at 4:30 for a consumer tasting, which was off the charts in attendance and enthusiasm! Wow! I don't have the official count but it seemed like we had between 40 and 50 people attend the tasting, and they were an enthused group who asked all sorts of pertinent, wine-geek questions about the wines and the estate. The wines tasted included the 2006 Gunderloch Gewurztraminer, 2007 Gunderloch Dry Riesling, 2007 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett, 2007 Gunderloch Diva Riesling Spatlese, and 2007 Gunderloch Nackenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Spatlese. What a line-up! The tasters gushed over how great the wines were, starting with the Gewurztraminer, which blew a lot of people away because it normally isn't everyone's favorite variety. But the Gunderloch Gewurz has restraint and focus and some great minerality that a lot of people picked up on. And at about 8 or 9 grams of residual sugar, it was perfectly balanced and not too sweet, and everyone seemed to really enjoy it.

Of the Rieslings, people seemed to gravitate toward how perfectly balanced and likeable the Jean-Baptiste Kabinett was. And they marvelled at how divine and sublime the Nackenheimer Rothenberg Spatlese was - pretty much a perfect Spatlese if there ever could be one!

After the tasting, we had to dash off to visit Wine House, another wine store that is well known for being big supporters of German wine. A brief little tasting here had the wine buyer also falling for the Gewurztraminer and the Rothenberg Spatlese, this time, the 2005 Rothenberg Spatlese was shown in all its youthful glory, its superb long length, its complex body that wraps around your tongue. Yum.

Two restaurant visits followed, during which time we enjoyed some of the restaurant offerings as well: The Lobster and Gjelina. Both restaurants, on a Monday night in May, were packed to the gills, giving me all the evidence that I need that the recession is over. At The Lobster, we were treated to a beautiful table with a view overlooking the ocean and the Santa Monica Pier as we dined on delicious shellfish - Stefanie's seafood pasta heaped with colorful mussels, clams, lobster, and crab; my 5 plump and generous diver scallops perfectly seared and perched in a gorgous buttery sauce.....we drank Alsacian Riesling by the glass: 2007 Domaine Ostertag Dry Riesling. We talked with the wine director/manager, but unfortunately he was too busy to taste - he would re-visit the Gunderloch Rieslings another time.

After that, it was to Gjelina in Venice, a restaurant open for less than a year, but always packed, every night of the week, and selling tons of interesting wine. Here, we had some dessert and tasted the wine buyer on the Gunderloch wines - his favorite was the Gewurz! Though of course he also loved the Rothenberg Spatlese........

A successful evening with Stefanie, and most enjoyable! Winemakers rule!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Running, Eating, Drinking and Gambling in the "Biggest Little City in the World"

So guess where we were last weekend?

Circumstances brought us to this small Nevada city, which I had been to maybe 20 years ago on a family driving trip down from Vancouver to San Francisco and over to Reno. Johan had never been, and when we heard that friends would be there that same weekend we were thinking of going, AND that there would be a road race on, we got pretty excited!

Initially, we were going to run a humble 10-K, but when we went to the web to sign up, we saw that a half-marathon was available, for only another $10 to register, and we thought to ourselves, why not?

We flew into Reno on Southwest Airlines, checked into our hotel, and set out to find ourselves lunch before our friends were going to arrive. Since we had to pick up our race packets in downtown Reno's Harrah's casino, we headed that way - by foot. The air was clean and it wasn't too hot, so instead of taking the bus, we just found ourselves walking the 2.8 miles into town. It was a nice way to orient ourselves to the city.

After picking up our race numbers and new t-shirts, lunch was the plan. We found a pub called Brew Brothers in the El Dorado hotel in downtown Reno. The place had big screens showing the upcoming Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, which looked pretty exciting!

The brews weren't bad either!
After lunch, it was our mission to walk off the heavy meal (burgers and beer). We headed back to our hotel, relaxed a bit in the room, and managed to catch the replay of Mine that Bird beating all the other horses at the Derby by passing almost every one of them. Wow! What a horse and jockey team!!
Soon, it was time to meet our friends for dinner. An early dinner was planned by our friends, who would meet us at our hotel, the Peppermill, where a number of good restaurants were located. The plan was to dine Italian before our race. The restaurant was called Romanza.

The menu ended up having a whole lot of enticing dishes that lured me away from my original plan of having pasta. What was I thinking??? I ordered one of my favorite Italian dishes, veal ossobucco. I urged Johan to order one of his favorites, veal chop. Before a race? I have no idea why I didn't settle for a nice simple pasta dish - ah.... live and learn.
Our friends ordered a favorite wine of theirs, 1998 Merryvale, a meritage (Bordeaux-style) blend. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine that had good developed aromas, and on the palate, an interesting wine, definitely still fresh, tasty, though in my mind not the best aged Napa Cabernet that I had ever had - that would be one that I had at 555 with Randy Kemner, Robert Eymael, Allie Mitchell and Johan maybe a year ago.... something I blogged about, but the name now escapes me. That had been more of a mind-blowing experience, same with a 1994 Justin Isosceles I had at a wine dinner. The Merryvale was more of a pleasant wine than a mind-blower, for me.
Dinner was great - my veal ossobucco was fabulous, and after dinner we had a little nightcap at the VIP bar in the hotel... saw our friends off, then went to place a few little bets at the sports book (hockey - Anaheim to win, and Boston to win), then it was off to sleep so we could be up early to run!

The weather was a bit cold and rainy, but we got out there. I channelled Mine that Bird during the race and ended up passing a bunch of people, and did a very respectable time!
A shower, then clean clothes, then a seafood lunch in one of the hotel's other restaurants, Oceano, where we enjoyed raw oysters, then oysters Rockefeller, and some clam chowda.
Dinner was scheduled with some other friends - at a local Thai restaurant called Bangkok Cuisine. It was sort of a wine dinner, with folks bringing all sorts of wines, mostly of the Riesling variety. I tasted a bunch of wine but the most notable was a wine from a state I had never tasted a wine from before: Idaho!

A very sound Riesling from Idaho - 2005 Ste. Chapelle Winemaker's Series Riesling. To be honest, I didn't know Idaho made wine! But here it was, a pleasant, easy-drinking Riesling about a medium-dry, slightly fruity, not too high acid wine.
In all, my experience in Reno was a fun one. The town has fresh mountain air, is much greener than I thought it would be (I thought it was desert), and the people are nice, active, and fun. The neighborhoods are not bad either! We ran through some nice ones. The gambling was okay - didn't do a lot of winning, but the Ducks did win against the Red Wings, but the Bruins didn't win so that was a bit of a wash. But what can you do? At least the stock market is doing well these days! And I got to experience eating, drinking, running and gambling with some fun people in a new town. Life is good!