Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paso Robles, a tale of two cities! Part 3

So day two (which again was very hot) of our winery road trip in Paso Robles, we headed to the West side. The locals call Justin and most of the wineries located here the "farside". In October the hills of Paso are like giant stacks of pale yellow hay dotted with solitary oak trees. But before we head out I filled our large ice chest with some ice, to avoid (inside temp reached about a 98 degrees) cooking all the wine, we anticipated purchasing. Upon arriving at the vineyard you could definitely see the soil type differences between the East and West. The calcareous soil, white soil containing calcium and magnesium, similar to that of the Rhone Valley jutting up above the surface, like icebergs floating on a ocean of soil. There in lies the contrast in East vs. West wine styles.
We had scheduled a tour @ Justin first thing in the morning. Our tour guide Jim Gerakaris, who is part of the tour and tasting room team gave us a grand tour of the facilities. Since we were there in the middle of harvest, we witnessed first hand many of the harvest (including a pesky flies which can't leave you alone) activities from grape to glass. It is a very impressive operation, the machinery and attention to detail is evident in the quality of wine they are producing. Our tasting was conducted back in the tasting room which is pretty lavish and encourages purchases.
The tasting line-up included the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay, 2007 Viognier, 2006 Syrah, 2006 Syrah and the 2006 Savant. Unfortunately were unable to taste the 2006 Justification or 2005 Isosceles, but we did purchase a few of the 06 Justification and trying this at home. Wow, very good! We luckily already had some of the 05 Isosceles at home. We did join the Justin Wine Society so we would be able to purchase the Isosceles Reserve.
The wines I would pass on here are the 07 Viognier and the 07 Chardonnay. These varietals typically grow better in a cooler climate and despite being sourced from the cool, ocean influenced Templeton gap area I thought both efforts were too austere. Justin also produces about five other wines which we politely ask to taste and they politely refused. I highly recommend stopping by if you are in the area it is totally worth the trip and book a tour.

Next we went to Tolo Cellars, and met the young winemaker and proprietor Josh Gibson. In wine circles he is said to be "flying under the radar", but definitely not a place to missed. As you pull up to a "little red school" which serves as the tasting room. I think we hung out in the kitchen which has a bar facing the sliding door entry way. He was very gracious to grant us a private tasting during the harvest. We had a great time talking about his wine making style and how he got started. The wines are very good and had a long persistent finish. The wine descriptions are very different than most, but are very smartly written. We walked out with six bottles and wished our budget could have afforded us more.

The wines we left with were the 2004 Cabernet, the 2002 Zinfandel and the 2004 Asini two of each. All of Josh's wines are worth your consideration and worth the trip to the tasting room. You can't find these wines on your supermarket shelves and your local wine shop guy won't have these either, but give him a call he may be able to ship a few bottles. If not "make the trip, you won't be disappointed", this is the advice I received and I am very happy I discovered this Westside gem. Thanks Josh!

In Part four you can look forward to my visit @ Tablas Creek, L'Adventure and Lone Madrone. Until then cheers!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paso Robles, a tale of two cities! Part 2

So you maybe wondering where does the the tie in from Charles Dickens book, "A tale of two cities" come from? Simply, I get it from one of the books major themes, which is duality.

Thus my premise here is twofold. You have a dividing line which is the 101 and a controversy about dividing up these two areas, East and West into different appellations. You also have the media attention ascribed to the Westside and some shunning of the Eastside. Then from my practical experience in the area tasting just two weeks ago and putting all politics and opinions aside I voted with my wife and I's palate. Let the wine do the talking, as it has much to say about it's own terroir!
That said you can find a interesting article posted online about the subject of this duality and continuing controversy @

To be fair and objective, I would give the Eastside an opportunity and so on the first day, we visited Tobin James, Eberle, EOS, Bianchi, RN Estate, and J Lohr. For the latter two we found some wines we really liked, but for the most part the East Side wines were pretty uninteresting.
To be completely fair we did not visit every winery on the Eastside, but the majority of the wine which really impressed us, was on the much celebrated Westside.
As for the highlights of the Eastside we discovered, we found two wineries making some very interesting wines who are as different as night and day. Boutique vs. big, bulk wine, corporate-owned winery.

The first one is J Lohr, which as described has a much larger presence in the wine market place. But I've been drinking J Lohr wine for quite a while and while I don't like everything they put out, I've been drawn to the Cab's they make, like the Hilltop Vineyard, the Seven Oaks and a new one to us is their Old Vines Zin (30 year old vines). While the Cabernet's are widely distributed the old vines Zin, is pretty much available @ the tasting room only (which is modeled after a circa 19th century schoolhouse emphasizing the goal of educating there customers about wine.)

Now for the second place we went which is not too far from J. Lohr, we arranged on a recommendation to make an appointment Roger Nicolas, owner and winemaker of RN Estate. He was gracious enough to grant us a tasting. He does his tastings from his home, which is gorgeous! Please see the rest of the pix I took of his place in the Paso Album. Best views in Paso!

The focus of his wines is to be food friendly, to that end his wines are what I would call more of the "feminine" side. Not the big, bold in your face massively structured wines, but instead lithe, and balanced and mature. We came home with 6 bottles, only our budget and space requirements restrained us from purchasing more. We tastes 6 different wines, but we settled on the East Knoll Cuvee 2005, Cuvee Des Artistes 2005 and the Cuvee Des Trois Cepages 2006. Wines which reflect red Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, and I would say very accurately, without the normal massive price tag. To visit RN Estate online click on over to

Our tasting was unusual in two ways, one we were seated around a gorgeous wood table and given stemware which amplified the characteristics of the wine being poured. Two, the owner himself sat down with us and discussed his wines and winemaking philosophy! Thanks Roger!

Stay tuned part three of the series coming soon........!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Paso Robles, a tale of two cities! Part 1

Well it was a vacation, anniversary celebration and wine tasting week all rolled into one. The place, Paso Robles. Our trip took us up the five, (the passage through LA, terrible) through the grape vine and crossed over on the 46 heading west. Initially you pass my many vineyards but alas those grapes have a different destination other than wine (or at least we hope). As you continue down the 46 W you see Pistachio (ever feel like stopping to pick some?) tree groves and a reminder about, "where there is water there is food."

One thing unexpected thing is a sea of oil wells (about 1/2 still pumping) on the two-lane stretch from Paso Robles to Cholame which was once known as "Blood Alley" where James Dean lost his life. The 46 W is a place where you don't want to be distracted, with many drivers wanted to pass slower moving traffic and times at the peril of themselves and others.

In all about 5 1/2 hour journey from San Diego to downtown Paso. We had a nice lunch @ the Odyssey Cafe ( I give this place a big thumbs up) and then before checking in we decided to do some wine tasting on the East Side of the 101. Since we had arrived by 11:30 am we were in the perfect position to hit a number of wineries and take a few tours before closing time.

So we (that's my wife and I) make a stop Arroyos Robles and meet Jason (Owner of AR) and Deanna (DD), who started Wine Country Outings and has these great wine journals(listed as a MS friend). We had a great time talking wine, drinking the wines and enjoying the hospitality of our host. Thanks Jason! Proud of his Irish ancestry. But the wine we liked and unfortunately left behind was: The Little Star pictured below, because we felt a little hurried we left there without a purchase and quickly made our way to one other tasting room in town (Silver Stone) which DD liked and was on her Journal list. Thanks DD!
Which meant for us 1st class service and free tastings and a nice discount on our purchases, we went with the 2004 Syrah, Paso Robles which is sourced from Orchid Hill Vineyard in Paso Robles’ cool Westside. (which @ the time I didn't realize would become important) Wine makers notes "This lean site, at high elevation and planted on shale and limestone soils, produces deeply-colored, robustly flavored wines that display elements of saddle-leather and blackberry, with firm but supple tannins" and @ 17% alc. I recommend decanting. But it is a big beautiful bold fruit bomb, with some nice acidity as the frame work. You hardly notice the alc. as it is very smooth and has a long persistent finish. I recommend ordering a couple today!I unfortunately will have to finish here for now, but please stay tuned for part two coming very soon, until then cheers!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fine Tuning @ Domaine Faiveley

Well the premiere of this new films series from Wilson Daniels, Fine Tuning at Domaine Faiveley has come and gone and I was asked to review the short film and also one of their wines.
I had the opportunity to taste the Domaine Faiveley Montagny, Cote Chalonnaise, a Burgundian white wine (a Chardonnay 2006).
Price: 28.00, Alc. 12.8%
Appearance: the clarity was bright
Color: pale yellow @ the rim and the core was light straw
Nose: Aromas of a thinly sliced granny smith apple
Palate: Tepid sweetness, crisp acidity, with stony fruit on the palate, a somewhat thin body, but the finish is where you can lightly taste some of the restrained girth of the fruit. Drink now or hold through 2012
Typically not the type of Chardonnay I enjoy as it spent 14 months in stainless steel. Drink within 5 minutes after refrigeration for maximum enjoyment.

Regarding the movie, for me it was a rewarding experience. Often when you think of French wines and the French in general, the first phrase which comes to my mind is "One of a stern or strict bearing or demeanor; forbidding in aspect" but young (25) owner of the J. Faiveley comes across in this short movie is his sense of humbleness (not willing to sit on his laurels) and the respect Erwan has for tradition is refreshing.
I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions of this short movie!
How did I get there? Well when Erwan Faiveley says, "You don't own the vineyard, the vineyard owns you" and Erwan further says, "when you drink the wine from Domaine Faively he wants you to think of one thing, that is who made the wine and where it came from." Terroir is very important!
Being someone who has been largely a domestic wine drinker for the most part, seeing the film increased my interest in wanting to taste more wine from Domaine Faiveley and a deeper appreciation for French wine. I recommend taking a look at this short film and give it a thumbs up!
*Erwan Faiveley, the seventh generation to lead Domaine Faiveley, discusses his wineries distinct position as one of the largest vineyard owners in Burgundy, as well as new vineyard acquisitions, recent changes in wine making philosophy and his vision for the future.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Paso Robles, a tale of two cities!

Hey everyone,

Just got back from my trip to Paso a couple of days ago. What a great place! The town is not too big, but it does have a lot going on. Especially if dining is on your mind, great menus and good service are the norm. Wine, the sky is the limit! No metered parking and the traffic is non-existent. The folks here are down to earth and very friendly.

I call this a tale of two cities because of the east/west dividing line of the vineyards. I will be writing about my adventures in Paso over the next few weeks. There is so much to talk about! A series entitled, "Paso Robles East vs. West, a tale of two cities" I will also be including a huge photo album of the Paso wine experience. I am in the process of editing and articulating my thoughts. (No it will not be as stuffy, as I just made it sound) it was another fun adventure in wine country. I will give you the good, the bad and the ugly! Not too much of latter two, though!

But there were a few.

In regards the wine experience there, like my last blog about the movie trailer, "a sense of place" you will see why I have entitled my blog series "a" tales of two cities! If you have been there you already know what I mean, if not then you will.

Until then Cheers!

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