Monday, March 7, 2011

Rhoning in Paso...

JD & I had the opportunity to head up to Paso Robles a couple of weeks ago for the annual Rhone Rangers Experience - Paso Robles chapter - seminar and tasting. We sweet-talked our cousins in Los Osos to put us up for a couple of nights, and headed up the coast.

Saturday morning, got on the road early, stopping in Solvang to break our fast at Paula's Pancake House. This time we had contacted our friend Lee Tomkow, a brilliant photographer and videographer, to meet us. Over breakfast, we chatted about wines and wineries. On hearing that we were headed to the RR, he suggested that we look up Ambyth Estate and try the wines there. He couldn't say enough about them - biodynamic, organic farming, great location at a high elevation in Templeton. I said we'd keep it in mind, time permitting.

The rain - and sleet - hit as we headed up the 101, and by the time we got to Los Osos, it was coming down steadily. Sara and Bill put out snacks, opened some wine and dished as the rain poured outside. We were warm and cozy inside, especially while dining on grilled steaks, garlic mashed taters, sauteed green beans and salad. Yum! By the time the evening was over, I think we had gone through at least 3 bottles of wine, including a Merry Edwards Pinot Noir that was even better than I remembered.
Vina Robles winery
Up early the next morning and hit the road to Paso. The rain was gone, leaving behind blue skies and gorgeous vistas of snow-capped mountains from the storm the night before. We arrived at Vina Robles winery early, and were warmly greeted by chapter president Jason Haas of Tablas Creek, who had managed to find seats for us at the winemakers' seminar and lunch. So MUCH fun!

The seminar was moderated by noted Rhone expert and Wine & Spirits Magazine Senior Correspondent, Patrick Comiskey, and included the winemakers from 9 local wineries, all presenting and discussing their history of making Rhone-varietal wines. They were:
  • Bill Sheffer, Halter Ranch - 2009 Viognier
  • Jason Haas, Tablas Creek - 2009 Rousanne
  • Lood Kotze, Cass - 2009 "Rockin' On" (60% Rousanne, 40% Marsanne)
  • Jason Joyce, Calcareous - 2009 Vin Gris of Mourvedre
  • Terry Culton, Adelaida - 2008 Grenache
  • Steve Lohr, J. Lohr - 2008 Mourvedre "Gesture"
  • Kevin Sass, Justin - 2008 Syrah
  • Neil Roberts, Clavo - 2008 Petite Sirah "Dreamer"
  • Matthias Gugler, Vina Robles - 2008 Red4 (Blend)

Each winemaker brought a unique perspective and experience to the table, including lots of laughs as they recounted their 'learning' experiences in the wine biz. The attendees asked good questions and received detailed answers - delighting the geek in me! My favorite wines of the seminar were the Tablas Creek Rousanne - still very young, but rich, full of honey and pear, the Calcareous Vin Gris - full of dried cherry with a finish that tasted like a Jolly Rancher watermelon candy (I mean that in a good way!). I was pleasantly surprised by the J. Lohr "Gesture"; the nose was earthy, the taste was full of dark fruit with a chocolatey finish and a firm tannic backbone. I suspect that J. Lohr uses de-alcoholizing machines as Steve said he harvested this at 30 Brix, but it was not crazy high in alcohol, and it was dry.

As we tasted, Mr. Comiskey added his expert view on the wines. I didn't agree with all of his opinions, but it was interesting to learn his preferences as well as listen to him speak eloquently about the wines.

Lunch was beautifully catered by Chef Jeffrey C. Scott, and several winemakers poured their wines to accompany the oak-roasted Berkshire Pork Loin, Chicken Provencal, organic vegetable cassoulet, and thyme roasted Shiitake Mushroom tarts (OMG). There were breads and olive oils to accompany the meal. Delish!

Seated at our table was an interesting Brit who turned out to be none other than winemaker Phillip Hart of Ambyth Estate (remember the beginning of this post when friend Lee told us to look up Ambyth?), a certified biodynamic and organic vineyard and olive orchard. Phillip poured his lovely wine with lunch - as well as several others at the Grand Tasting - and told us about the work he and his wife are doing on their estate in Templeton. I really don't know if Biodynamics is real or not, but the Ambyth wines are delicious, with good aging potential. I love the serendipity that runs through our lives!

The Grand Tasting was grand indeed! So many wonderful wineries poured their particular visions of California Rhone wines. We stayed after the Grand Tasting and did a bit of tasting at the Vina Robles tasting room as well, then headed down to Templeton to meet Bill and Sara at McPhee's Grill for another amazing meal. The house wine at McPhee's is Jim Clendenen's Au Bon Climat, so we indulged in a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir just to cleanse our palates after a day of Rhoning.

The next day we headed south to Buellton and Los Olivos, but that's a story for another day. And, believe me, there's a story!


1 comment:

Xochitl said...

Sounds like delicious and serendipitous fun!