stuff and things

27 September 2010

Day Two of our Vacation: Paso Robles

I always intend to bring a Spanish/English dictionary with me on road trips. So many of our California place-names are Spanish, and I hate it when I can't figure out what something means. Originally, Paso Robles was called Paso de Robles, or Pass of the Oaks. Yes, I looked it up. There must be some connection between Live Oaks and good wine soil; it seems that Live Oak trees are everywhere in wine country. But no place has as many as Paso Robles.
California Live Oak, dripping with Spanish Moss

Wisely, we chose to eat a proper breakfast before our day of wine-tasting, so we headed to the food website Chowhound for recommendations from fellow travelers. Everyone seemed to like Chico's Cafe, right in the middle of the town's plaza with a view to the park. Andy opted for a fruit bowl instead of bacon; it was beautiful as well as delicious.
Chico's Cafe: highly recommended
We decided to put off wine tasting for a walk in the park and a brief tour of the Paso Robles Historical museum, housed in an old Carnegie Library building, where we shuddered at the sight of an 1890's surgical saw.

Our next stop was the Chamber of Commerce for an up-to-date winery map. As the fastest growing wine region in California, Paso Robles offers repeat visitors a constant round of new tasting rooms. This time I wanted to focus on the zinfandel varietal. While on Chowhound I'd learned of a young woman who has restored her Italian grandfather's 80-year old vineyard; where formerly Dante Dusi sold his grapes to other winemakers, now Janelle Dusi creates her own wines. The staff at the Chamber were so helpful, directing us to the Zoller wine-tasting room as a possible source of J.Dusi wine.

We lucked out, because Zoller is open only three days a week; we met the winemaker, Signe Zoller, who makes wines under the Zoller label but also works with other growers who want help blending their wines. They didn't stock J.Dusi, but Signe made a quick phone call and discovered that we could buy it at the 15c wine shop, down in Templeton next to the Trader Joe's. How nice was that? We ended up liking Signe's wines very much, walking out with a fragrant '09 Twin Coyotes Vermentino, an '08 Zoller Primitivo, and an inspired '07 Gr8ass (ha ha) Cabernet.
Andy "checks-in" on Foursquare at Zoller
Another stroke of luck: we'd already planned to hit Trader Joe's next to stock the cooler for lunches and snacks. Apart from buying a J.Dusi zin, the day's only other goal was to taste once again at Justin, where we used to be wine club members.

The 15c Wine Shop and Bar was all about celebrating Spanish food and culture. Ali, the owner, flitted between helping two Spanish women create tapas to serving her customers. Her wine selection was local, enormous and fascinating -- but a J.Dusi Zinfandel was not in the cards as Ali had sold her last bottle the previous night. We promised to return on the way back home, but tucked a bottle of J.Dusi Carignane '08 into our cart just in case.

Our next stop was Turley Wine Cellars, a specialist in old-vine Zins. Some of their tastings came from 100+ year-old vines! And how wonderful they were. A bonus: our server was a quilter. We found a "Dusi"-vineyard Zin, made not by Janelle, but from grapes from her uncle's vineyard. The Dusi family seems to have deep roots here in Paso Robles.

At Jada we enjoyed some delicious wines. At $50, my favorite, the '08 Hell's Kitchen, a blend of estate syrah, grenach and mourvedre, was beyond our budget. Instead, we ended up with the most delightful and powerful Rose, the 1149. Onto Opolo, where Andy's Droid X phone told us we could check-in through Foursquare and recieve free wine tastings. (Most tastings cost from $5 to $10, in Paso -- much more in Napa!-- but generally you taste for free if you buy wine.)

Lindsay, our delightful server, had the gift of gab. We enjoyed many delicious samplings, although a bit of confusion arose as we told her about the free tasting with the Foursquare check-in and she thought that meant a check-in at their little inn. Apparently she hadn't been kept up to date on the tech-guy's Foursquare promotion. We came away with a fab Cabernet Franc, a Zin, and a Sangiovese, two of which we enjoyed with meals on the rest of the trip.

Justin, our final stop, proved as lovely as ever.
A plus: we managed to finagle a dinner reservation at their highly regarded, five-table restaurant. I happened to have a change of clothes with me, so traded my dusty shorts for my Hawaiian dress, but Andy, ever the good sport, ate in this elegant restaurant in his t-shirt and shorts. They assured us over and over that casual was just fine with them, and made us feel more than welcome. We went nuts over their '08 Orphan, a wine made from, shall we say, leftovers. At only $20, it was a steal.
Enjoying the ambiance at Justin Winery
After a romantic, star-lit drive back to our motel, a deep sleep proved to be the perfect cap to a wonderful day.