A Paso Robles Wine Tasting Guide
There are the “establishment” wine regions, and then there are the rule-breakers and innovators. Paso Robles falls squarely into the latter category. This growing AVA nudged its way into wine society through it’s excellent Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Rhone-style red blends. But the winds are changing, and more varietals are making their way into the rolling green vineyards of this beautiful countryside. Pushing that variety are young, experimental winemakers who aren’t afraid to break away from tradition. The result? Bold and unusual blends that tip their hat to the old ways while adventurously putting their own stamp on California wine. Ready to try the best of the best? Here’s a Paso Robles Wine Tasting Guide.
Wine Tasting in Paso Robles: A Guide
Note: a portion of the cost of this trip was covered by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. All opinions, recommendations, and suggestions are my own.
Understanding the appellations
The Paso Robles wine region encompasses a staggering 600,000+ acres — meaning you need to be smart about where you plan to visit. In terms of tasting rooms, you’ll get more bang for your buck (or mileage), if you stick to West Paso. Adelaida, Willow Creek, and Templeton Gap are chock-full of old stalwarts and up-and-comers worth checking out. Of course, those east of the 101 Freeway in Estrello, Geneseo, and El Polmar also have plenty to offer, and a smattering of free tastings to lure the budget taster.
There are also plenty of winemakers who purchase their fruit and focus solely on the art of making. Most of these have tasting rooms conveniently located in town, meaning you can do a “wine crawl” entirely on foot — no transportation necessary.
If you’re like me and prefer to drink your wine after you taste, you’ll need to find a way to get around. If you’re more a DIY-wine taster, Paso Robles participates in Uber Wine. This on-demand transportation service provides you a local driver who will pick you up, take you to the wineries of your choice, and wait for you at those wineries. Cost is calculated by vehicle size, time, and distance, and in Paso Robles it generally shakes out to $30 – $45/hour. This doesn’t include any tasting fees or meals, but comparatively it’s a pretty decent value.
There are also a host of wine tour operators, from mom-and-pop operations to big guns who operate in several wine regions. You can get an idea of their quality and offering here.
Where to Visit: The Wineries Not to Miss
This winery has a lot going for it, even just in looks. A beautiful patio overlooks the rolling hills the Saint Lucia Range in the Templeton Gap region of Paso Robles. You can sit under one of Paso’s namesake oak trees (Paso Robles means “pass of the oaks”) and sip your way through their incredibly impressive range of wines. Their freshly-released 2015 Theresa is a white-wine-lover’s dream, and indicative of the experimental spirit that dominates the best of the region’s wine. It strikes the perfect balance between fruit and acid, and can stand alone or pair beautifully with any seafood meal. But red wine lovers don’t need to dispair — their 2015 Zinfandel holds lots of promise and is ready to go now, and the 2014 Mother of Exiles might become your new go-to steak wine.
Do you like your wine to be a little bit rock and roll? Don’t miss Herman Story, a wine making operation that throws a good amount of party into their process. Their exuberant love of ‘the good life’ comes through in their bold, boozy wines and amazing tasting room atmosphere. You can tell that every member of the young staff loves working at Herman Story, and their passion for and knowledge of wine is evident. It’s hard to go wrong with anything from this winemaker, but their 2013 and 2014 Grenaches demonstrate the versatility of the grape. If you like your wine to be a delicious mouthpunch, gravitate toward 2014 GSM “Casual Encounters.” The addition of a tiny hit of Tannat elevates this from others and it’s ready to drink now. My favorite? The 2013 Syrah “John Sebastians.” Herman Story is definitely a must-visit when you pass through Paso.
Derby Wine Estates
The Derby family are famed for their whites, and you won’t taste a bad one in the bunch. The 2014 Picpoul Blanc scored major points with me — I enjoyed the tropical fruit on the front palate and balanced mild acid on the finish. Also worth grabbing: a 2007 Sparking Pinot Noir Rose. From it’s classy onionskin color to it’s smooth finish, the care taken in creating this wine is evident in every sip.
If you can swing it, try to get a Tower Tour. It’s a fascinating exploration of the space Derby has taken residence in: an old Blue Diamond Almond Factory. You’ll ascend to the top of the tower that used to house 500 tons of nuts and learn a lot about Paso Robles along the way. And even if you don’t taste it, do not leave without a bottle of 2008 Maneater. Perfect name, perfect red blend, and so ready to be opened.
No guide to Paso Robles is complete without the winery that put it on the map: Justin. Heavy on Bordeaux-style wines, their Isosceles blend first got notice of wine critics in the late 90s and the rest was history. The primary tasting room grounds have been recently renovated, and the result is a very clean, airy, polished space (though it does lack authentic character).
You can tour their winemaking facilities just down the road from the tasting room, where knowledgeable and friendly staff will take you through the man-made cave system that houses much of their wine. The 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is one of my go-to reds — it’s bold, juicy and a definite crowd-pleaser. Definitely stop here for lunch — their kitchen is turning out beautiful meals and the $25 Icons Tasting Flight allows you to experience three of their best releases: 2014 Justification, 2014 Savant (a favorite), and 2013 Isosceles.
This winery wins for variety. They make a staggering number of wines, from elegant great-value whites, to explosive and complex red blends, to an array of dessert wines. Tablas Creek also presents a unique opportunity to taste the component wines of many blends found in Paso Robles. If you’re an adventurous taster, you can sample 100% Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Vermintino, and more. Once you get a sense of how these grapes taste on their own, it helps to pull apart their unique elements in the blends they form. Their 2013 Patelin de Tablas is amazing bang-for-your-buck; pick up a few bottles. You can arrange a free winery tour, and they allow picnicking and pets.
Their tasting room is no-frills, but they put out a good wine. Much of their wine sticks to tried-and-true Rhone blends, and their focus pays off in execution. If you enjoy whites, pick up a bottle of their Terre Blanche. It’ll age well, and their 2010 is fantastic if you can find it. In reds, they focus mainly on GSM blends, and their refined approach really showcases the range of this type of wine. If you’re looking for a straightforward bold wine, pick up the 2014 Les Galets Syrah — it’d go perfectly with barbecued meat. If you prefer to explore smaller operations (read: not backed by multinational corporations), definitely put this one on the list.
Turley Wine Cellars
Calling all Zinfandel lovers! You’ll be in wine heaven at Turley, an operation that puts out over 20 Zins. With vines in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, discerning palates can explore the differences between vineyards. But when in Paso, why not explore Paso? There are a series of fantastic Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs that do the region justice. Their 2013 Ueberroth Zinfandel is the perfect Thanksgiving wine, with plenty of cranberry and red fruit to complement your turkey. Their Catalan-style 2013 Tecolote (which means “owl” in Spanish) is a very drinkable Grenache-based red. Anything coming from their Pesenti vineyard is worth a taste, bringing some unique elements in the nose and palate not normally found in Zins. A bonus for eco-conscious oenophiles: Turley is dedicated to organic farming techniques, with the majority of their vineyards certified.
With so many wineries to choose from, you could spend weeks in Paso Robles without fully sampling all it has to offer. Add in a charming downtown core, excellent dining options, and more wine than you could ever hope to taste, you have the makings of a perfect weekend.
Which of these vineyards sounds best to you? Where’s the best place you’ve been wine tasting on your travels? Let me know in the comments!