Howard W. Hewitt – Grape Sense – www.redforme.blogspot.com
When you think of a wine country vacation, Napa and Santa Barbara (or for the internationally inclined, Bordeaux and Tuscany) come to mind. Been there, done that. Instead, try my new favorite wine country destination: Paso Robles. It’s wine country for wine lovers. Wine destinations like Napa are also known for their culinary offerings, picturesque landscapes, and a hospitality industry that readily, and expensively, supports travelers. However, I frequently hear the complaint that Napa is too commercial.
Enter Paso Robles, California. Located exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s known simply as “Paso” by the locals, of which there are 30,000. The city of Paso Robles has a charming and lively downtown whose restaurants easily overshadow those of the nearest “city” of San Luis Obispo. I’d venture to say Paso Robles’ restaurants rival those of major cities. Its proximity to fresh produce yields incredibly fresh food and fuels the locavore, seasonal-food trend. Not to be outshone by the food is the area’s rising star and greatest hope—the wine. So, go for a long weekend, go for a Valentine’s Day getaway, or whatever the circumstances, just go to Paso Robles.
Where to Stay: Our Favorite Paso Robles Hotel
The equestrian-themed boutique hotel, Hotel Cheval, perfectly hits that desired balance of romance, luxury, and fun while maintaining a modern yet classic decor—this is no homey, chintz-and-lace-trimmed B&B. Be sure to spend an evening near the outdoor fireplace with a glass of Paso wine in hand, and your sweetheart at your side. The hotel’s Pony Club heats up Thursday nights on the outdoor patio.
Where to Eat: Our Guide to Paso Robles Restaurants
Farm-to-table cooking takes center stage at Paso Robles restaurants, not because the cuisine is trendy but because nearby farms supply a yearlong bounty that has attracted top young chefs. They rival the talent of larger cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The following Paso Robles restaurants are not to be missed:
- Artisan Chef and co-owner Chris Kobayashi adds a refined touch to locally sourced ingredients in Artisan’s elegant surroundings. The trio of crème brulées is sublime, and the red abalone is a must for seafood die-hards.
- Villa Creek The succulent and rich butternut squash enchiladas are reason enough to eat here. If you need another, the bar is a favorite watering hole for Paso Robles locals.
- Panolivo Its reputation as the spot for weekend brunch in Paso is fully justified. Order the quiche—you won’t be disappointed.
- Thomas Hill Organics Get anything with tomatoes if they’re in season. The young and extremely modest chef brings out of the best in the locally grown produce from the Thomas Hill Organics farm, which is dedicated to heirloom varieties of local fruits and vegetables. And if you find Thomas Hill figs in the marketplace, buy them by the dozen.
- Il Cortile Ristorante This is fine Italian dining at one of downtown Paso Robles’ newest additions.
Paso Robles Wineries to Visit
Of course, one travels to wine country to visit wineries and go on wine tours. Hence, a list of Paso Robles wineries that are not to be missed:
- Tablas Creek Vineyard A historic player in the area, organically farmed Tablas Creek Vineyard is a leader in producing rich Rhône varietal wines. It heads the area’s “Rhône Rangers” movement to grow and promote wines from grapes traditionally grown in the Rhône Valley of France. These include Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre red grapes, and Roussanne and Viognier white varietals.
- Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery Go for a tour with Cindy Steinbeck as she drives you around her family’s 500 acres of grapes, most of which are sold to the area’s other wineries.
- Eberle Winery One of the original wineries in the region, its quality is top-notch.
- Justin Vineyards & Winery This is among the best known of the area’s wineries. Try its “Justification,” a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, or “Isosceles,” a similar blend that also incorporates Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Terry Hoage Vineyards Don’t dismiss this winery because it’s run by former football star Terry Hoage. The Hoages are serious about making fruit-forward wines in an idyllic setting that makes you linger and plot your own retirement in wine country.
Paso Wine Tour Insider Tip
Wine makes you tipsy. Let this serve as a PSA, and hire the Wine Wrangler to give you a safe, professionally guided, customizable tour in a comfortable shuttle bus. The bonus? At many wineries, you’ll get merchandise discounts and won’t pay tasting fees.
Take a Paso Robles Wine Country Day Trip
Take a trip to Morro Bay, a picturesque 30-minute drive from downtown Paso Robles. Morro Bay is a family-friendly spot famous for its oysters and abalone. The area is thriving thanks to young locals’ startups, from the astonishingly good Brown Butter Cookie Company to Top Dog Coffee Bar. Don’t miss Morro Bay Oyster Company, owned by 20-something Neal Maloney, which offers hand-selected oysters cultivated with environmentally sustainable methods. And at Windows on the Water, go for the 65¢ oyster night.
Take a tour of the placid bay with Lost Isle Adventures, and watch pelicans dive for breakfast while they dodge kayakers. For $3, check out the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History and bring the kids for free. Golf enthusiasts can play a round at the Morro Bay Golf Course, known as the “poor man’s Pebble Beach” since it overlooks the Pacific Ocean. On your way back to town, don’t miss the halibut tacos and melt-on-your-tongue guacamole at Taco Temple. Or for something decidedly more upscale, taste the inventively presented food at the Cass House Inn and Restaurant. No matter what dish you order, you’ll absolutely devour it.
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Anu Karwa, Epicurean Contributing Editor
Anu Karwa has been called a no-nonsense walking 411 for a new generation of female wine drinkers and home entertainers since she launched Swirl Events, an in-home and corporate wine tasting events company with a fresh, hip spin. For anyone who thinks Perez Hilton should be required reading . . . Read more of Anu’s picks
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