Friday, April 13, 2007

California Central Coast Wineries

Now the term "central coast" as it applies to California wines seems to be a fairly broad designation encompassing most anything south of the Bay Area all the way to Santa Barbara. Some good friends of ours, Ed and Nicole, and my godson, Christian, moved to a community just outside of San Luis Obispo. It is incredibly beautiful there and I wonder how anyone gets anything done living surrounded by such beauty and great weather. One thing they do well there is make fantastic wines.

Going wine tasting with a two-year-old is a different experience, but not altogether bad. One winery, Eagle Castle, even had a sample of their grape juice — for the budding wine enthusiasts. One thing it does limit is the amount of time you can spend visiting the vineyards and wineries.

We started by going to Claiborne & Churchill outside of San Luis Obispo. I was surprised to find out that although there were vines all around us, that they shipped the grapes in from Monterey County. That is somewhat off-putting since visiting the place where the grapes are grown and wines are made are to me part of the winery experience. However, they had some very nice whites (dry Riesling and Gerzurtaminer?) and good Pinot Noir. We bought several for our stay in California and three to bring home. They were all very nice wines, maybe in the 86-89 range. They had a $5 tasting fee, but at least it could go toward a purchase of wine if you buy. I still believe that I buy more when I don't have to pay the fee.

The next day we drove inland and north a bit to the wine country around Paso Robles. This seemed more typical of what I was used to in Napa and Chianti. More vines, more wineries, etc. We stopped first at Donati Family Winery, who also sourced their grapes from around Monterey. They had a beautiful tasting room with very nice staff but their wines were all underwhelming. I bought a Pinot Gris to offset the $5 tasting fee. I'd probably give it a 85. It had some of the tropical fruit that I normally associate with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

The last stop we made was to Eagle Castle Winery. Their tasting room was in a new Medieval Times-looking castle. I was a little concerned about appearances, but you can't judge a wine by its tasting room. I was immediately pleasantly surprised to find out that they didn't have a tasting fee and had a wider variety of wines to try. Everything we tasted was very good, from their Syrah Rosé, which reminded me of one we had at Arger-Martucci in Napa, to their dessert wines. I especially liked their Syrah, Cab Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah-Cab blend (Royal Red). Their wines were in the 88-92 sweet spot and not too expensive. We ended up buying a half case and having it shipped home. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it finds its way to us safely.

There's a lot more to explore even in the areas we visited, but I also know that Santa Barbara has some great wineries that we will have to visit the next time we're out there.