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Quick Sip: Waterstone 2008 Pinot Gris Napa Valley

Pinot Gris is a grape, descended from Pinot Noir, that is used to make white wines. The varietal is often called by other names, depending on where it’s made. In Germany, it is typically called Grauburgunder. That’s just a direct translation of Pinot Gris, as is Italy’s Pinot Grigio. In Switzerland, and sometimes France’s Loire Valley, it’s called Malvoisie. There is more Pinot Gris grown in Italy and Germany than in France. However, it is one of the three “noble grapes” of France’s Alsace and some of the very best versions come from that area.

Delicious Bites and Sips from the ZAP Epicuria Food and Wine Pairing Evening

When sommeliers talk about wines that pair well with food, Zinfandel doesn’t usually make the top ten list. Nonetheless, there are many foods for which it’s a great match.

Each year at the ZAP! festival, there is an evening devoted to showcasing how Zinfandel goes with food. Scores of wineries pour one wine each. Each winery is teamed up with a restaurant whose chef prepares a dish to go with that wine. Attendees wander from table to table, trying the combinations.

This year’s pairing event, dubbed Epicuria, was the best I’ve attended. The quality of the wines was very high. The food was consistently good. There were also some truly excellent dishes — not an easy feat to pull off for hundreds of people in an exhibition hall. And there were a few revelatory pairings.

Fried foods are often served with sauce that adds a counterpoint of tangy sweetness: ketchup with french fries, remoulade with crab cakes or honey-mustard with chicken fingers. Paul’s Paella of Alameda served up deep fried balls of paella, sans sauce. Very similar to arancini, they were crisp on the outside but soft and almost creamy on the inside. With R & B Cellars 2009 Zydeco Napa Valley Zinfandel to sip on, the sauce wasn’t missed.


When matching wine with food, people usually dwell on the main protein. Often the sauce is more important though. Swan Oyster Depot [no relation] used that principle to make a dish which was simple, yet a brilliant pairing. It is also something you might easily make at home: shrimp cocktail. Small, pink bay shrimp were served in a cup with a generous dollop of cocktail sauce dosed with plenty of horseradish. The sauce was an excellent foil for the briny shrimp. The slightly jammy 2010 Peach Canyon Especial Estate Zinfandel from Paso Robles soothed my mouth after the horseradish and readied me for another bite. [For something in a similar vein, consider Zinfandel with cioppino.]

My favorite plate of the evening was from Rose Pistola. It won a James Beard award for best new restaurant upon opening in 1996. The cuisine is inspired by the food of Liguria, a region on the northwestern coast of Italy. [Trivia: Rose Pistola is located on Columbus Avenue. The street is named for Christopher Columbus who was born in Genoa, which is within Liguria.]

Rose Pistola’s dish was black truffle and ricotta ravioli with golden raisins, orange zest and delicately-browned butter. Never before have I been tempted to lick a paper plate. It was paired with the 2009 Storybook Mountain Eastern Exposure Estate Zinfandel from Napa Valley.


This Storybook Mountain wine tells an interesting tale, but doesn’t shout. Complex and textured, it offers delectable berry fruit adorned by a range of spice, mineral and oak derived notes. A splash of Viognier, unusual for Zinfandel blends, contributes white floral notes and expands the spice box. In the pairing, black truffle and warm butter played off the earth in the wine, the orange zest danced on the berries and picked up the Viognier spice and flowers. Meanwhile, the fruit were a natural pairing for the ricotta cheese and provided a clean finish.

One of the best pairings for Zinfandel is braised meat. Tender, slow cooked beef or pork have a softness of texture that matches up well with the softness of some Zins. So do the deep flavors instilled by braising liquid which often includes a red wine reduction.

One of my favorite bites was from Componere Fine Catering. They braised and finely shredded pork cheek, made it into small patties and then pan-fried them until crispy. Resting on a pillow of smoked mashed potatoes, they were garnished with spicy pickled fennel. Mauritson’s 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel added a punch of ripe dark fruit, making a complete dish: savory, sour, salty and fruity.


Pican, an Oakland restaurant offering cuisine with a Southern accent, took braised pork in a different direction. They smoked a Berkshire pig before braising it in an intricately-flavored molé sauce of peanuts, chiles, Coca-Cola and chocolate. It was served hot in cup on creamy grits elevated with black pepper. The dish echoed the attributes of Carol Shelton’s Old Vine Zinfandels, rich in texture and flavor with both sweetness and a spicy kick.


Blue cheese is a tough food to pair. It’s intense, tangy flavors and saltiness overwhelm most wines, be they red or white. A boldly fruity wine with noticeable sweetness and only moderate oak is called for. Many people surrender and grab a bottle of Port. Zinfandel can work though and allows you to move from a meat course into cheeses without changing wines and swapping glasses.

Cuvee Napa prepared tasty truffles with a core of Shaft Creamery’s Elies Vintage Blue Cheese rolled in crushed black walnuts from Mendocino. It was a powerful bite: mouth-coating and strongly flavorful. The 2008 Saddelback Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel harmonized and cleansed the palate.


Good Zinfandel is an excellent match for food. It can provide a fruity contrast or spicy accent. It will cut through oily and creamy dishes or act in place of a zesty sauce. The right Zinfandel can take you all the way through a meal, from fried hors d’oeuvres on to a seafood course, a meaty main and then the cheese. Just save some for dessert.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles - 5 Excellent Stops Near Hwy 101 and Downtown

I’ve been getting a lot of requests lately for advice on where to go wine tasting in Paso Robles. Paso Robles has been an up-and-coming wine region for a decade. Perhaps it has arrived.

Wine aficionados first saw Paso Robles as a source for excellent QPR (quality-price ratio). Bang for the buck. But, over the last several years, Paso Robles has emerged as a producer of world-class wines too. Wine Spectator magazine named a Paso Robles Rhone-blend, the 2007 Saxum James Berry Vineyard, their Wine of the Year for 2010. Rhone-varietal wines have gotten much of the attention, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Zinfandel routinely get high scores as well. Paso Robles wines have a reputation for being bold and fruit-driven, but there are many which show a gentler side, offering elegance and subtle complexity.

Paso Robles an excellent destination for wine tasting too. The town still has a genuine farming/ranching feel,but has added upscale shops and restaurants. Paso Robles attracts wine fans from both southern and northern California, but doesn’t get as crowded as Napa Valley during the high season. Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit magazine has said that Paso Robles “feels like Napa Valley 25 years ago.” Most of the wineries are still small, family-operated and unpretentious. Two-thirds of them make just 5,000 cases or less per year. Others, though, have elaborate facilities, luxurious on-site lodging and the ability to cater to high-rollers.

If you go to explore the wines and wineries of Paso Robles, it’s best to have a focus. The number of wineries in Paso Robles has grown from 35 to nearly 200 in the last 10 years. They aren’t lined up on one or two long, straight roads as so many are in Napa. Planning ahead will allow you to make the most of your time. I tend to focus on specific areas when visiting Paso Robles, but you might prefer to seek out top makers of a particular type of wine. Today, and for each of the next four Wednesdays, I’ll offer a different route with some of my top choices for tasting wine in Paso Robles.

Please note that the details below with regard to fees, tours, etc. apply to individuals and groups of up to 6 people. Larger groups should call the wineries in advance for availability and special opportunities. It's never a bad idea to call ahead to a winery you're planning to visit even if you're on your own. They can give you a heads up on special events , or perhaps a large tour group that is about to pull in, either of which might cause you to adjust your schedule slightly.

Tasting Wine in Paso Robles: Northeast and Downtown

You can taste great wines in Paso Robles just five minutes from Hwy 101. Maybe you’re looking for a quick stop to break up a San Francisco-to-SoCal road trip. Or you’ve rolled into Paso Robles for the weekend on a Friday afternoon and want to hit a couple of wineries before dinner. This is the route for you.


Vina Robles
Vina Robles is located just a couple of miles east of Hwy 101, just off Hwy 46. They make a wide variety of very good wines that offer excellent value. Included are varietal and single-vineyard wines plus their innovative blends White4 (see review) and Red4. The latter two show how well non-traditional combinations can play together.

The Vina Robles hospitality center extremely spacious and includes more than just a tasting room. There is plenty of comfortable seating, an extensive gourmet foods shop and an art gallery. Deli food is available if you want to picnic or need a snack for the road. See my full profile of Vina Robles here.

NorCal Wine reviews of Vina Robles wines:
2009 Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc Jardine Vineyard Paso Robles

2009 Vina Robles WHITE4 Heurhuero Paso Robles
2007 Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon HuerHuero Paso Robles

Address: 3700 Mill Road Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 227-4812
Open Hours: 10am - 6pm (5pm during winter, closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day)
Tasting Fee: $0 for three wines, $7 Estate tasting, $10 Reserve tasting
Tours Available: By appointment
Food Available: Yes
Picnic Area: Yes
See map and weather forecast


Eberle Winery
Not every Paso Robles winery has sprung up in the last ten years. Gary Eberle has been in the wine business there for almost 40 years. He started out at Estrella River Winery which belonged to his family at the time. Eberle founded his eponymous winery in 1983. He is also a co-founder of the Paso Robles AVA which was established in 1980. [The Estrella River brand now belongs to Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wines Company. The winery itself was sold to Beringer in 1988 and renamed Meridian.] Eberle Winery is located on Hwy 46, almost directly across the highway from Vina Robles. (You'll need to drive, not walk, between the two though.)

The Eberle wines have been made by Ben Mayo since 2003. For the most part, the winery has specialized in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The Reserve Estate Cabernet is especially well regarded. Don’t miss the Eberle Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah. If you like something on the sweet side every now and then, try the Estate Muscat Canelli which is another Eberle flagship. If you notice a lot of Penn State references on the tasting room walls, that’s because Gary Eberle studied — and played football — there in the late 1960’s.

Address: 3810 Highway 46 East Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 238-9607
Open Hours: 10am - 6pm April-September, 10am - 5pm October - March
Tasting Fee: Complimentary tasting available, $25 VIP tasting by appointment
Tours Available: By appointment
Food Available: Yes
Picnic Area: Yes
See map and weather forecast

Ortman Family Wines

Like Gary Eberle, the Ortmans have been in the wine business for decades. Patriarch Chuck Ortman, who Wine Spectator once called “Mr. Chardonnay,” worked at Heitz Cellars all the way back in 1968. In the 1970’s, he made wine for Spring Mountain and St. Clement. His 1973 Spring Mountain Chardonnay was one of the wines chosen to compete in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Chuck Ortman founded his own label, Meridian, in 1984. It specialized in Eden Valley Chardonnay. In 1988, he was hired by Beringer to make the wines for their recently acquired Estrella River Winery in Paso Robles. Ortman sold the Meridian name to Beringer and that brand was then used for the Estrella wines.

Twenty year later, the Ortman’s are back to running a smallish, family-operated business. Chuck’s son, Matt Ortman, makes the wine and manages the business with his wife Lisa. The wines are very well made: restrained and true to the vineyards. Of course, Ortman Family offers Chardonnay in Chuck’s traditional style which is fruit-forward but balanced and showing a delicate hand with the oak. The Ortman Family Pinot Noir is also quite good, though the grapes don’t hail from Paso Robles.

The tasting room is located in downtown Paso Robles. Street parking is usually readily available. The downtown area has seen renovation in recent years and is a very nice place to wander around. City Park is just one block away and is a good spot for a picnic, but Ortman is also the only tasting room in downtown Paso Robles with a private patio for picnics and other gatherings.

Address: 1317 Park Street Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 237-9009
Open Hours: noon to 7pm Friday and Saturday all year, noon to 6PM Sunday - Thursday during Summer, noon to 5PM Winter
Tasting Fee: $10 for six wines, waived with purchase
Tours Available: No
Food Available: Restaurants and shops are nearby
Picnic area: Yes
See map and weather forecast


Anglim Winery
Steve Anglim is part of a newer breed of Paso Robles proprietor/winemakers. As is the case for several others, his entry into the wine business represents a mid-life career change. Having made some wine at home with good results, he began to study wine and winemaking intently. After considerable study, including classes at UC Davis, and several more successful vintages, he quit his day job in finance to focus fully on wine. Anglim and his wife Steffanie thought Paso Robles provided the right mix of opportunity, quality, affordability and livability. They opened their winery in 2002.

Anglim Winery concentrates on Rhone varietal wines: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and blends thereof. Anglim has gradually added other wines to the portfolio too, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Quality is very high throughout and I have recommended several of their wines in my coverage of Rhone Rangers tastings (2010, 2011). Overall production is low, about 4,000 cases per year. The Anglim tasting room is roughly one-quarter mile south of Paso Robles City Park in a historic old building that used to be the train station.

Address: 740 Pine Street Paso Robles, California  USA 93446
Phone: (805) 227-6813
Open Hours: Thursday - Monday 11am - 6pm and by appointment
Tasting Fee: $5 for six wines, waived with purchase
Tours Available: Barrel tasting at the winery near the airport by appointment
Food Available: By appointment
Picnic area: Yes
See map and weather forecast


Villa Creek Restaurant

Villa Creek Cellars is too far into the hills for a quick trip. But you can taste Villa Creek wines, and get some delicious food, at their downtown restaurant. The wines, made by owner Cris Cherry, are almost entirely based on Rhone varietals. There is one white Chateauneuf du Pape blend and a rose´of Grenache and Mourvedre. The rest of the wines are bold reds, deeply-tinted with rich fruit, spice and savory notes. The lone exception to the Rhone-varietal theme is Mas de Maha, 60% of which is Tempranillo. The wines are very well-made and bursting with personality.

Villa Creek Restaurant uses local ingredients to produce what they call “Ranch Mission cuisine.” It’s food made from fresh, local ingredients and prepared in style that is influenced by traditional dishes of Spain and Old Mexico. If you’re not looking for dinner, Villa Creek’s bar is also a very happening nightspot. Villa Creek is just a couple of blocks from the Ortman Family Wines tasting room.

Address: 1144 Pine Street Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 238-3000
Open Hours: Bar/Tapas open from 4PM, dinner service 5:30pm to 10pm, reservations are recommended
Tasting Fee: Yes, many options by the glass and bottle
Tours Available: No
Food Available: Yes

Wine Tasting in Other Parts of Paso Robles

This article is one in a five-part series on wine tasting in Paso Robles' different areas. Here are links to the other four articles:
5 Can't Miss Wineries in Northwest Paso Robles
My Top 4 Picks in Southwest Paso Robles
3 Top Stops on Anderson Road
3 Winning Wineries on Live Oak and Arbor Roads


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Banner from a map by Mike Bobbit & Associates for Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. All rights reserved.

Transparency in Blogging

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has announced new policies requiring full disclosure of sponsorships related to blog articles and reviews. Beginning in December, bloggers who are paid to mention, review or otherwise promote a product must make that completely clear to readers. Failure to do so can lead to fines of up to $11,000. (See this Washington Post article for more information on the new FTC rules.)

6 Excellent Reasons to Decant a White Wine

Decanting a red wine is almost automatic for some people. If it’s a young wine — and not something light such as Pinot Noir or Gamay — SPLASH, into a decanter it goes. And most people readily decant older red wines to separate the good juice from the unpleasant sediment. How often do you hear about white wine being decanted though?

Christopher Watkins of Ridge and I had a brief discussion about it recently when I asked if he’d decanted the excellent 2008 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay he’d poured for us on blogger day. (He hadn’t, the wine was fantabulous out of the bottle.) But, in his blog post yesterday, A Chardonnay Vertical? Oh, no you didn’t! Oh, yes I did!!!, Christopher touched on the topic of decanting white wines. He agreed that decanting can help some young Chardonnay blossom. There are other situations that call for decanting white wine too.

Here are 6 excellent reasons to decant a white wine:

  • The wine is too cold.
    When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to forget to pull wine out of the refrigerator soon enough. Almost all white wines should be served at less than room temperature. But, if the wine is too cold, many of the aromatics are hidden. Cold wine comes up to prime drinking temperature more quickly if you pour it into a room temperature decanter.

  • The wine is too warm.
    This may seem counter-intuitive based on the previous tip. However, the principle is the same. Wine bottles do a good job of insulating the wine they contain from external temperature changes. To get your wine to the right temperature quickly, you need to get it out of the bottle. By spreading the wine out over the broad but thin glass of a decanter, you can more easily change the wine’s temperature.

    To cool wine using a decanter, immerse the decanter in a bath of water and ice. Be careful not to let any water get into the decanter. Give the decanter a minute or two to chill and then pour in the wine. Leave it in the ice bath until it reaches the temperature you like.

  • The wine is “closed.”
    Most white wines, served at the proper temperature, having enticing aromas right out of the bottle. Some are shy though. This can be due to winemaking style, because the wine is very young or in an awkward phase, or just the nature of that grape variety. If you pour a white wine into your glass and it smells like... nothing, decant it. Believe it or not, some experts regularly decant Champagne for this very reason. Bubbles are pretty, but aroma and flavor are more important.

  • The wine evolves beautifully over time, but you don’t have time.
    Some wine has attractive aromas right out of the bottle, but they really blossom with time in your glass. A perfect example of this is Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Reserve. Pour the wine and you’re greeted by lovely white peach, vanilla and gentle oak. But, over time, numerous more subtle notes of white flowers, spice, sweet herb and other fruits emerge.
 At a recent dinner party, I served that wine with one specific dish in a 6-course meal. I needed the wine to be at peak right away to optimize the guests’ experience and keep the dinner running on time. I decanted the wine and it blew people away.

  • The wine has some “bottle stink.”
    Okay, no reason to be embarrassed. We’ve all had moments when we weren’t as fresh as we’d like to be. That happens with wine too, but it doesn't mean the wine is bad. With young white wines bottle stink is most often due to excess sulphur (used by winemakers to kill bacteria) or a very tight seal, such as screwcap, that doesn’t allow any gases to escape from the bottle. If you pour that wine directly into a glass, some of the gases will go with it.  And other gases that were in-solution with the wine will gradually emerge in glass too. Splashing the wine into a decanter gives those (ob)noxious gases a chance to dissipate well away from your sensitive nose. Some  German Rieslings I own show a lot of sulphur on the nose when first opened. Decanting them really helps.

  • Two bottles of exactly the same wine are showing bottle variation.
    This isn’t a situation that will arise often for most people, but it is common for those who regularly lead large wine tastings or classes. With a large group, you need more than one bottle of each wine. Yet each glass of wine should taste and smell the same so everyone has a common frame of reference for discussion.
 If there is significant variation between bottles of the same wine, whether they are at slightly different stages of development or one bottle is a touch flawed, you can blend the bottles using a decanter. A magnum decanter easily holds two bottles. If you only have a one bottle decanter, you’ll need to pour just half of each bottle (or less if you have three or more bottles) in at a time.


Decanting white wine isn’t something you need to do every day. But it is something that can add to your enjoyment on occasion. Don’t let a wine’s color make you shy about decanting it if necessary.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.