Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

California: The Wine Life in Paso Robles

Two of the wines we tasted at Dauo. This hilltop winery and tasting room
should be a must-see for visitors to Paso Robles.

In February 2020, Jane and I took a Sunday-Wednesday trip to Pasa Robles, an inland wine community north of Los Angeles and about a five-hour drive from our home in San Diego.  It had been included in The New York Times's "52 Places to Visit in 2020," so we did.
    One of the town's attractions, a temporary outdoor installation by the English/Australian artist Bruce Munro called Sensorio, was still in place for our visit (it ends in June 2020). It consists of more than 58,800 lights strewn across 15 acres of rolling hills. The pathways and other infrastructure will remain after the lights disappear as part of what will eventually be a 150-acre art park.

Hearst Castle and Other Attractions of the Central Coast

    A more permanent attraction in this former cattle town is wine. Although local beef is still produced and promoted, visitors come for the wine. Endless vineyards and almost countless tasting rooms are clues that wine is taken seriously here. Unfortunately, like many other areas with lots of small producers, prices by the bottle seem high, especially compared with prices for decent wines imported from Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, etc.  While we greatly enjoyed most of our tastings and the wines we ordered with meals, we didn't come home with any bottles of wine. I was surprised by the variety of grapes used: Touriga Nacional, tempranillo, albarino and grenacha in addition to the more expected chardonnay, cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, etc. And almost everyone working in wine tasting rooms seemed extremely well-versed in wine and wine-making. If you're going to Paso to buy wine, here's a tip a local gave us: the Albertsons supermarket has many, many local wines at prices below what you'd pay at the wineries or tasting rooms. 
    I did make it home with one bottle, though it was above my usual price limit: Re:Find Rye, a bottle of Paso Robles rye whiskey. Re:Find also makes an interesting barrel-aged vodka that the distiller said is his go-to for mixed drinks like manhattans. The rye, he said, is for drinking straight. (I bought my bottle at the Albertsons because the distillery where I tasted it was sold out.)
    We stayed at the Piccolo, a small hotel that opened in 2019 and which is mentioned in the Times article. I recommend it for its location near the center of town and for its comfortable rooms, though we rejected the first room we were given, No. 25, because its only window is directly on a common-area terrace. Room 30, a brighter corner room a floor higher, has a small balcony overlooking a fairly quiet street. Why would they give people staying three nights a less desirable room? The continental breakfast on Monday morning was fine -- supermarket-quality bagels that could be toasted and adorned with cream cheese and salmon. Tuesday morning's offerings seemed to have been recycled from Monday, and on Wednesday we were given coupons for breakfast at another hotel's restaurants.
     Other meals were better: a cheese and charcuterie plate with a wine tasting at Dauo, a winery on a dramatic hilltop founded by two brothers from Lebanon; a pork-and-brisket platter at an alley barbecue joint called Jeffrey's; hamburgers from a food truck at Hearst Ranch winery an hour away at San Simeon on the coast (during a side trip to see Hearst Castle, the subject of another post); and porchetta and roasted chicken at The Hatch.  And in between  there were stops at some of the many tasting rooms and wine bars within steps of our hotel. 
     Here are some snapshots.  
You might say Paso Robles is a drinking town.

Unlike the winery-specific tasting rooms, at the Pony Club you
can order a flight of wines from different makers.

Yikes! Another place to drink!
Paso Robles in a bottle? It would have to be a
very very large bottle.
The view is wonderful at Dauo, and so are the wines, food and service. 

A view of the vineyards at Dauo. Remember, we were there in February.

The Piccolo's lobby also has a wine bar. The check-in process
includes the offer of a glass of wine. In our room was a token
that could be used in a Champagne vending machine
to get a one-serving bottle of Moet. 

Bruce Munro's Sensorio installation is a few miles
out of town. Almost 60,000 lights came on at
sunset and subtly changed colors. Paths allow
visitors to explore different views of the 15 acres.
It's not all wine at The Hatch.  When we were there, a winery was having
a party for its employees and they were ordering cocktails by the quart.

Paso Robles is a low-rise town, with most restaurants,
tasting rooms, wine bars and various retail stores
centered around a two-block park.
     

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