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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

The following article was posted on May 15th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 10

Paso road trip

Paso Robles offers more than just world-class wine

BY WENDY THIES SELL

As KSBY-TV’s former anchor and wine reporter, I had the pleasure of visiting nearly every winery in the Paso Robles wine region and interviewing dozens of winemakers over the course of many years.


STUNNING ESTATE:
Quite possibly the most beautiful winery in Paso Robles, Daou Vineyards sits at an elevation of 2,200 feet near Adelaida.
PHOTOS BY WENDY THIES SELL

Since moving to the Santa Maria Valley a few years ago, I have stayed closer to home lately, exploring Santa Barbara County’s fine wineries and restaurants.

While planning a recent weekend getaway with my husband and friends, we decided Paso Robles would be perfect—only one hour’s drive, yet far enough away to feel like a vacation.

Our first stop was an impressive new 200-acre winery estate: Daou Vineyards, at the top of a mountain on Paso Robles’ west side.

Daou’s luxe Spanish Colonial-style winery, tasting room, and grounds are as stunning as the views outside.


‘SPIRITED’ VISIT:
Michael Sell (left) and Wendy Thies Sell joined Monica and Alex Villicana (right) at their Re:Find Distillery in Paso Robles.

 Daou specializes in Bordeaux varieties, Rhone-style wines, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. The whole wine lineup was impressive, but the 2010 Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($56) was a standout.

The tasting room also pours two extra virgin olive oils produced by Daou: one from the family’s olive orchard in Lebanon, and the other from olives grown on their Paso Robles estate.

Daou Vineyards is at 2777 Hidden Mountain Road in Paso Robles. Their website is daouvineyards.com.

Our next stop, just down the road, was so much fun that we can’t wait to return: Villicana Winery/Re:Find Distillery.

I have known owners Alex and Monica Villicana for nearly a decade. They are in all likelihood the cutest, most charismatic couple in Paso Robles wine country!

And their Villicana wines have never tasted better. We especially enjoyed the 2011 Vin Rose ($19), 2010 Merlot ($35), and 2010 Syrah ($32).

After wine tasting, we walked into the next room and laid our eyes on their impressive new German-made copper still, purchased for their latest project: Paso Robles’ first craft distillery.

“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” Alex asked while flashing his handsome, dimpled smile. “It’s kind of like Willy Wonka for adults!”

Re:Find Distillery sustainably handcrafts luxury vodka and gin, finding a purpose for free-run red wine juice that would otherwise be discarded by eight different Paso Robles wineries.

Following our entertaining lesson on the distillation process, we had a “spirited” tasting.

Re:Find’s Neutral Brandy is their vodka and the Botanical Brandy is their gin. Both clear brandies clearly deserve to be on the “top shelf.”

The Neutral Brandy ($35) is superb—aromatic and soft on the finish.

“Customers are drinking it ‘old school’—on the rocks with a little lemon or lime, not trying to mask it,” Monica said. “The delicacies are so nice.”

Then our group tasted the clean, fresh Botanical Brandy ($38), infused with seven different dry botanicals sourced from Central Coast farms.

“This is phenomenal,” Mike exclaimed with his first sip. “Really, really good!”

And just in time for summer, Re:Find released Limoncello Flavored Brandy ($24).

 Villicana Winery and Re:Find Distillery are at 2725 Adelaida Road in Paso Robles. The tasting rooms are open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Their websites are villicanawinery.com and refinddistillery.com.


Wine Fest
The 31st annual Paso Robles Wine Festival is May 17 to 19. On Saturday May 18, more than 60 wineries will showcase their wines in the downtown city park at the grand tasting. Explore more than 130 wineries all weekend for special wine events. Details are available at pasowine.com.

We checked in to our hotel, the historic Paso Robles Inn, which is in easy walking distance of downtown restaurants and shops.

And by then we were ready for lunch. Our travel companions, longtime friends Shannon and Brandon Downing, prepared a picnic that we enjoyed alfresco at Calcareous Winery, including baked bacon-wrapped goat cheese-stuffed dates, heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella, aged cheeses, tortellini salad, and chocolates.

Calcareous’ hilltop tasting room has an expansive picnic area with panoramic views.

Turns out, one doesn’t have to pack a picnic anymore. Several Paso Robles wineries bring in chefs on weekends to make lunch for visitors.

Calcareous offers wine and food pairings catered by Thomas Hill Organics on Saturdays and Sundays. The menu choices included beef short-rib tacos, spinach and quinoa salad, and a pork-belly slider.

For more information, visit calcareous.com.

After more wine tasting and a nap, we were ready for dinner at the terrific Italian restaurant, Il Cortile, just a short stroll from our hotel.

We started with the Crostini con Burrata, caramelized fennel, and pancetta in a balsamic reduction, which was recommended to us by a customer who stopped by our table to rave about the appetizer.

Shannon and I took the advice of New Times cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty and ordered the fresh homemade pasta. Our husbands had their eyes on the lobster special, which was special indeed.

We paired our dinners with bottles of Daou Chardonnay and Kosta Browne Pinot Noir and then shared delicious desserts.

Check out ilcortileristorante.com.

Not ready for our evening to be over, we wandered across the downtown park to lively Villa Creek for a drink and a unique late-night snack called Not Nachos: duck confit, mole negro, raw corn relish, and Cotija ($12). And our chocolate espresso martinis were the perfect nightcaps.

Honestly, one of the best treats of the weekend was sleeping in, which is a luxury for parents of preschoolers.

On Sunday morning, we headed south to Templeton for Brandon’s favorite meal: breakfast. We thoroughly enjoyed the omelets, pancakes, and biscuits and gravy at the popular Joe’s Other Place, at 730 S. Main St. in Templeton.

When planning your trip to Paso Robles wine country, first go online to the excellent pasowine.com for details on special wine weekends like Wine Festival (May 17 to 19) and for links to the region’s wineries and restaurants.

Sun wine and food writer Wendy Thies Sell encourages staycations. Contact her at wthies@santamariasun.com.