Paso Robles is located in California’s Central Coast Wine Region in San Luis Obispo county. It is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on Route 101. The area has wineries, breweries, distilleries, and eateries set in its quaint historic town. But we go there mostly to focus on the wine.
The AVA is mostly known for Zinfandel grapes, the over 200 wineries also produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone blends such as Syrah, Viognier, and Roussanne. And, as seems to be the trend now, you may have to reserve a tasting. As always, check online for current conditions, locations, and hours. For example, on our recent 2023 visit, the area was experiencing unprecedented rain which closed down several of the wineries.
Downtown Paso Robles
The pretty downtown is built around a large, open square that is lined with boutiques, restaurants, and of course, over 20 wine-tasting rooms. Many of these tasting rooms are in addition to tasting opportunities at their wineries. It is a very walkable area to explore. If you park your car downtown, don’t forget to register your license plate for parking. Even though you get the first 2 hours of parking for free, you will be ticketed if you do not register.
In addition to downtown and the vineyards, you can also find a gathering of wineries in Tin City, an industrial park that is four miles south of downtown. It consists of dozens of tin buildings (surprise). While a few are still occupied by small industrial companies, the vast majority have been repurposed into what used to be very inexpensive quarters for small (most well below 5,000 cases) craft wineries and breweries. Now that the area has made it onto “the tourist route”, the area is now shared with artisan food companies, boutiques, and a couple of casual restaurants.
Paso Robles Wineries
Listed below are some of the wineries (listed alphabetically) we have enjoyed over our multiple visits (our taste profile may not reflect yours). Of course, there are many more wineries to explore. And remember that wines change from vintage to vintage. What we like one year may not be what we like in another year.
This small, boutique winery (8,000 cases) specializes in Rhone varietals. Its white wines and most of its red wines are blends (including a Grenache/Mouvedre/ Syrah or GMS and an SMG). We especially appreciated the 2018 Fracture EXT, a 100% Syrah that is full-bodied with expressive fruit and an overlay of spice—and priced at a disconcerting (for a Syrah) $98 a bottle.
Broken Earth produces a wide range of wines from primarily Mediterranean (Southern French, Italian and Spanish) varietals along with a few surprises, such as Tannat. Of the eight wines we sampled, our tastes gravitated to the fruity, mildly acidic 2019 Verdelho, 2019 Viognier, 2017 Limited Release Grenache, and fruity, approachable (albeit not terribly complex) 2018 CV Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. On other trips, we also liked their Reserve Merlot, Black Moscato, and their Limited Release Albarino.
In 2023 we tasted most of its reserve wines, including Spanish (Grenache) and Portuguese (Tinta Cao and Touriga Nacional) varietals. Our favorites were the 2019 Kinne Reserve Grenache and the 2020 Cellars Reserve Blend (87% Syrah and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon).
At this Rhone varietal specialist, we particularly enjoyed their 2019 The Cure (45% Syrah, 29% Grenache, and 26% Mouvedre) and their 2019 The Source (93% Syrah and 7% Grenache).
Daou Vineyards combines an over-the-top view over vineyards with tables spread out across a beautiful garden, wonderful service, and wines to match. The Bordeaux specialist also offers varietals from premier vineyards across the region and the state—vineyards such as Solomon Hills, Gary’s, and Petaluma Gap for Pinot Noirs. The wines do tend to be rather pricey for Paso.
On our 2023 trip, the scenery was fogged in. But that didn’t stop us. We began with a crisp, Rhone-centric 2000 Rose (9% Grenache, 5% Sauvignon Blanc), followed by a very light 2000 Chemin de Fleurs Rhone (44% Grenache Blanc, 32% Roussanne, and 24% Viognier). We were disappointed with the 2020 Solomon Hills Pinot Noir. We also tried three Left Bank Bordeaux-style blends, all of which are aged from 15 to 22 months in mostly new French barrels. Of these, we found the most approachable and interesting to be the 2020 Eye of the Falcon Reserve (78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Verdot) and the winery’s flagship 2019 Soul of the Lion (78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petite Verdot).
On a previous trip, we were able to enjoy the scenery. We especially enjoyed the light, refreshing 2019 Reserve Rose (from Grenache Blanc), 2018 Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir (similar to many winery’s instantiations of Garys’ wines), and our favorite, the big, full-bodied, 2018 Estate Cabernet. The winery believes that this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon provides the purest expression of the fruit from the mountain atop where the winery is located. These wines are all from the winery’s “mid-market” Estate Series, as differentiated from the high-volume Discovery series and its premium Patrimony series (which is no longer available at Daou pending its release as a separate label).
Diablo Paso specializes in Spanish varietals: Albarino, Grenacha, Tempranillo, and Matera (Mourvédre). On our 2023 visit, we found its 2020 Mataro Reserve to be the most interesting.
Giornata makes wines from grapes native to different sections of Italy, such as Sicily (especially with its two Aglianicos), Tuscany (Sangiovese and Super Tuscans), and especially Piedmont and Lombardy (Barbara and particularly, Nebiolo). We especially enjoyed three of its wines: 2020 Vermentino (crisp and minerally), 2019 Sangiovese (expressive red fruit and light tannins), and 2017 Gemellaia, a Super Tuscan blend of 60% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, and 10% Petite Verdot (blackberry and moderate tannins).
We were in the enviable position of enjoying each of the six wines we tasted. These were the winery’s 2019 Picpoul Blanc (from a crisp, refreshing, citrusy southern French grape that is gaining more popularity in the U.S.), Viognier (relatively full-bodied for a viognier with nice aromatics and spice), a full-bodied, savory 2018 Syrah, a smooth, very approachable 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (with 15% Malbec and 12% Petite Verdot) and our favorite of the tasting, the 2018 Ancestor, a Left Bank-style, Cabernet-dominant blend of 71% Cabernet, 20% Malbec and 9% Petite Verdot that is named after the property’s 600+-foot California oak (supposedly the oldest in the world).
On our 2023 visit, rain precluded a winery visit so we made due at their pleasant downtown tasting room. We began with several single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from its Sonoma Valley sister winery Landmark. Of these, we found two that combine the dark fruit and earthy tastes that we favor: a 2020 Dierburg from Sonoma Coast and especially the 2019 Grand Detour (Santa Barbara). From there we sampled a range of Justin’s primarily Bordeaux varietals and blends.
Among the many sampled wines, we were most interested in the 2020 Savant (55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon), 2020 Reserve Malbec, and two of its flagship Isosceles Left Bank Blends (2019 and especially the balance, fine tannins and the leather and tobacco notes of the 2017 Isocsoles Reserve). We also tasted and enjoyed one of their very few Rhone blends, the 2018 Trilateral which consists of 53% Syrah, 28% Grenache, and 19% Mouvedre.
On a previous visit, we combined lunch at the winery with a wine tasting. We enjoyed a four-wine red flight with lunch in the beautiful setting. Our personal favorites were a 2014 Library Cabernet (100%) and the 2016 vintage Isosceles Reserve, a Left-Bank-inspired blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, and 1% Petite Verdot. The latter is a big, expressive wine that spends 24 months in 100% new French oak barrels.
This small winery has a particularly prolific winegrower/winemaker whose line-up includes about two dozen different wines. While most are based on traditional Paso Rhone, Bordeaux, and Zinfandel grapes, it also produces Nebbiolos and Tannats. On past visits, we have enjoyed its 2013 Ingenuity and 2016 Grenache Blanc.
In 2023, we enjoyed two of their Bordeaux-inspired wines: 2020 The Tempo Right Bank blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, and especially their 2020 Reserve Cabernet.
During our 2023 visit, the winery was unfortunately tasting its Zinfandels and Bordeaux varietals rather than its Rhones which we were seeking. However, that did not prevent us from enjoying a few favorites. These were a crisp, fruity Rhone-based 2021 Rose (Counoise, Grenache, Cinsault), the heritage clone-based 2019 Old School House Zinfandel, and the 2017 XVII Zinfandel-based port. On previous visits, we have also enjoyed its 2016 Viognier, 2015 Bailey, 2014 Mustard Creek Vineyard wonderful Syrahs, and 2014 Para Siempre Bordeaux-style blend.
We enjoyed the uncharacteristically light, red licorice taste of its 2018 Cavern Select Zinfandel and the fruit-forward (characteristic of most wines of this hot region), moderate tannin 2017 Cavern Select Meritage (comprising 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec).
Sans Liege’s grounds are graced by a number of whimsical sculptures. It produces a number of wines based on a wide range of Rhone varietals. These range from small-volume, lesser-known grapes such as Counoise and Clairette. In addition, it produces individual varietals and blends from more common Rhone varietals such as Viognier, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.
We particularly enjoyed the expressive, full-bodied 2018 Adversary (100% Mouvedre), and its 2019 Late Harvest Roussanne (tastes of apricot, orange, and honey).
The winery is in a beautiful setting and includes a sculpture garden. Most of the metal sculptures were made in an on-premise studio which the winery offers to select sculptors that it commissions to create works for it. It also has an art gallery with work from selected local artists.
And let’s not forget that it also produces 15,000 cases of wine per year. While it offers a range of single-varietal wines, its primary focus is on Cabernet blends. Of the several wines we tasted, we especially enjoyed the 2020 Chardonnay (pear, apple, and spice with a bit of butter), 2019 Viognier (apricot and peach), and the 2016 Maquette Blend (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Mouvedre, 10% Merlot and 2% Petite Syrah).
Seashell is a family-owned small winery that grows 9 grape varietals. We enjoyed their blueberry-like 2019 Reserve Cabernet Ssuvignonand found the easy-drinking 2020 Low Tide Cabernet to be a bargain at $40.
On our 2023 visit, we discovered Serial’s very pleasant tasting room and enjoyed a variety of their wines. The 2021 Tempanillo/Syrah-based Rose was very pleasant. Of their white Rhones, we preferred the oak-aged 2020 Adelaida District Grenache Blanc over their Viognier. The fruity, peppery 2019 Adelaida District Halter Ranch Syrah was lovely as was a rather feminine 2019 Serial Adelaida District Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly, two inexpensive table wines were among our favorites of the tasting. These were the 2020 Serial Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (our favorite of a vertical tasting of the 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 vintages) and a 2017 Serial Red Blend which consists of Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Mouvedre.
Tablas Creek is one of the region’s Rhone-focused pioneers. It is the sister winery Chateau Beaucastel, our favorite Chateauneuf du Pape winery, which also produces French Rhone-style wines. Unfortunately, the California rain made the road to the winery impassable during our 2023 trip. But on a previous visit, we especially enjoyed the 2018 Mouvedre and a side-by-side tasting of the winery’s three Red Blends: a low acid/low tannin Cote de Tablas and its premium 2018 and 2017 Esprit De Tablas. While both were primarily Mouvedre (40%), each had a different mix of other Rhone-based grapes. The 2018 has 27% Syrah, 23% Grenache and 10% Counoise. The 2017 has 35% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Counoise. Probably the biggest difference, however (which applied to the single varietal Mouvedre and well as the blend, was that 2017 was the last year of a five-year drought that resulted in more concentrated, fuller-bodied wines with more expressive fruit. Overall, we found the 2019 Mouvedre and Esprit de Tablas our favorite of the Tablas Creek wines we tasted on this trip.
Tobin James merits particular mention. Not due to its fine wines, but for its nice selection of very inexpensive, very quaffable wines. Although it grows very few of its own grapes, it produces over 85,000 bottles per year, primarily from Paso grapes. Another distinction is that it sells 80 percent of its wine through its loyal wine club members. A number of these easy-drinking wines are their Chardonnay, Petit Syrah, Late Harvest Zinfandel, and its “Cash Flow” Bordeaux blend.
Turley is particularly known for its big unfiltered and unrefined Zinfandels from grapes grown in a number of wine regions. We especially enjoy a number of their single vineyards and Zinfandel blends from Howell Mountain (Rattlesnake Ridge and Cedarman).
Paso Robles Restaurants
Tasting wine also needs food. Some wineries provide everything from small bites to sit-down meals coupled with wine tastings. Here are some of the places we have eaten. After talking with some locals, our next visit will include two seafood restaurants: Catch and Fish Gaucho.
Our dinner was OK but not impressive. The frog legs sautéed in garlic butter were fine, if not noteworthy. The roasted quail was bathed in something of a distracting honey/red wine sauce. The steamed mussels lacked sweetness and were somewhat earthy. After a day of wine tasting, we made do with individual glasses of wine, both of which we enjoyed; a 2020 Philippe Goulley Chablis and a 2020 M. Chapoutier Cote du Rhone.
On a previous trip, our dinner again was nice but not especially memorable. We started with roasted quail in a honey-based reduction and crispy crab croquettes. Our entrée, was halibut with morels and morel cream sauce. We paired the food with a 2017 Loring Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highland’s always-good Sierra Mar Vineyard.
We had two tasty dishes at this Italian restaurant: Mediterranean-style shrimp with tomato sauce, olives, and spaghetti and an order of four, large, tasty lamb chops with roasted marble potatoes and mixed vegetables. Our wine was a 2020 Halter Ranch CDP (a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Tannat and Mouvedre.
Our lunch included a non-descript burger with cheddar fried onions and lettuce with fries and an Ahi Nacho plate with wasabi cream and wonton chips. The chips were tasty but the ahi was tasteless and relatively sparse.
At this downtown Northern Italian restaurant, we had two wonderful dishes and an equally wonderful wine that went with both dishes. The dishes consisted of Fettucine with pork sausage, fennel, tomatoes, herbs, and white wine and a large veal chop with porcini mushroom sauce. The wine was a 2017 Mouvedre from Tablas Creek.
We shared a very nice sandwich: barbequed pulled chicken with red BBQ sauce and pickled onions on a French roll with cabbage slaw and dill pickle.
While visiting the winery, we had a delicious lunch: a chicken pot pie with cheddar cheese and a thyme crust; and ocean trout with farro risotto and asparagus.
This popular downtown Paso restaurant is on a restaurant-lined square. We shared a nice pizza with lamb sausage, goat cheese, and marjoram pizza with a bottle of Marques de Murrietta Rioja Reserva.
Le Cuvier pairs tasty dishes that are to complement specific wines. It also serves lunch (check for availability). Wines that were extremely distinctive on their own, took on entirely different, and typically much more mellow characteristics after a taste of the food. Among the most interesting pairings were:
- Spiced-Thai noodle soup with a neutrally-oaked Chardonnay;
- Chateauneuf du Pape-inspired Rhone blend with a creamy tomato soup;
- A big Syrah with an aged gouda;
- A young Cabernet Sauvignon with chili-sauced beef tenderloin; and
- Malbec, not surprisingly, paired with an empanada with caramelized onions.
At this popular sandwich/soup/taco/gyro lunch spot, Tom enjoyed his BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado with extra crispy bacon) on a ciabatta roll. Joyce’s chicken gyro was acceptable but rather pedestrian. We were less enthused by the soups that came as sides: the white bean and cabbage soup was more like a vegetable minestrone than a white bean soup. The tomato basil was tasty, if somewhat salty for our tastes.