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Wine country road in Paso Robles.

Wine country road in Paso Robles.

If you’ve been following my posts, you know that we’ve enjoyed a tremendous visit in Los Angeles from the Song Hong Ensemble of Hanoi. There’s nothing like seeing where you live through the eyes off friends who come to visit from a far off land.

Curiosity. It’s the one trait that makes a big difference to me and I wish more people understood its rewards. To eat something you’ve never tried. To try to learn a foreign language. To read a map of a strange place and know that in reading that map you are no longer lost, anywhere in the world. To cook a meal you’ve never thought possible. To listen to music out of your comfort zone.

And when in Paso Robles, to take the roads less traveled and find a good bottle of wine.

Vineyard Dr. In Paso Robles.

Vineyard Drive to my right.

I’m hoping these pictures get your attention. Yes, Paso Robles looks like this in spring. Booking your trip yet?

Vineyard Dr. to my left.

Vineyard Dr. to my left.

More Vineyard Drive to my left.

More Vineyard Drive to my left.

Journeying through the vineyards of California is one of our lode stars, our compass. With my parents safely in Heaven, cooking with their pots and pans recreating the flavors I grew up continues to map my way forward.

Wine without food is a serious problem. When I taste a wine, my only question is what would I cook with it. If a taste appears then there’s a good chance I’m buying.

Another tip after wandering the California roads of Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Napa Valley, the Russian River, Sonoma and Amador County for many years. The more out of the way the winery, the chance improves that the drive is worth the effort.

At the end of Niderer Road is Dunning Vineyeards.

At the end of Niderer Road is Dunning Vineyeards.

Jan and I are allowed our favorites, and Bob and Jo Ann Dunning have an extraordinary winery. It’s all small production and since 2002 we’ve never had anyone else pour a taste at their winery but one of them. Talking with Bob about wine, asking him what other wineries he likes, is like getting an advanced degree in wine making. John Cage was right. As far as you are able, go to the president of the company to learn about the subject you study.

Bob Dunning pours his own wine for you.

Bob Dunning pours his own wine for you…

The Dunning tasting room.

in the Dunning tasting room.

The best stuff never gets out of France, either, mes amis. It would be best if you go there and taste for yourself. His wines define a California flavor for us. A good reason to go to the end of the road!

I should mention you can stay at the winery with advance reservation. The house is adjacent to the tasting room.

Why book a hotel when you can stay here?

Why book a hotel when you can stay here?

And outside the porch you have a vineyard view framed by California oak trees.

Oak trees at Dunning Vineyards.

Oak trees at Dunning Vineyards.

Or just look to your left for more oaks. Hope you won’t mind deer wandering around, or turkeys gobbling. Or quiet.

The view from the left of the house porch.

The view from the left of the house porch.

But roads do lead ever onward. We recommend three to four wineries maximum a day, and bring a picnic. We have ours at Dunning.

But let’s wander down the road to Halter Ranch.

The road leaving Dunning Vineyards.

The road leaving Dunning Vineyards.

Halter Ranch is located at a junction that can take you off to Tablas Creek Winery and Justin. We like them all, and all depends on your personal taste. Wine tasting is not a contact sport, in fact it’s not a sport at all. Take your time and think about food.

The sign for Halter Ranch on a beautiful California road.

The sign for Halter Ranch on a beautiful California road.

Halter Ranch is a much bigger operation than Dunning, but it is not gargantuan by any means. There is an old farm house on the property (a private residence) that anchors the grounds.

The 19th century house at Halter Ranch is lovingly restored.

The 19th century house at Halter Ranch is lovingly restored.

And the oak trees are again inspiring. As is the loudest rooster I’ve ever heard. He must have had jet lag, because he was crowing like crazy in the early afternoon!

The grounds of Halter Ranch as seen from the restored 19th century house.

The grounds of Halter Ranch as seen from the restored 19th century house.

Not only are the wines superb but they have excellent cheese and cured meats for a picnic so if you need a nibble, you’re in great shape.

The road by Halter Ranch.

The road by Halter Ranch.

There are hundreds of wineries in Paso Robles and we think the drives in the area are the best in California. You can’t go wrong choosing a direction, and we’ve never run out of new things to do. We try to visit new wineries each trip, blending them with our favorites. Dunning is the only MUST stop we have.

The other tip I’ve got for you is to ask the tasting room staff wherever you taste where they like to go. I’ve never been led wrong (it’s how we found Dunning). There is by and large a collegial atmosphere in wine country.

One winery we’d heard about this way was Oso Libre, the Free Bear. The winery is centered on Mexican tastes, so the pairings are quite good with Mexican food, a unique focus for a winery.

And I’ve mentioned that I was born in the Year of the Sheep. You can see why I liked Oso Libre from the next photo.

Sheeps grazing in the Oso Libre vineyards.

Sheeps grazing in the Oso Libre vineyards.

And a friend of ours here in Los Angeles is big on Jack Creek Wines. Didn’t hurt to give them a try, either!

Jan enjoying her tasting at jack Creek Wines.

Jan enjoying her tasting at Jack Creek Wines.

They had a dynamite Cabernet Sauvignon with a distinct California pepper bite. Which brings me back to Southeast Asia.

As you know from my earlier blogs this fall from Laos, we got a lot of cooking inspiration in Luang Prabang. So for this trip we were looking for wines that would go well with a steak au poivre as we brought home the most pungent black and white pepper we had ever encountered.

And food connects you to people. Cooking a Southeast Asian meal takes me back, immediately, to all of my friends in Vietnam and Asia. We have two small bottles of Son Tinh liqueur from Hanoi. Imagine herbal medicine that tastes great with a smoky aroma to end a meal. Why I was looking for a specific wine to go with those Laotian peppers.

And my Song Hong friends replenished my supply of Cong CaPhe, the greatest coffee in the world from Hanoi, by four pounds. Great way to start a meal with an appetizer.

Which will be perfect before a steak au poivre with peppercorns from Laos and a bottle of wine from Paso Robles this summer.

So enjoy Mothers Day. Since ours are in Heaven, Jan are I are preparing a meal they would have loved. With a bottle of wine from this trip. Which makes wandering these magical wine roads in California ever more meaningful. Wish you were here…..

Best, best, best,

Jeff