There are now more than 300 wine tasting rooms in Paso Robles. Take that in for a second – 300 opportunities for wine tasting in Paso Robles! So, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that this is a complete guide to everything that is available to you when you come for a wine tour. But I will give you the straight scoop on our experience – the smaller treasures, the big views and what we brought home.
Paso Robles, California
Paso Robles is in San Luis Obispo County. Obviously, its climate is pretty incredible for wine, but the area also does a fair amount of olive oil production, so you may find yourself gravitating to an olive oil tasting in addition to the grapes. If you are taking the quickest route from Los Angeles, a drive to Paso Robles takes just over three hours using the I-5 as your main freeway. You can also take a much more scenic route up US-101, but it will add nearly an hour to your trip given typical traffic.
And now, the wines!
Note: Everyone’s palate is different. Our recommendations are solely based on what we responded to at the time.
Le Cuvier Winery & Tasting Room (3333 Vine Hill Ln, Paso Robles, CA 93446)
Le Cuvier was our first destination. The tasting room is only open Thursday through Monday (11-5pm), so we got lucky that our travel plans overlapped. The chef who catered our wedding recommended Le Cuvier, and I’m happy to say that he did not steer us wrong. They have a word-of-mouth business. You can buy wines from their tasting room and wine club, but you are unlikely to find advertising or bottles in the local wine shop.
We did not have a reservation, but they do require them for groups. When there are a lot of drop-ins asking for immediate reservations, they may not have the second tasting area open, and you could get squeezed into the tasting area by the door. This happened to us at the end of our tasting when there was a four-adult group who stopped in. I recommend making a reservation no matter the size of your party so Le Cuvier can prepare and arrive at 11:00 am if you are looking for a calm atmosphere. It can be quite lovely and peaceful, as the tasting room is set off in a more rural area, and away from the bustle of downtown.
Le Cuvier was one of the first of the tasting rooms in Paso Robles to offer food pairings with each taste. Don’t mistake this for lunch – the pairings are bites. But the pairings have been carefully considered, and do make the wine experience an interesting one. Even if you might not like one of the food items (Andy, for instance, doesn’t like olives), try them with the wine anyway, you might be pleasantly surprised (as Andy was).
We chose to share a $15 tasting (though the fee was waived because we bought wine). Of these, our favorites were the 2013 Cabernet Franc and the NV Pinot Noir (though there was nothing there we didn’t enjoy). The Cabernet Franc surprised me because it is bigger and bolder than I usually gravitate towards. There is an earthiness to it and some spice. They paired it with a rich cheese that worked well, and I can see why there are suggestions to try this with steak or game.
By comparison, the NV Pinot Noir was lighter in body than the Cab Franc but darker and richer than I expected. I got truffles, some raspberry and maybe something closer to moss undertones. It was paired with a “dirty martini” olive and onion combo, that set off a tangy note that I also didn’t expect. While we enjoyed both, we brought home a bottle of the Le Cuvier NV Pinot Noir (it retails for around $55).
Still Waters Vineyards (2750 Old Grove Ln, Paso Robles, CA 93446)
Still Waters Vineyards was one of the last tasting rooms we visited on our wine tasting tour in Paso Robles, but one of our favorites of the entire trip. It’s a family business, run by someone who used to make wine for fun, but who was encouraged, after retiring from the restaurant business, to focus on wine. Still Waters sells grapes to other local winemakers, in addition to producing for their own labels. They sell direct to consumer from the tasting room, and they have a wine club. And they like their business model – they stay small and focus on creating quality wine and having fun.
You can walk into the tasting room without a reservation, although I’m sure if you are going with a big group, a reservation would be recommended. They have a large garden and patio where you can sit under the umbrellas and listen to live music as you sip. It was 93 degrees when we visited, so while we could appreciate the charms of sitting just beyond the grape vines, we hid inside to enjoy the air conditioning in the large tasting room.
Still Waters was recommended to us for their award-winning white wines. And while we really enjoyed them, particularly the Sauv Blanc, our favorites ended up being the Clone 3 Cuvee 2012 (it retails for around $44). The Clone 3 Cuvee is a red blend of 25% Merlot, 25% Malbec, 25% Cab Franc, 12% Petite Sirah and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. Naturally, the presence of Merlot sparked a hilarious conversation about how Sideways killed the Merlot market for years (much to the dismay of winemakers). I got some blackberry and currants from the tasting. Andy got vanilla notes, and we both agreed that this would be great with steak. In the end, we brought a bottle of this home with us.
Sarzotti Vineyard and Winery (180 Bella Ranch Rd, Templeton, CA 93465)
Sarzotti is another family-owned operation. Their tasting area is relatively small, but there is ample outdoor space, and they provide a nice cheese and cracker plate for people if they want to pair any of the wines with some bold cheeses (naturally, I was on board with this!). The owners are usually on the premises, and it was fun to chat with them about the different wines they have produced over the years.
It was very crowded at the end of the day, and the limo filled with people from the B&B we were staying at had just arrived. Still, we didn’t feel rushed and had plenty of opportunities to chat with the owners as the tasting progressed. The tasting room is open for walk-ins Thursday through Sunday, and by appointment on Monday through Wednesday.
Sarzotti was recommended to us by the owner of the B&B for their award-winning Petite Sirah. We did love this, but we also enjoyed the Sangiovese and new release Zinfandel. I got notes of blackberry and black pepper. There may also be hints of chocolate, but I’ll admit that I was trying it with chocolate so that I may have been more influenced by my actual chocolate than notes in the wine.
Tooth & Nail Winery (3090 Anderson Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446)
Tooth & Nail Winery is not a place that you are ever going to confuse with any other wine tasting room in Paso Robles (or anywhere else, for that matter). Why? It looks like a castle. It has a green moat. Seriously. Every aspect of this massive space is on theme, as is every person who works in it, so it can feel a little bit like the Las Vegas version of a winery and event venue. They frequently have live music events (including some large, staged concerts), and there are a number of spaces specifically designed for events like bridal showers, corporate gatherings, etc. We loved having the big couches in the main tasting room to rest on while indulging. As a result, we probably spent more time here than at any other tasting room.
We tried the $15 Rabble Reserve Tasting, and we ordered some fries to help sustain us through what was going to be a longer day of sampling. Two wines here really stood out to me: the Stasis Albarino (pictured) and the Amor Fati Syrah (in fact, I may have found a new love for Syrah/Petite Sirah while we sampled the wares in Paso Robles).
Why did these wines stand out? The Albarino (retails for around $37) was a hit from the start – it had the minerality I prefer, it was light and dry, but with significant peach and apricot tones. It was perfect for the blazing hot day that we had just escaped. Once we cooled off in the a/c, we could fully appreciate the reds, including the Amor Fati Syrah (the dark garnet coloring is going to leave an impression). For me, I got some smokiness off of this, some fig and spice. This is another red that is going to be great with most meats. It’s a wine I’d love to have in front of a fireplace on a much cooler night, and I had the $48 to spend on a bottle.
Calcareous Vineyard (3430 Peachy Canyon Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446)
The first thing you are going to notice about Calcareous is its amazing wine tasting facility. Glass walls cover three sides of the building revealing lush lawns and the rolling valley in the distance. It’s no surprise that they frequently have events here and that they host music gatherings outside during the warmer months. Its reputation for having great views did make us a little nervous – usually when people talk about the amazing views, it’s because they don’t think much of the wines. Luckily, that was not the case here. We found a number of tasty treats as we shared the $10 tasting, and we had great fun talking to the person doing the pours.
Most of the wines we had here were reds, in fact, there was a grenache and a zinfandel that I quite liked. But Andy and I both found ourselves drawn to the Calcareous Lily Blanc. It’s a blend of 43% Grenache Blanc, 39% Roussanne and 18% Viognier. It turns out that I’m a fan of Grenache Blanc, and I can’t remember ever having it before this trip (but it’s possible that I just don’t remember). I couldn’t quite pin down the different notes, but to me, there was a sense of apples, some citrus and something mysterious. It retails for around $34, and even with the hints of French oak, it stays pretty crisp and not buttery (which is something I like to avoid).
DAOU Vineyards and Winery (2777 Hidden Mountain Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446)
DAOU was another example of a winery that everyone raved about – for the views. It’s an impressive facility with plenty of space inside and out for hundreds of people. You can dine on the patio or out in the wooden chairs overlooking the valley. It is easily the most impressive of any tasting room we visited. Unfortunately, it was also wildly more expensive than any other tasting, and the wine was fine but unremarkable – it was hard not to feel like we were paying for the view. Even the charcuterie plate was twice the price of anywhere else.
I will say that they are known for their Cabs which we didn’t try because we opted for the cheaper $30 tasting (the tasting that included the Cab was $45 per person). We had a Grenache Blanc as a palate cleanser that we enjoyed, and the DAOU Reserve Zinfandel (retails for $56) was by far our favorite of the tasting. If you find yourself drawn to wines with notes of plums, strawberries, and pepper, this might be a nice one for you to try.
I am glad we visited for the experience of it. It is stunning. I can’t imagine what it is like at sunset. I also understand that there are culinary pairings that are highly regarded. I just wish that we had really loved the wines as much as we loved their views.