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Central Coast wines to get you ready for Summer!

Part One

Hello friends!

During the next few weeks, I am going to feature wines from California's prime growing regions. This week I have a collection of Central (California) Coast wines for you to enjoy. For those of you who are neophytes to the wine scene, the term "Central Coast" applies to wineries from as far south as Santa Barbara County, and as far north as the lower San Francisco Bay area.

These wineries are typically found along Highway 101, but can be found closer to the coast or further inland. Currently, there are about 100,000 acres in the Central Coast AVA that are planted with over 35 different varietals. Chardonnay accounts for just over half of all the varietals planted.

My wine "education" began in the Paso Robles sub AVA of the Central Coast, back in May of 2010. I was visiting some friends in Cambria for my birthday, and they decided to take me wine tasting for the very first time. At that point in time I was pretty much just a Chardonnay drinker, and I was hooked on Rombauer and Chalk Hill's Napa Valley Chardonnay. Occasionally I would drink a Zinfandel or a Cabernet Sauvignon, but the only difference I could tell back then was that the Zin was fruitier, and had a sweeter taste to it. My friends decided to introduce me to Paso Robles Syrahs.

I'll never forget tasting wines at Dark Star and Brian Benson Cellars. Brian was actually the one pouring the wines that day, and he poured one Syrah or Syrah blend after another. I spit every single one out when Brian wasn't looking, until he caught me. He could tell by the look on my face that his wines were way too big, bold and tannic for a newbie like me to appreciate. He then asked me what wines I typically drink. I answered jokingly, "Irish Whiskey, and occasionally a Chardonnay."

He laughed, then politely scolded my friends and told them they were doing me a disservice by having me try his wines first. He said he would never subject a newbie to his wines, they are simply too bold and tannic, and have to be "worked up to." 

He told them a few wineries to take me to, and we were off. The next few days we hit about 12 different wineries and I tried everything from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Sangiovese, Garnacha, red blends of all kinds and even grape juice made from wine grapes at Castoro Vineyards. (If you've never had grape juice made from wine grapes... OMG are you in for a treat. Yes, it's super, super sweet, but it's the best tasting grape juice you will ever have!)

That weekend was when I came to realize that my palate much preferred Italian varietals to French ones. I had a great time. So much so that I went back in August to live with them for five months, until Christmas Day. In that time, we bought a cookbook called "Never Cook Bacon Naked", by Chef Dallas, and proceeded to cook our way through it. We made several trips each week to the wineries, we would show them the book and tell them, "We're cooking this tonight, which of your wines would you recommend to pair with it?" And that's how my adventure into this crazy, wonderful world of wine began.

Ok, enough talk, let's get down to tasting some Central Coast wines!

First up is a nice, mineral rich Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) from Tangent.

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Sourced from grapes from the acclaimed Paragon Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, the nose of this wine expresses young, vibrant citrus fruits and a chalky mineral note. Like all my favorite Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigios, this wine has a nice hint of lime, both on the nose and on the palate. It has a pleasantly light acidity that is just enough to wake up your salivary glands and make your mouth water. Serve this refreshing wine with light snacks, fruit, salads or by itself with some club soda for a poolside spritzer.

Price range: $11-$16

Next up is a great summertime Chardonnay from Calera Vineyards.

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Located just south of Monterey, this Chardonnay produces a nice, crisp, citrus nose. Aromas of lime, pineapple, a bit of green apple, a chalky minerality followed by just a hint of oak delight your olfactory senses. On the palate, the wine retains just enough acid to give it a little punch. The citrus and apple notes come through mid-palate, and finishes with a light but lingering chalky minerality and a touch of oak. This is yet another wine that is as close to an un-oaked Chardonnay as one can get while using oak. Pair this wine with light pasta dishes and white cream sauces, rotisserie chicken or Cornish game hens, Chicken Cordon Bleu or any salad dish.

Price range: $16-$22

Moving on to one of my favorite wineries in the Paso Robles region, Chronic Cellars.

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This week I selected their Rosé called 'Pink Pedals'.

Paso Robles is famous for their Rhône Varietals and the blends they make from them. This rosé is a blend of mostly Grenache with some Syrah. It produces an interesting nose of strawberries and watermelon. On the palate, you definitely get the strawberry along with some light cherry flavors, but no watermelon. It has a zippiness to it that wakes up your mouth and makes you want to drink the whole bottle in one sitting. (Which I did by the way! 😁)

Pair this wine with just about anything you want. It is light enough to serve with chicken or pork dishes, yet has enough body and flavor to hold its own alongside barbecued beef ribs or pork loin. Whatever you decide to pair it with, the wine will not disappoint.

Price range: $12-$17
That's it for Part One. Watch your email for Part Two, and please enjoy the first three wines in this installment! Cheers!