I have been visiting Paso Robles with my family for at least 10 years and every visit reminds me why this growing wine region is so rewarding to visit. The region itself is diverse, with the beautiful coastal town of Cambria to the west, which offers sensational sunsets, beach walks, and a quaint downtown with plenty of restaurants, shops and wine tasting rooms. And, Hearst Castle is just up the road, so it’s easy to make a long weekend or more in the area.
With more than 200 wineries decorating the hillsides in Paso Robles, the region boasts roughly 42 miles east to west and 32 miles north to south. Prior to November 2014 when Paso Robles was divided into 11 smaller sub-AVAs, it was the largest unsubdivided AVA in California (about two-thirds larger in size than Napa). Paso Robles has a wide variation in soils, terrain and climate, giving each sub-AVA distinct characteristics and creating diversity in its offerings.
Producing a variety of wine styles and tasting experiences that appeal to everyone, Paso Robles is a California wine destination that shouldn’t be missed. Here is a sampling of wineries to put on your itinerary.
If You Fancy an Elegant Afternoon with Picturesque Views
My sister recently drank a bottle of Pessimist red blend by Daou, which is available at retailers such as Total Wine, and she wanted to ensure we included this winery on our itinerary. Other than having had Daou’s widely distributed Cab Sauvignon at restaurants, I wasn’t all that familiar with the winery or its offerings. All of us had no expectations, so imagine our surprise when we drove more than 2,200 feet in elevation and arrived at a beautiful winery that practically sits above the clouds, offering panoramic views of the valley.
You can opt to taste at the tasting bar, have a sit-down tasting on the patio, which we opted to do, buy a bottle and enjoy the views from the many sitting areas on the property, or do a little of everything. If you are looking to enjoy several hours at one winery, this is the place, particularly since they have delectable cheese plates and other menu offerings.
This winery is a splurge, with the terrace tasting being $40, but it’s worth every penny. Our fave was the Eye of the Falcon. The addition of Petit Verdot gives the wine an inky, rich color and adds a velvety texture that creates a uniquely complex Cab.
If You’re Into Zinfandel
We learned that some of the wineries are beginning to replace Zinfandel vineyards with other varietals and, if you are a Zinfandel fan like me, this is disheartening news. However, you are in luck with Turley Wine Cellars, which serves as a masterful steward of some of the oldest vines in California (some dating back as far as the 1850s). In fact, the Zinfandel offerings are staggering, with each one reflecting the nuances that are inherent of the vineyard from which it came.
Although you may see some Turley offerings at restaurants, such as the Juvenile—made from a variety of young vines—Turley makes many beautiful single vineyard designate Zins, many of which are not available through restaurant and retail distribution. We particularly enjoyed the Turley Estate Zin from Napa Valley. Tasting fee is $10 and is waived with a two-bottle purchase.
Opolo is another great option for quality Zinfandel. The winery recently completed a renovation and now offers a large patio overlooking the vineyards, and the tasting room has transformed from its former rustic barn to a modern and bright space. The pizza oven is a welcome addition, particularly when you need sustenance in between tastings. The Reserve Zin or the Montagna-Mare blend of Barbera and Sangiovese are great choices to accompany a fresh, hot pie from the oven. Classic flights are offered at $10 with the fee being waived when you make a two-bottle purchase.
If You’re Looking for a Lively Atmosphere
For the past 10 years, we have been club members of Tobin James Cellars, which has one of the largest wine clubs of any winery, and for good reason. Club members get a unique Tobin James-monogrammed gift with each wine shipment (8 bottles sent twice per year), and they are invited to the winery’s wildly popular parties that offer a never-ending flow of wine, delicious food and music, making them a complete sell out every time.
In addition, the winery hosts trips and cruises throughout the year as well, and has an onsite cottage that members can rent in exchange for purchasing wine. On top of all of that, the winery is producing some great wine, to include the Fat Boy Zinfandel, interesting varietals such as Tannat and Lagrein, as well as some gorgeous blends to include Private Stash and the 5. Winery ambassadors have contagious energy and create a fun atmosphere in the tasting room. Tastings are complimentary.
If You’re a Cab Lover (and Malbec, too)
I recently was reacquainted with Niner at a wine tasting event at Morton’s in Fort Lauderdale, which was about 6 years after I had visited the winery with my parents. At that time, it had recently opened its tasting room and my family was drawn into it by the vision of Heart Hill behind the winery. I recall at the time enjoying the Sangiovese, but fast forward to the Morton’s event, and I was wowed by the Cabernet Sauvignon (click here for the article). On our most recent Paso Robles visit, we opted to return to Niner and were treated to an enlightening tour by owner, Andy Niner.
The LEED-certified winery is beautiful and produces a diverse portfolio of single vineyard and estate wines from its three vineyards in Paso Robles. It’s flagship wine, the Fog Catcher, is a red blend named for the cool, grey banks of early morning fog that blanket the vineyard. The current vintage was not yet released when we visited, and the previous was sold out, but based on how the other wines were drinking, I can safely say it’s likely going to be spectacular.
We grabbed a bottle of the Malbec and some cheese and charcuterie platters to enjoy the patio overlooking Heart Hill. But if you go, plan to visit Thurs-Sun when its restaurant is open. It was rated as one of the best winery restaurants in America by Food and Wine Magazine in 2017. Tasting flights are offered for $15/person (waived with a two bottle purchase).
If You’re a Rhone Ranger Seeking Unapologetic Edginess
It’s no secret. Paso Robles is producing award-winning Rhone-style wine. With Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre being grown in the region, it’s not difficult to find a solid GSM blend or single-varietal Rhone wine in Paso. One of my favorite producers is Cypher Winery, founded by the people who created Four Vines.
Home to the Freakshow wine collection that includes the Heretic, Anarchy, Loco and Peasant (oh, and let’s not forget the Zin Bitch), Cypher always offers an enjoyable visit. We recently opened the Mourvèdre, which had us draining every last drop from the bottle. Tasting fee is $15.
If You’re Looking for Something a Bit off the Beaten Path
Make no mistake, just because Cass Winery is one we’ve never been to before, or even knew anything about, it’s a must for your Paso Robles wine adventure. After leaving Tobin James, we were hungry and eager for a relaxed lunch and received the recommendation to visit Cass. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone-you get to taste a flight of wine while enjoying a delicious lunch on the veranda. Like Cypher, Cass specializes in Rhone-style wines and I particularly enjoyed the elegant single-varietal Roussane, which was aromatic and surprisingly rich. The soft, creamy texture paired perfectly with a watermelon and feta salad. Tasting fees are $15-20 and are waived with a bottle purchase.
With so many wineries in Paso Robles, plan to spend at least three days to have the opportunity to cross over into the various sub-AVAs. You can either stay in Cambria, which is about a half hour drive into the western side of the wine region, or enjoy downtown Paso Robles, which offers everything from bed and breakfasts, to chain hotels, to resorts. Regardless of where you stay and taste, you are bound to have a memorable experience and come home with some quality wine!