Group vote: yes
Notable wines: 2010 Estate Blend (GSM), 2012 Epoch White
For my palate, these were probably my favorite wines of the day. And I think I’m going to go out on a limb and say my favorite setting, too. It doesn’t have the views of the hills. It’s more the feeling of being tucked in the forest. With the cutest bathrooms ever (see photo). And a great cat. Plus these huge Percherons, and one of the girls there offered to take us down to meet them at the barn, which was nice. The wines are mostly the big, GSM reds that Paso is known for. They also had Mr Prof’s second favorite white, the Epoch White, which is a Grenache Blanc blend. We took home that and the Estate Blend. I would have joined the club but they’re too new to have one yet, I guess. They have an allocation list, and the email you when wine is available and you can buy it if you want. I signed up for that. Definitely, no question, worth a visit for the setting and the Paso-typical wines.
Group vote: no
I had been here the last time I was in Paso, many years ago and on that trip, Booker was one of my two favorites. I brought home two bottles of their Vertigo, a Syrah/Grenache blend and it was so amazing. Expensive but amazing ($50, which was a lot for me back then). I loved all their wines including their white, so I was excited to go back. This time they had a completely different selection of wines: a white, a rose, and two syrah blends (the Vertigo wasn’t on the tasting list, and the others were new to me). And the reaction of the group was very much like Daou. We had been expecting a lot more. There were none that we were super excited about. Even the people pouring didn’t seem effusive which makes me wonder again if there is some sort of vintage thing going on. In the places we liked most, they were often serving ‘08s and ‘09s… Take it for what it’s worth. One snapshot of a place that might be great on other occasions but didn’t do much for us this time.
Group vote: yes
Notable wines: Cab Franc, Ricordati (Bordeaux Blend)
These next two wineries are right next to each other. Dark Star’s owners are Brian Bensen’s parents. Actually even the grandma was sitting there in the tasting room, knitting a scarf (but she put it down when things got busier, lol). The setup was very nice, with a plate of zinfandel grapes out on a plate for you to taste, some cheese and crackers available. They had a lot of varietals, which was unusual: Merlot, Cab Sauv, Zin, Cab Franc, plus blends. All reds. The Merlot didn’t taste very typical to me, which maybe makes sense for the area, but I thought it was interesting. The Cab Franc wasn’t on the tasting menu but I bought one and tried it later and I thought it was awesome, very rich and not with that kind of sour quality that badly made Cab F has sometimes. I haven’t tried the Cab Sauv yet. We all loved the Ricordati, their signature blend. What stuck out the most is their prices: SUPER reasonable. All of the wines ended up being 20-25 if you joined the club, which I did. So that was my second club pick. It had a little bit of that QPR magic for me. We all liked the wines at the son’s place better, but they were twice the price. This was a great place to get a case or half-case of wines I really liked to drink every day, guilt free.
Group vote: yes
Notable wines: 2011 S&M The Bang Bang Vineyard (Syrah/Mourvedre)
If you like the big red, Paso, GSM style, this place is the best. These were some damn good wines. Complex, even subtle, weird as that sounds. You could tell they were made with intelligence and love. The winemaker was a trip, literally. One of my friends kept referring to him as “the crazy guy”, but I would have said, “the stoned surfer guy”. Either way, we all agreed that his wines kicked ass, and one of my friends said this was far and away her favorite set of wines. The labels are designed by his artist friend (can you say “hipster”?) I might have signed up for the club, except that I ultimately decided the Vina Robles one would offer me more variation. A great place to visit, for a lot of info (and gossip!) one on one with the winemaker, and that personal experience that you can still get in Paso.