Honorable Mention: Bistro Laurent, now known as BL Brasserie, which was an amazing dinner but has completely changed since we went.
Last summer, to celebrate our first wedding anniversary among many other wonderful things to come, we made the roughly 2-hour drive down to Paso Robles, California. Unfortunately for us, Route 1 along the coast south of Big Sur still wasn’t reopened – but the good news for you, should you make a similar trek, is that it reopened literally the week after we made this drive. I guess that means we need to do it again, huh?
Anyways. The drive down 101 between Monterey and Paso is pretty nondescript, mostly dry and rural land with a few small towns sprinkled along the road. There isn’t much to look at outside of those small towns, though it was fun to watch the temperature readout in my car climb from the 70s up to something like 115. We have a pretty serious lack of seasons, and therefore lack of temperature variance, in Monterey – clearly that is not the case here. Really, really glad I packed lots of shorts!
We arrived in Paso and checked into our airBnB, a really cute little house in a neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. The house had a guide to the neighborhood deer, of which we were lucky to catch a few glimpses of around sunset just casually walking along the streets. I will never not be amazed when wild animals just appear around you.
Our first stop for the weekend was Firestone Walker, one of my favorite California breweries. I’m a big fan of their beer, and also of their slogan “Beer Before Glory,” because beer. We each had a couple drinks – a couple IPAs for me, a stout for the husband – and one of their pretzels to tide us over until dinner. We ended up leaving with a 6-pack of their Luponic Distortion IPA series, a rotating hop series which I have come to love since moving to California. Last July they were on iteration #10, a beer in which “the lead hops…include new varieties from the Pacific Northwest, Germany and the Southern Hemisphere, which combine to provide distinct qualities of mango creamsicle, peach ring and ruby grapefruit.” (More info about this and past beers at the website).
BL Brasserie, right in downtown Paso Robles. It looks like their menu has changed pretty significantly as they’ve rebranded themselves to be more of a brasserie style restaurant, and a bit more casual, than the semi-upscale French restaurant it was when we went. This is what happens when you wait almost a year to write a blog post about it! Their food was pretty great when we were there, so if you’re in Paso, definitely check them out! Next time we’re in town, we’ll stop by and I can give y’all a better sense of what it is now. 😉
But I digress. Last July, when we went, we both ordered their chef’s choice tasting menu – a 6 course affair with wine pairings for each course. This doesn’t look like it’s an option anymore, unfortunately, but it was quite delicious. We even had the option to add a cheese course before dessert, which my cheese-loving self obviously agreed to wholeheartedly. Cheese + wine = happiness, am I right? Especially after somewhere in the vicinity of 8 glasses of wine…
On Saturday morning, we somehow managed to rustle ourselves out of bed and over to meet up with the rest of the group we were hanging out with for the weekend – altogether, four couples – to prepare for the big draw of the weekend: a wine tour! Because when in Paso…if you’re not drinking wine, I’m not sure what you’re doing. We went through Central Coast Jeep Tour Adventures and I cannot say enough wonderful things about Sal and his crew. I highly, highly recommend them if you are looking for a wine tour in Paso. Their cost covers the open-air Jeep (seats up to 6!), lunch, and tasting fees at tons of wineries in the area. Bring a tip for your driver – they will absolutely deserve a huge one! You can pick your wineries from their list of partners – we managed to squeeze in four wineries, which was the perfect amount.
Our morning started at Midnight Cellars Winery, where I struggled through my hangover as a result of the evening prior (#realtalk I don’t recommend trying to drink like
you’re still in college when you are decidedly not in college anymore), but the wines were really delicious and the scenery was beautiful. It was HOT, as previously mentioned, but their back porch was shaded and had plenty of seating for our group of 8. We enjoyed a tasting there, and some of us enjoyed the company of the winery cat (I adore winery cats) when it appeared.
We followed up Midnight with a trip to Dunning Vineyards, a big estate with a beautiful guest villa that you can stay in. I was still struggling, so I only tried one or two of their wines on the day of the tour, but my husband loved them so much that we joined their wine club. Now that I’ve had a few tastes (just a few, though, obviously), I can agree. They have a lot of big, bold reds, and a lovely red blend. Their website also lists a chardonnay, which I don’t think I tried and I don’t know if we’ve received any in our shipment, but if the rest of their wines are any indication then I’m sure it’s also delicious. This is one of two wine clubs that we joined during the weekend, and one that we are definitely trying to plan a trip to return to.
Following Dunning, we trekked on to Kiamie Wine Cellars, where my brother-in-law and his significant other are members. I managed to come out of the struggle at this point, which was a Very Good Thing as this winery was the main event of the day. We got to enjoy a lunch (probably helped with managing my struggle, tbh) provided by the Jeep tour. We pre-ordered our lunches maybe a week or two in advance, and they brought them along with some snacks and water bottles in coolers in the Jeeps for us. A few sandwiches and a little creative time management later, we were onto the Big Event.
Now, a little backstory: we had been considering going to Paso for our anniversary for a while when my brother-in-law called to tell us that he had purchased a ring and he was planning on proposing to his girlfriend at the winery they were members of…in Paso, on our anniversary weekend. I, not wanting to crash their weekend or steal their thunder, immediately started coming up with other plans for our anniversary weekend. This lasted about two hours until I told my husband to call him back and tell him that we were going to crash the weekend whether he liked it or not.
So, this is how we found ourselves here, at Kiamie, with my lovably dorky brother-in-law finally managing to control his emotions long enough to ask his then-girlfriend, now-fiancee, almost-wife to marry him (I cried too, it’s fine). And in another episode of “this is what happens when you wait almost a year to write a blog post” – they’re getting married this month! My goal was to get this post published before their wedding, and I’m making that goal by the skin of my teeth ;). And hey – look at those super cute wine glasses! I wanted to pass on the pink one, which was a gag gift from my own bachelorette party, but obviously couldn’t let my brother-in-law feel left out, so I made him his own matching one. And now they are so close to getting meowied! As you can imagine, much celebration was had, I was finally ready to drink wine, and a few bottles of sparkling wine and rose and maybe even some sparkling rose later, we packed up and rolled out to our final winery of the day.
Tobin James was definitely the biggest winery we’d been to all day, and our guide described it to us as “the party winery” – I can see why. Plenty of bachelorette party-type-groups and other tour groups were there, along with us. It was quite crowded, which is no surprise for a Saturday afternoon in the summer. Most of our crew was getting burnt out on wine, but since I had skimmed through the first two wineries of the day, I was excited to get another tasting in. I really enjoyed their tempranillo rose – I brought a bottle of it home – and they had a far wider selection of wines than any other place we’d been to in Paso. If you’re looking to party, or to try a lot of different wines, this is definitely the winery for you.
Sadly, our time with our Jeep tour came to an end after this. As I said above, I cannot recommend them highly enough! Our drivers were very knowledgable about wine and about the Paso Robles area, gave us lots of great information about the area as we were driving through, and were just enjoyable and friendly guys to spend an afternoon with. I will certainly be booking with them again next time we take a winery trip to Paso.
Dinner that evening found us at The Hatch, a hipster-y comfort food joint in downtown Paso Robles. They have wine on tap (yay!) and a creative cocktail list (double yay!), and a really great dinner menu. Our waiter was fantastic, and when we expressed that we were thinking of just ordering a bunch of small plates for the table to share, he offered us the option to just go with the flow and let the kitchen decide what we’d eat. This was perfect because it eliminated the need for eight people to all agree on things to share as we just got whatever we got – especially great because we had a variety of dietary restrictions that they were able to work with and didn’t require people to have to not eat, pick around stuff they couldn’t have, etc. Nearly a year later and I’m still thinking about that pork belly – which says something, because I’m not usually a big pork eater – and the cinnamon donuts we had for dessert. So delicious.
One of the other fun parts about The Hatch was the “special alcohol” option (I forget what they actually called it). Basically, whatever alcohol they had on the shelf that they wanted to get rid of was offered at a discounted price. My husband the scotch fiend asked what the option was, and the waiter responded with “do you like peaty scotches? Because I have this really crazy one that’s really wild and kind of awful…” and described Bruichladdich Octomore to us. Guys. What a hilarious experience this was. This is one of the most awful things I have ever tasted. I don’t love peaty scotch to begin with, but this was like chewing on a chunk of mossy bark that had been left in someone’s leather coat pocket while they smoked a cigar. My husband described it as “drinking a paper cut” and you should have seen the face my brother-in-law made when he tasted it.
Sunday morning found us at our last, and in my opinion best, stop on the trip. Since my BIL’s fiancée is way more into white wines than reds, I found the only white-wine-dedicated winery in Paso Robles, Monochrome Wines, in Tin City. Reservations required, but so worth it. The tasting room is tiny, almost like a small office, and we did our tasting with the owner himself. Picture this: perfect weather Sunday morning, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” on a vintage turntable, a comfy couch and a few glasses of refreshing white wine. This place is literally perfect. The owner, Dave, had a multitude of careers in technology and medical fields before deciding to start making wine. His engineer brain shows so clearly in his winemaking, and the science experiments they do are honestly the most delicious science I’ve ever tasted. We joined their wine club, too, and I cannot recommend Monochrome enough. Most people think of red wine when they think of Paso, and I’ll admit that I do too, but now I think of Monochrome. If you are in Paso, near Paso, or thinking about going to Paso – book a tasting at Monochrome. I promise you’ll love it.
And… to the victors go the spoils:
We returned to Monterey with a pack of Firestone Walker (and a free glass!), two bottles of Monochrome, a bottle from Tobin James, two bottles from Dunning, and a basil olive oil and roasted garlic sea salt from Pasolivo where we stopped for an olive oil tasting on our way out of town.
So, in summary: while Paso may not have the name recognition or prestige of Napa, the wines are damn good, and Monochrome alone makes it worth the trip.
Until next time – cheers!