Wine, Winemakers and Winos: What You Missed at the Paso Robles Winemaker Dinner

Where there is wine and winemakers, you can be damn sure there will be winos, which is why we hit the trifecta at the Paso Robles winemaker dinner at Petite Maison this Monday.

The winemakers of Paso Robles showcased their signature Rhône varietal blends with a five-course meal Chef James Porter specifically concocted to complement the wines, but the entertainment really started when the wine started flowing freely.

Porter sets the say-anything tone for the evening straight off the bat, which is the best atmosphere for a wine dinner: Open, honest and welcoming of vice.

"I didn't even have the full tasting knows on this one, but who cares?!" Porter says introducing the Lone Madrone 2008 Points West White, a blend of mostly Roussanne with Picpoul and Viognier. "After drinking a whole bottle, I didn't need to know what was in it."

The Points West White is a rich and complex white, bright yet soft with strong notes of honey... or as the architect getting tipsy across the table from us calls it: "A great summer morning wine." Luckily, it's affordable for "weekly, daily or hourly" consumption, according to Porter, at $29 per bottle.

(Click through for more wine dinner gossip, plus the details on Paso Robles.)

Marcy Collins, Lone Madrone winemaker Neil Collins' wife, tells us the long days and cool nights in Paso Robles balance the grapes' acidity, making it a good food wine that's ideal for pairing with something spicy, like Thai. She also convinces us we need to try the 2009 Picpoul Blanc, which literally translates to "lip stinger," for its bright acidity.

Grape varietals native to the Rhône Valley of France grow especially well in Paso Robles because of its calcium-rich soil; long, consistent growing season; and day-to-night temperature variation, according to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

The tannin-forward Grey Wolf 2008 Instinctual red blend paired with a roasted pork crépinete with maple glazed root vegetables and a foie gras emulsion gets Porter's vote for "possibly best matched course." Maybe it's because we passed on the pork and foie gras emulsion, because, although tasty, this wasn't our top pick. Although Grey Wolf owner and winemaker Joe Barton's tasting-room driven strategy piqued our interest.

Paso Robles is often referred to as the anti-Napa of California, for bulking convention, and might as well be known as the red-headed stepchild of the Rhône Valley as well.

"This wine is the reason behind L'Aventure," Dave DeBusk, the La'Aventure vineyard manager says of the 2008 Estate Cuvée, a mix of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, or as DeBusk puts it: The ideal mix that winemaker Stephan Asseo was prohibited from making and distributing in France under Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations without jeopardizing his license.

The 2008 Estate Cuvée is almost opaque, which DeBusk attributes to simply mathematics: Leaving only six grape clusters per grape plant, as opposed to 40 or so at other vineyards, concentrates the plant's growth; therefore, concentrating the grapes' intensity and the wine's opacity.

Paired with a Petite Bistro filet, bone marrow red wine jus and a rich Roquefort spoon bread (of which we had a vegetarian version with braised artichokes and chanterelles), the L'Aventure Estate Cuvée course was by far our standout of the night in our book, and has the price tag to match at $85 per bottle, which we'd expect for a boutique, limited production winery's estate bottle.

Two of our now drunk dinner mates manage to score another glass of wine as they also try to talk their way into press credentials for today's afternoon tasting at El Chorro Lodge with 30 Paso Robles winemakers, including Collins, Barton, and DeBusk as well as the other wine makers we dined with: Amanda Wittstrom of Ancient Peaks Winery and Jon Diaz of Clayhouse Wines.

Check out the Paso Robles wines for yourself at El Chorro Lodge from 6 to 8 p.m. today for $55. And cozy up to some of the winemakers to see where they're heading afterward. Or join them back at Petite Maison for Staff Meal Thursday night. Visit the Paso Robles 2011 Grand Tasting Tour site for more details.

You can also register to win a trip to Paso Robles Wine Country, which is "redneck in the best possible way," according to Porter.

Of course, now we're plotting an excursion to see what in the world "redneck in the best possible way" means and crossing our fingers it involves more winos at more tastings with more winemakers.

Check back next Wednesday for Wine School when Pavle Milic of FnB shares his suggestions for pairing wine with your Thai take-out (or at-home cooking, for the more daring). And leave your questions for our wine gurus in the comments section below.

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Hannah E Williams