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Some beer-drinkers and wine-drinkers have the idea that you must be loyal to one beverage or style.

Well, let me introduce myself: My name is Erin Peters. I am a cross drinker—and I’m not the only one.

A visit to California’s Central Coast offers cross-drinkers like me the chance to compare some of the world’s best artisan beers and wines. I recently took a drive up to Paso Robles, and then further north to the Monterey area, to find out what craft beers are preferred by wine experts.

Midnight Cellars is a small-production, award-winning winery on the west end of Paso Robles. The boutique winery produces sustainably farmed Bordeaux grapes on 28 acres of hilly and limestone-rich soil. Midnight is known for making some of the best blends and big merlots. (Do not mention Sideways to the winemakers there!) Merlots are often viewed as gateway wines—kind of like pale ales are in the beer world. However, Midnight’s 2010 Estate Merlot transcends this stereotype: It’s big, bold and rich with dark fruit flavors.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Shelby at midnight told me how much she loves Sierra Nevada’s pale ale—still known as one of the biggest pale ales in the industry. There’s a nice balance in both this beer and this wine.

Just around the corner from Midnight is a gorgeous, upscale tasting room, serving old world varietal wines. Sextant Winery serves powerful zinfandel and petite sirah blends. The folks at Sextant claim it is the only winery in North America to cross-pollinate grenache and cabernet sauvignon, producing a big and bold caladoc. Bright Bing cherries and ripe blackberries are layered with dark fig, cinnamon and spicy cardamom notes. It’s delicious and poetically one-of-a-kind. Just don’t call it a blend.

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable server Kate Keller is a fan of local breweries like Central Coast Brewing, Libertine Brewing Company and BarrelHouse Brewing Company. BarrelHouse is a must-do when visiting the Central Coast—not just for the beer, but also for the beautiful views and inviting patio. The brewery typically has at least a couple fantastic sours on tap.

Monica Villicana not only runs a boutique winery, Villicana Winery, in Paso Robles; she and her husband, Alex, were the first in the area to distill spirits from the used grapes. Winemakers bleed a percentage of the free-run juice from red-wine grapes before fermentation to enhance the quality of the wines. Saignée is this French term meaning “to bleed,” and this juice is often discarded. By fermenting this bleed and then triple-distilling it, Re:Find Distillery has found a new use for saignée.

No surprise: Monica’s first choice of libations is wine. Then she’ll reach for liquors such as brandy, vodka or whiskey. While she’s not a big beer fan, she recently found one that she enjoys and can drink for a longer period of time: Central Coast Brewing’s Original Chai Ale. The spiced blonde ale from this veteran downtown San Luis Obispo brewery—it’s been open since 1998—comes in with a very manageable 4.9 percent alcohol by volume and has flavorful notes of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Her husband, Alex, will grab Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale when he’s not enjoying his own cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, merlots or syrahs. This American take on a British style beer has sweet malt flavors overlaying a slightly woody aroma. Villicana’s vintner likely enjoys the earthiness notes that highlight roasted bread, caramel and oak.

Traveling north on Highway 46, I stopped in Cambria, a lovely seaside village that oozes quaint, artistic expression. Here, you’ll find several wineries and what used to be called Cambria Beer Company. After a trademark dispute, the local brewery is now thriving as 927 Beer Company. Head brewer and president Aaron Wharton doesn’t have a taste for wine, but in true collaborative craft-beer-industry fashion, his patrons and friends bring him bottles and growlers of their beers to exchange with his own brews. Some of his favorites include Modern Times, Noble AleWorks, Rare Barrel and Alpine Brewing. In January, Aaron will start offering barrel-aged beers on a monthly basis.

Down the street is tasting room for Moonstone Cellars. Server and “wineaux” Ron Panna tends to favor chardonnays and appreciates red varietals like petite syrah. Young petite syrah wines may have dark berry and plum fruit characteristics, as seen in the winery’s 2013 petite syrah, which is a club exclusive—and it’s fantastic. This wine is full of spice and dark fruit and demands a meal befitting its robust and full-flavored nature, such as rosemary leg of lamb.

When not sipping on wine, he seeks out beers like Lagunitas Sucks’ Brown Shugga. Brown Shugga is a whopping 10 percent ABV American strong ale that carries flavors of malt, dark fruit and brown sugar together beautifully. Many strong ales also have prominent notes of spice, just like syrahs.

Heading up Highway 1, in Big Sur Village, I came upon a cozy pub serving some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. Maiden Publick House is a bit of a transcendental intersection, where locals, hippie campers and tourists enjoy brews among surrounding lush forests. The menu also lists nice beer pairings for the appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and traditional favorites like shepherd’s pie or Monterey chicken. Choose beers from 12 taps or 70 bottles. Parish Pub in Santa Cruz owns Maiden Pub, giving them access to a nice beer selection.

Continuing north to Monterey, I stopped by Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill. The first thing I noticed were the delicious smells wafting from the main bar and kitchen. Thanks in part to access to pristine, local ingredients, the brewery has started a barrel-aging program utilizing zinfandel barrels from Joullian Vineyards in Carmel Valley. Now aging is the Kriek lambic with Brettanomyces—and 40 pounds of cherries. Alvarado’s approach to artisan craft beer nabbed them gold at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival: The Mai Tai PA was recognized in the international-style pale ale beer-style category. The beer lineup includes Saboteur saison, Super Rad! sour and Double Cone double IPA. The Super Rad! was, well, super rad—and their bacon and egg flatbread was positively scrumptious.

I later picked up a bottle of pinot noir from my dear friend Cathy. (I’ve known her since the fifth-grade!) She and her husband, Chris Weidemann, started Pelerin, a small artisan winery in Carmel Valley. Their wines are hand-harvested, gently tended and bottled without filtration. When not sipping on pinot noir or Rhone-style syrah, Chris and Cathy enjoy beers from the Monterey Coast Brewing Co. in Salinas. Chris enjoys mid-weight, moderately hoppy ales, and like most, enjoys craft beers from his local community. 

Here’s a quick guide that may help you match your beer preferences with your wine preferences:

  • Enjoy Chardonnay? Try wheat beers.
  • Like carménère? Try West Coast IPAs.
  • Drink syrahs or chianti? Try a porter.
  • If you enjoy merlot, pick up a pale ale.
  • Like riesling? You may also like Czech pilsners.
  • Shiraz or grenache-blend aficionado? Try a Belgium ale.
  • Is your go-to pinot noir? You should also try lambic or sour.

These are mere recommendations; after all, nothing beats your own palate.

Wine is known to be gorgeous, mysterious and sophisticated. Craft beer can portray a sense of worldly history, anarchy and fun. Enjoy both—and you can have it all.

Published in Beer

This is about creeping age and rolling green hills. It’s about interspersed wide patches of California poppies that cause drivers to pull over and take photos—as do acres of vines and vines and vines.

I’m 49 years old, and I could spend every spring on the Central Coast.

Dave and I drive the hybrid to Paso Robles the week before I turn 50. Wining and dining here ain’t no bargain, but we’re still young enough to camp in a tent among the spring-breaking crowd at Hearst San Simeon State Park.

As age advances, though, I sense in myself less barrel-tasting wildness and more smoothness, like velvet syrah cellared with a cool film of crusty particulates forming over a bottle. I feel mildly dusty in Tobin James’ crowded tasting room, when we’re drinking charming, affordable wines and feeling less than enchanted. That bottle of jammy Tobin James Ballistic zinfandel ($18) we loved so much six or seven years ago? Its once-beloved plumishness feels gooey to us now.

We taste and shrug. It’s fine. “Maybe we outgrew the Ballistic,” I speculate, as a perceptive tasting-room employee introduces us to Tobin James’ finer vintages. We walk out with a delectable bottle of 2011 Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel ($38). Dry-farmed. Intense.

Maybe it’s the voice of experience, or tasting the $75 bottle of Jada’s 2012 WCS JackJohn. But I realize this shit’s getting expensive. Not a new epiphany, of course—not the first time Dave and I realize that we could spend serious dough on wine, money we don’t have.

Seems the price of boutique wine is escalating—supply and demand, baby—at the same time as our, you know, palates are improving. Spendy combination, that. Credit card debt looms.

Dave and I arrive at Jada Vineyard and Winery around 10:30 a.m. for my breakfast wine. The winery’s one of more than a dozen on that famed stretch west of Paso Robles—Vineyard Drive, just off Highway 46 West.

Many people are kicking back at tables on the patio already. Knowledgeable servers deliver tastes of wine paired with various cheeses. A person might be here for a couple of hours, sipping, snacking, soaking up the sun—and then buying the 2011 Jersey Girl Estate Syrah ($47) and/or the 2012 Jack of Hearts ($54, petit verdot, cab sauvignon).

Dave and I opt to stand at the bar, and I ask to taste only reds—a few from the “reserve” pairing, and a few from the “signature” pairing. Today, I’m searching for the best GSMs in the land of the Rhone Rangers.

It’s good to have a goal.

A GSM isn’t the meat additive from Chinese restaurants. It’s a red Rhône blend, modeled for wine blends from the Rhône wine region of southern France. Grenache grapes—with bright red berry and spice flavors—most often dominate the blends. Syrah contributes inky depths and structure. Mourvedre gives it the mysterious and ruddy elegance.

For me, it’s all about the mourvedre. I’ve been drooling over the memories of my last year’s Paso GSM finds. I want more.

Fortunately for my pocketbook, Jada’s JackJohn GSM blend disappoints me. It’s nice. I like it. But I don’t adore it to the tune of $75. I don’t want to drown in a vat of it. Or pour it all over my lover and, well, you know. Maybe that’s because the blend features only 9 percent mourvedre. I need more mourvedre.

The Jada wine I want is the 2012 WCS Tannat, also $75. Tasting notes quote wine columnist Anthony Dias Blue, who calls it “dark and lush” and “long and seamless.” High happy five to the tannat. I’ll buy a bottle when I win the lottery.

Jada is one of about 200 member wineries of the Rhone Rangers. Since the 1980s, Central Coast winemakers have riffed on southern Rhone wine styles with creative finesse.

Dave and I won’t make it to more than a handful of wineries over the weekend. That’s OK. Every trip to Paso Robles should include a visit to the Albertsons on Niblick Road. There, we pick up Kenneth Volk’s 2012 Mourvedre, Kukkula’s finely tuned and nicely aging 2007 Sisu (GSM), and Hearst Ranch Winery 2012 Three Sisters Cuvee (GSM). Buy enough wine, and a 30 percent discount kicks in. The tasty $22 Hearst wine ends up less than $16. I will have caps to sniff.

Back on the road, I pick the collective wisdom of tasting-room employees about who’s pouring what, where and when. The kind folks at Tobin James send us to Cass Winery. There, Dave doles out the dough for a 2012 Rockin’ One Red ($43) as my birthday gift. Thanks, sweetie pie. Speaking of pie, the Rockin’ One is 60 percent mourvedre, and I fight the urge to dab some behind my ears and on my wrists to wear as cologne.

The folks at Cass send me to Zenaida Cellars for the 2011 Wanderlust ($35), a wine that pulls off a 50 percent grenache-dominated blend. Also of note: the 2012 Fire Sign ($42), a cab sauvignon-syrah-zin blend that kicks off a burning desire for more.

Someone else recommends the Lone Madrone, where I find much to love in the mourvedre-dominated 2011 Points West Red ($35), a complex Rhone that contains the GSM trio of grapes plus hardy cinsault and the dark-skinned counoise.

We spend the longest time at Whalebone Vineyard, a family winery with excellent everything. There, Travis Hutchinson talks us into joining the club in order to nab a couple bottles of the 2011 Boneyard. Yes. It’s that good. Hutchinson invites us to stay for cheeseburgers. We have other plans, but we appreciate the invite. This is our kind of place, and we’ll be back and back.

A final recommended stop: the new guys on the block, Brecon Estate. Brecon is a teeny outfit with only a few wines released so far. But one of these wines is a 2013 Mourvedre ($42). It’s splendid now, but promises luxury overload in five or six years.

I buy this bottle as a gift to myself for my 55th birthday. I will put it in my “cellar” (read: dark closet) ’til 2020.

If I feel old now, I can’t imagine how I’ll feel then. But the mourvedre will make it all better. Given the rising price of wine, I’m betting it will taste like 100 bucks.

Published in Wine