California Wines – A Love Story
Did you know that September is California Wine Month? Let’s be honest, every month is California Wine month at our house. As part of the monthlong celebrations, California Wines and California Grown invited me to join them on a quick getaway to Paso Robles. While there, we got a taste for all that the beautiful region has to offer. I love California Wines, and I especially love Paso. It was such a treat to get to learn even more about the beautiful Central Coast (spoiler alert – it’s a lot).
This post and the mushroom + polenta recipe that goes with it was made in partnership with California Grown. I received compensation and product in exchange for it. Opinions are always my own. Thanks for your continued support!Jump to Recipe
Others in our fun group were Meg from This Mess is Ours, Amanda from Sommvivant, Sarah from The Delicious Life, Aida from Salt & Wind Travel, and our fearless leader, K.C. from G Free Foodie. While in Paso, we enjoyed excellent wines with personal tastings with the winemakers themselves. And of course, there were also incredible meals, gorgeous views, and a VIP tour of Bruce Munro: Light at Sensorio (a MUST do). I even got to play with a herd of 55 wonderful milking goats! I’ll tell you more about all of our Paso adventures in a minute. But first, I want to tell you about why California wines should be top of mind when you are considering what to serve at your next dinner party (or Tuesday night).
Why California Wines Are the Best
This California girl may be biased, but I do believe that our wines are the best! California is America’s #1 wine producer, and the 4th largest producer in the world. With more than 5,900 winegrape growers and more than 620,000 acres of vineyards, the Golden State produces 3.4 million tons of grapes for wine each year. Plus, over 110 varieties of wine grows here. That’s a lot of wine!
What impresses me most, besides the excellence of the wine, is that California wine growers have embraced sustainability. According to the California Wine Institute, more than 80% of the wine produced in the State is Certified Sustainable.
But What Does Certified Sustainable Mean Anyway?
You may think you know what sustainability means, but the practices go far beyond what most people know and understand. To be sure, Certified Sustainable wineries take measures to protect the environment including preserving local habitats, reducing water usage, composting, and using sheep and beneficial birds to control weeds and pests. But what you may not realize, is that being a sustainable winegrower also means producing the highest quality wines while protecting the environment, being a good neighbor and employer, and maintaining a thriving and long-term business.
The wine industry is an important part of California’s economy. With over $40 billion in retail value and $1.29 billion in exports, it’s worth noting that sustainable practices are also good for business. The State’s winemakers are leading the way. With long term benefits to the land, cost savings, improved wine quality, and improved market value, other industries are taking note.
Paso Robles – Best Wineries, Restaurants & Hotels
I have been to Paso Robles many times, so I already have OPINIONS on what I think you should sip, savor and see while you’re there. Happily, while on this trip with California Grown and California Wines, I was introduced to some new places, new faces, and new experiences. Yes, everything was amazing! Here’s the quick and dirty of what we did, and what I recommend. There so much to love about Paso Robles and the Central Coast in general!
Paso Robles’ Best Wineries
There are more than 200 tasting rooms in Paso so you’ve got to narrow it down somehow. Here’s what we visited on our tour, and a few others I love as well. You’ll need a Paso Robles map of wineries to help you get oriented.
A funky little industrial park on the outskirts of town, Tin City is full of creative up-and-comers with a fresh attitude and a splash of fearlessness when it comes to their craft. Here you’ll find artisans in both the food and beverage world. We visited Sans Liege and Desparada while we were there and you should too. Sans Liege wines are mostly Rhone varietals, which I love, with a nod to the Old World while totally embracing the freedom and creativity of the New. Desparada Wines is the brainchild of owner Vailia From (pictured left). Vailia is 100% badass (with a touch of bold elegance) – just like her wines. Also check out Field Recordings, Tin City Cider Co. and Negranti Creamery.
I’m a chardonnay mom and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And J. Lohr makes the most delicious and affordable chardonnay around. I almost always have a bottle or two in my fridge. At less than $15 per bottle, Wine Spectator calls their Riverstone Chardonnay a “best value.” On our tour, we got to enjoy a tasting dinner with the “Steves” (Steve Lohr, the CEO and co-owner, and winemaker Steve Peck). Not only are they two of the kindest and smartest humans ever, they are absolutely dedicated to excellence in winemaking and sustainable growing practices. J. Lohr is in the forefront of sustainability, earning the Green Medal Leader Award from the California Winegrowing Alliance. At the dinner, we tasted some of their premium wines. It’s hard to pick a favorite, though their luscious October Night Chardonnay was so delicious with my paella!
Hope Family Wines
I loved our visit to their GORGEOUS tasting room. They have created this super chic space in one of the barns on the property that houses a barrel room. The moment I saw it I wanted to move in. Think green velvet sofa, plush rugs, beautiful lighting, tons of plants, and cowhide chairs. They also have a beautiful outdoor space with secluded tables for tastings. We had a tasting with their assistant winemaker Samantha Taylor. She paired our wines with a delectable selection of cheeses from Stepladder Creamery (where I got to play with the goats). As you know, wine + cheese is the perfect pair, but there’s a backstory here that you won’t want to miss. The story is so sweet and wonderful – and the paring was delicious! And yes they were able to accommodate our gluten-free needs!
We didn’t visit this winery while in Paso, but it’s one of my favorites. As I mentioned previously, my favorite wines are Rhone varietals, and Tablas Creek is a pioneer of the California Rhone movement. Not only do they produce rare and absolutely exquisite wines, they are the United States’ first Organic Regenerative Certified Vineyard, dry farmed, and they’re biodynamic to boot!
Paso Robles’ Best Restaurants – with Gluten Free Options!
- La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant – this Latin-inspired restaurant is right in the heart of downtown Paso. We enjoyed an amazing dinner here paired with J. Lohr wines. Highlights of my meal included a delicious mushroom polenta dish, and their mind blowingly delicious paellas (meat and seafood are equally excellent). They accommodated my gluten-free status handily!
- The Alchemist’s Garden – a relatively new spot for cocktails and appetizers to go with them. I can’t vouch for dinner as we just ordered shared plates. With cocktail prices in the $15-$20 dollar range it’s not cheap, but they are fun, innovative and so tasty. But what stands out most (and my friends K.C. and Meg will agree) are the FRENCH FRIES. Trust me, just get them. Their menu has plenty of gluten-free snacking options. Order them all.
- Thomas Hill Organics – a good farm-to-table restaurant with a beautiful patio for semi outdoor dining. They have a lot of gluten free options, as well as local, organic produce on the menu.
- Finca – this sweet restaurant is a relatively new addition to Paso. Located in an old farmhouse on the former Old Hometown Nursery property, this fast-casual restaurant features fresh local ingredients and a great wine list. The operation is family owned and operated by the owners of La Taquiza in Napa. Co-owner Patrick Aguirre has worked under Thomas Keller at Bouchon Bakery and Suzanne Goin of AOC, so while it may be fast-casual, the food is incredible. The guacamole is bonkers delicious (but be warned – shared fryer if you want chips).
- Fish Gaucho – sometimes after a day of wine tasting, the last thing I want is more wine. So the obvious choice here is margaritas (and tacos). There are plenty of gluten free options here, as well as amazing margaritas, one of which inspired this mezcal based cocktail recipe.
- Robin’s – we love this little restaurant in the coastal town of Cambria. The menu is innovative and delicious with many gluten-free options, plus the deck and garden seating areas are both absolutely gorgeous. We always make sure to eat here at least once when we are in the area.
- Madeline’s – another delicious spot in Cambria. It’s as close to fine-dining as you can get in this small town. Specializing in French cuisine, they also have a wonderful wine list.
- Hidden Kitchen – this hole in the wall is true to its name and is tucked in a side alley in Cambria. Serving up a 100% gluten free menu of corn waffles topped with pretty much everything you can think of that would go on a waffle, it’s a fun place to grab breakfast, juice or an excellent coffee.
Paso Robles Hotels – And Other Great Places to Stay
- Digs Vacation Rentals – this adorable Victorian pictured above is just blocks from downtown (and within walking distance to Finca). It’s GORGEOUS inside and the perfect place to stay for a girls weekend or couples’ getaway.
- Hotel Cheval – a wonderful property in downtown Paso with luxury amenities. It’s where to go for a romantic getaway.
- Oxford Suites – a more budget-friendly, but still very nice option in DT Paso. It’s brand new and super clean, and very close to downtown.
- Little Sur Inn – if you want an ocean front view, Cambria is a beautiful 15 minute drive from Paso. Many of the inns along Moonstone Beach are nice, but we love the Little Sur Inn. Ask for an ocean front room on the second floor. Be sure to take coffee to go and walk along the mile-long wooden boardwalk on the beach in the morning.
A Paso Robles-Inspired Wine Pairing Idea
I love mushrooms – their earthy + umami flavor is so incredibly satisfying. Though we eat them year round, I do find myself turning to them more often in fall and winter. They have a coziness about them that makes me want to pull on my fuzzy socks.
I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of them, spooned over a bowl of creamy polenta at La Cosecha during my trip with California Wines and California Grown to Paso Robles in September. Inspired, I thought I’d share an easy recipe for roasted mushrooms. Once roasted, they’re spooned over crispy polenta rounds that have been smeared with Stepladder Creamery’s luscious fromage blanc. It’s an easy appetizer recipe that is perfect for holiday entertaining.
Roasted Mushrooms on Polenta Rounds – A Delicious and Easy Appetizer
- Half Sheet Pans (2)
- 1 pound assorted mushrooms sliced, quartered, or torn into bite sized pieces
- 6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2-3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons chopped leaves from woody herbs like rosemary, thyme or sage Be sure to remove any stems
- 1/4 cup dry white wine Use anything that you love to drink, and especially what you plan to serve with the mushrooms
- Fresh chives or microgreens to garnish
For the Polenta Rounds
- 1 tube pre-cooked polenta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 16 tablespoons Marinated Fromage Blanc or whipped feta or goat cheese
- Roast the polenta. Preheat the oven to 475 °F and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Slice the tube of polenta into 16 even slices and place evenly on the prepared pan. Brush with olive oil and place in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, flip the slices over and bake for 10 minutes more, or until they are firm and crisp along the edges.
- Roast the mushrooms. Tear, slice or quarter the mushrooms into bite sized pieces (I do all three so there is a variety of textures) and scatter evenly over a baking sheet that’s been sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle the slivered garlic and herbs evenly over everything and drizzle evenly with the olive oil and wine. Toss everything well. I find that using my hands works well for this. Place in the oven with the polenta and bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. When done the mushrooms will have given off their juices, but still be tender with slightly crisp edges. Take care not to overcrowd the pan.
- Assemble the appetizers. Take a polenta round and spread with a tablespoon or so of Marinated Fromage Blanc. Top with a small mound of the roasted mushrooms, minced chives and microgreens. Arrange on a platter and serve immediately. They are good both warm and room temp, though I do lean towards serving them warm. If needed, you can keep them warm on a tray in a 200 °F oven until ready to serve. If you go that route, garnish immediately before serving so the microgreens don’t wilt. Serve with wine, natch.
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