Wine tasting. That eternal girls weekend event. I remember being in my early twenties and thinking, ugh, wine. That’s what pretentious people drink. The only wine I drank was on the bottom shelf at the grocery store. And usually had some kind of fruit involved, or ended in ‘-to’. Give me an unknown concoction of liquor and a can of beer to chase it and I’m set.
But I got older and something weird happened. My body was no longer able to control it’s reaction to Jager shots and my taste buds were suddenly able to distinguish the difference between different types of fermented grapes. I still think that people who spend an obscene amount of time swirling and sniffing their wines to detect hints of chocolate and strawberries are a *bit* pretentious. But that’s probably because I’m jealous that I can’t taste those things. But I can tell the difference between merlot and zinfandel, at least enough to tell you that I don’t much like merlot.
I was first introduced to the Central Coast region when I was working the Food & Wine Festival at Disneyland. The person in charge of picking the wines went pretty much exclusively with this region. It was my first time being immersed in this culture, and I worked with some pretty awesome people during the event. (The four hour wine tasting shift I had before we opened wasn’t too shabby either) Shortly after my mom and I took a road trip to San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle, and do some wine tasting in Paso Robles. Not only is Paso a beautiful area, there are literally hundreds of wineries, most of which have tasting rooms, growing all types of grapes and creating thousands of varieties of wine. They even have wine tours that drive you from winery to winery.
That being said, it’s impossible to narrow it down to the four *best* but these four are my favorite. Here we go!
A few notes for first timers:
- When the winery uses the term “estate” that means that the grapes used in that particular wine were grown on site. A lot of wineries buy grapes from other vineyards due to their size and production capabilities.
- Many tasting rooms will have a set tasting menu, meaning they choose the wines they have available that day and they are poured in a particular order. If you are given the choice to choose which wines you want, always start with the whites first. Then move on to the reds, and if dessert wines are on the menu, choose that as the very last wine you try. If you’re still unsure don’t be afraid to ask the server their opinion. They are trained to answer your questions and they want you to have a great experience (so you’ll buy their wines)
- Buying wine might seem expensive, usually no less than $25 or $30 a bottle, but you are getting it for less than you would in the store. That’s if they even sell them in stores. No shipping costs = discounted wines for you.
- Not all wineries have a restaurant, none of the ones on this list do. But they usually allow you to bring your own food. An easy way to keep your trip thrifty and avoid getting too tipsy.
- All the wineries in this list are happily dog and family friendly!
8325 Vineyard Drive
Whalebone Vineyard is family owned and operated and produces an assortment of all red blends. The tasting room is inside a cute little barn perched above the road on a hill, surrounded by grape vines. You have a few options for wine tasting. They offer the traditional tasting set up, with five or six wines for $10 or you can order a glass for $8. The tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle.
This winery is super chill. They have table games like big Jenga, picnic tables and Adirondack chairs on the patio and pets! Yep, the winery has cats and a fatty bulldog that love all the attention they get from guests. It’s pretty much the perfect place to spend the afternoon. But that’s not what we’re here for! Let the wine tasting continue!
7970 Vineyard Dr.
Just down the road from Whalebone is the bright pink Tuscan villa that is Dilecta Wines. We passed it on our way to Whalebone and just had to check it out. I am probably the only wine drinking woman I know who doesn’t like white wine. I mean, if that’s all there is I’ll have a glass, but I would much rather have a big bold glass of red . So believe me when I say that Dilecta Wines has a mind blowing Chardonnay that is literally one of the best wines – not just white wine, but wines – I have ever tasted.
I was blown away by Dilecta. We had a super cool chick pouring for us, their tasting room had some really awesome murals (the artistic flare mirroring the label art on their bottles) and some of the best wines I’ve ever had – I cannot recommend this place enough. Tasting is $15, waived with the purchase of two bottles.
3810 Hwy 46 East
Eberle (eber-lee) Winery is one of the original wineries in Paso. Set up in the 1980s by Gary Eberle, it still runs on the principle that trying out a product should be free. So the basic tasting of 5 wines is free. They also give a 40% discount to military, police and firefighters. They have a wide range of wines including dessert wines that are almost too sweet. But the reason why I really like this winery is because they have a wine cave. And you can tour it for free. Every half hour one of the staff will take you under the tasting room and explain the wine making process, then take you into the wine cave where their wines are stored in barrels before being bottled. The last tour is at 5 pm, and is usually really busy. If you’re into the whole wine making process I’d recommend going earlier, or during the week which allows you a more personal tour. There’s also a HUGE deck out back for relaxing with a beautiful view of the vineyards.
8950 Union Road
Across the highway from Eberle is my favorite winery in Paso – Tobin James. They selected Ballistic as one of the wines for the Food & Wine Festival at Disneyland that I mentioned earlier. It was a big hit, and a lot of the guests I served already knew about Tobin James. This convinced me to take my first trip to Paso and once we got to the tasting room I was instantly hooked.
First of all, their tasting room is huge. And they have a really rad bar, it’s a real saloon bar complete with old-timey register. Second, the tasting is free. And they don’t have a limit to the amount of wines to try. Totally relaxed and fun experience, and they have some truly amazing wines. Tobin focuses mostly on the zinfandel varietal, the best being Fat Boy, but they also dabble in other varietals and some blends.
Bonus: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
1400 Ramada Dr.
Are you a fan of craft brews? Even if you’re not you’re probably familiar with Firestone Walker Brewing Company. They have gained a lot of popularity recently and are pretty well represented in most restaurants/grocery stores in Southern California. Their most popular beer is probably 805 lager. Am I ringing any bells? 805 is the area code up in Paso Robles where Firestone is brewed, so it’s aptly named. At the taproom you can order any of their many brews – including a couple site exclusive beers like the Unfiltered DBA (Double Barrel Ale) which is AMAZING. Smoother than the regular DBA sold regionally. Heads up: There are also tap rooms in Buellton and Venice Beach if you’re not near Paso.
So there you have it, my favorite wineries in Paso. The great thing about wine tasting in a wine region is the abundance of wineries. Not just like, there are a lot of wineries (actually there are so many it would take you years to try them all) but there are wineries literally so close to each other it’s like going trick or treating for adults. You can walk between them. So if you’re taking a trip, don’t worry about finding the best ones. Do a little research and find a few that are close together and you’ll have a blast.
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