Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, California’s Central Coast region offers a wealth of premium wine tasting opportunities. Paso Robles was named “Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2013 and is home to over 200 wineries growing Spanish, Bordeaux, and Rhône varietals in addition to the famous Paso Zinfandel. In southern San Luis Obispo County, the prevalent ocean air helps produce full-flavored and balanced wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir grapes (and more) on vineyards from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
California’s Central Coast also boasts outstanding restaurants, food purveyors, microbrews, and opportunities for entertainment as joyously demonstrated at the 5th annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast just two weeks ago. We’ve already described how much fun we had at the Sunset Dinner at Hearst Castle, but now we’re going to share our favorite experiences from the weekend’s two-day “Main Event” so you can savor and enjoy the highlights of the Central Coast yourself.
Activities at this action-packed festival on September 27-28 included:
- A Central California “Marketplace” with over 40 wineries and more than 20 restaurants and food purveyors from the Central Coast.
- Cooking demonstrations from Chefs and cookbook authors Tanya Holland (Brown Sugar Kitchen) and Fabio Viviani (Fabio’s Italian Kitchen) and Margo True (co-editor of Sunset The Great Outdoors Cookbook).
- Wine Seminars on topics such as Rosés, Sparkling Wines from around the world, Wines from the Paso Robles Appellation, and the Impact of a glass on the tasting experience (from Riedel).
- A beer garden-style setting with local microbreweries and musical entertainment culminating in a performance by Atascadero-based The Monroe.
- Lifestyle presentations such as water-wise gardening and flower arranging in the “California Grown” Pavilion celebrating the quality and breadth of the State’s produce.
- A “Travel and Adventure” stage where local experts offered tips for outdoor activities in the Central Coast such as cycling, kayaking, and zip-lining.
- The finale of a lamb-cooking showdown between four talented chefs from across the nation.
Keep reading, and we’ll let you know what food, wine, and beer we recommend you seek out yourself to best enjoy the bounty of California’s Central Coast (whether from the comfort of your home or on your next visit to Atascadero, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Santa Margarita, or somewhere in between).
Favorite Wines at Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast
We tasted over 100 wines at the 2014 Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast, and these were the California’s Central Coast wines we enjoyed the most:
- Brecon Estate (Paso Robles, CA) – 2012 Cabernet Franc
- Clayhouse Wines (Paso Robles, CA) – 2013 Fume Blanc, 2010 Old Vines Petite Sirah, 2012 “Own Rooted” Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Petit Verdot
- Daou Vineyards & Winery (Paso Robles, CA) – 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- Derby Wine Estates (Paso Robles, CA) – 2010 Project España Red (Tempranillo, Grenache, Carignane, Graciano) and 2011 Implico (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc)
- Halter Ranch (Paso Robles, CA) – 2013 Côtes de Paso Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier), 2013 Rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Blanc), 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Laetitia Vineyard & Winery (Arroyo Grande, CA) – nv Brut Cuvee, 2012 Nadia Cabernet Sauvignon
- Tablas Creek Vineyard (Paso Robles, CA) – 2013 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne), 2012 Patelin de Tablas (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cournoise)
- Talley Vineyards (Arroyo Grande, CA) – 2012 Estate Chardonnay, 2012 Estate Pinot Noir
Our favorite wines from Santa Barbara County (just south of San Luis Obispo County) were from Baehner Fournier Vineyards (2011 V3, a Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot), Brewer-Clifton (2012 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay and 2012 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir), Fiddlehead Cellars (2013 Gooseberry Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 “728” Pinot Noir) and Lafond Winery & Vineyards (2011 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay).
In addition to California wines, Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast’s Main Event offered international wines and our favorite samples were the ones from Domaine Porto Carras, one of 33 wine regions in Greece. We were particularly impressed by their 2013 Athiri, 2013 Malagouzia (Best in Class winner for Greek Whites at the 2014 Sunset International Wine Competition), 2011 Limnio and 2005 Chateau Porto Carras (a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Limnio).
Favorite Beers at Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast
Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast attendees who weren’t wine drinkers still had plenty of beverage options available to them, and these were the beers we enjoyed the most:
- Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Union Jack IPA, Pivo Hoppy Pilsner, Opal
- Central Coast Brewing – Black Rye IPA, Golden Glow Pale Ale, Topless Blonde Ale
Favorite Food Purveyors at Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast
We discovered, rediscovered, and just flat-out enjoyed a wide range of food purveyors from California’s Central Coast that we strongly encourage you to seek out. You can follow the links below to their websites (and if it’s a restaurant or retail storefront we’ve provided the street address).
Alle-Pia Fine Cured Meats – This fine cured meats producer comes from Antonio Varia, Chef and Owner of Buona Tavola Restaurants in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, and his nephew Alex Pellini. At the Main Event, we especially enjoyed their Sopressa Salami, Calabrese Salami, Finocchiona Salami, and ‘Nduja Spread (made with Sopressa Salami, Sundried Tomatoes, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Red Chile Peppers and Garlic).
Centrally Grown – At the Main Event this restaurant and specialty grocery store (focused on gourmet deli selections and organic produce from local farmers) was serving a fresh and delicious Abalone Ceviche with Morro Bay Avocado. We also reaped the benefits of their catering skills at a Sunset SAVOR tour at Halter Ranch where the dishes included Grilled Vegetables (with Chanterelle Salt and Rosemary), Grilled Rainbow Trout (with Lemongrass, Verbena, Pink Peppercorns and a White Wine Sauce), and a Chocolate Galette (in a Bay Nut Crust with Elderberries and a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction). 7432 Exotic Garden Drive, Cambria
Eureka! San Luis Obispo – This 13-store chain of New American restaurants specializes in burgers and the Central Coast outlet is easy to find in downtown San Luis Obispo. At Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast they were serving up their popular Fresno Fig Slider (with Fig Marmalade, Melted Goat Cheese, Bacon, Tomato, Red Onion, Arugula, and Spicy Porter Mustard). 1141 Chorro Street, San Luis Obispo (805) 903-1141
Fromagerie Sophie – One of the best cheese purveyors we have come across, Ms. Boban-Doering (and crew) were serving Swedish Gingersnaps with Big Rock Blue Cheese, Wildflower Honey, Microgreens and Cranberries. In addition to quality cheeses from around the world, her delightful SLO shop also sells French caramels, butter biscuits, confitures, olives, and mustards. 1129 Garden Street, San Luis Obispo (805) 503-0805
Just Jan’s – Starting from a Kadota Fig Spread, Jan Hogrewe has expanded her business to now include a dozen fruit spreads, marmalades, and curds. You can also find recipes incorporating her products such as Fig and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts and Just Jan’s Oatmeal Bars on her website. In addition to what started it all, we were wowed by her Organic Strawberry Spread, Lemon Curd, Lime Curd, and Balsamic Onion Savory Spread. If you’re looking for another endorsement, you should know that a LOT of people returned to their tasting booth, politely asking the Just Jan’s representative to add a dollop of Balsamic Onion Savory Spread to their recently-obtained-Sliders-from-another-booth.
Leo Leo Gelato – Made in the finest Italian tradition, Leo Leo Gelato and Sorbetto products are handcrafted in small batches using only premium natural ingredients and flavors. Primarily a wholesale producer, Leo Leo delivers to fine retail outlets, restaurants and event venues throughout California, Nevada and beyond. We were most impressed by their Vanilla, Coffee, and Sea Salt Caramel Gelatos (although they make dozens of other flavors such as Hazelnut, Honey Lavender, and of course, Stracciatella). Retail options in the Central Coast area include Lincoln Market (San Luis Obispo), Los Olivos Grocery (Santa Ynez), and Cass Winery or the General Store in Paso Robles.
Marich Premium Chocolates – Located in Hollister, Marich has manufactured premium chocolates and confections since 1983 (and they are certified kosher by the KOF-K and certified organic by the CCOF). Their standard products are available online but they also manufacture private label and custom products. At the Main Event our favorite selections were their Pastel Chocolate Cherries, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels and English Toffee Caramels.
Paso Almonds – When the man who grows the almonds (Russell Hall) is the same one making the almond-based products, you know the quality is going to be excellent. The Almond Brittle is wonderful and the Brittle Corn (Almonds, Butter, Sugar, Popcorn) is delicious, but the Sweet Hots (Almonds with Butter, Sugar, Chipotle Powder and Salt) are just downright addictive. Primarily sold through retail outlets, you can also order via phone, fax, or e-mail.
San Luis Sourdough – Since 1983, their delicious bread is hand-formed and locally made using a slow baking process (as in 30-hours-slow). In addition to Sourdough Bread (and rolls and baguettes) they also make Garlic, Multigrain and Rosemary & Olive Oil versions. At Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast they could barely keep up with the crowd’s demand for their tasty Sourdough Burger with Morro Bay Avocado Aioli and Monterey Pepper Jack Cheese on Grilled San Luis Sourdough Bread.
TheraBee Honey – This small family business is dedicated to the survival of their honeybees, the pureness of their honey and the quality of their skin and body care products. They were sharing samples of their honeys and our favorites were their Wildflower Honey, and the Sea Salt and Cardamon Anise Culinary versions.
Thomas Hill Organics – This Paso Robles Bistro & Wine Lounge is dedicated to serving creative fresh food and highlighting wines made from grapes grown in the Central Coast. They source an array of fresh ingredients from nearby farmers, bakers, and other food purveyors to concoct imaginative dishes by Chef Chris Manning. That weekend they were serving an outstanding Ground Lamb Slider with Heirloom Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Arugula. 1313 Park Street, Paso Robles (805-226-5888)
Ventana Grill – When the owners of The Old Custom House opened a new restaurant in Pismo Beach in 2009, Chef Ricardo Ortega was given the opportunity to create a menu based on coastal Latin fare. Their Carnitas Tacos were one of our favorite food items all weekend at the Main Event. Open seven days a week, their Sunday Brunch Buffet includes a Seafood Station, Green Enchiladas, Pork Chile Verde, Biscuits and Gravy, and Churro-style French Toast. 2575 Price Street, Pismo Beach (805) 773-0000
Favorite Lamb at Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast
As part of Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast, the American Lamb Board presented a competition between four chefs to become this year’s “Lamb Jam Master” after each winning regional competitions. The Judges’ Award, and “Best in Show” title ultimately went to Chef Nemo Bolin of Cook & Brown Public House whose innovative dish was a Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg with Herb Yogurt Sauce (made with Parsley, Mint, Dill, and 3 Types of Basil).
Meanwhile, the People’s Choice Award went to Chef Rodney Scruggs of Occidental Grill & Seafood who served up a Border Springs “Dagwood” Sandwich of Lamb Shoulder, Arugula, Pickled Ramps, Goat Cheese, and Chandler Farm Strawberry “Lamb” Jam. This was accompanied by a “Cooler” beverage (blended Greek Yogurt, Raspberry Puree, Rosemary-Honey Water, Lemon Juice, and Sparkling Water) and a Rosemary & Thyme Shortbread Cookie (with Lamb Powder).
We were personally impressed with both dishes, and the next phase of the Lamb Jam Global Flavors Tour starts in Seattle, WA, on November 2nd when 16 Chefs compete in four categories: Mediterranean, Asian, Latin and Middle Eastern. Attendees can enjoy all of the dishes accompanied by samples from 18 Washington wineries, 2 breweries, and a distillery. For more details, please go here.
Central Coast Appeal at Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast
We had a terrific time at the 2014 Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event and recommend you attend next year, September 24-27, 2015. When you start with the wine and food, toss in the beer and music, and add all of the educational opportunities, we can’t think of a better way to indulge in what California’s Central Coast has to offer.
Until then, we encourage you to seek out the wineries, restaurants, food purveyors, and other entertainment sources mentioned above. For additional suggestions, please go to the navigation bar near the top of this page and use our “Favorites by Wine Region” drop-down menus to find even more of our favorite destinations in San Luis Obispo county. Otherwise, you run the risk of not knowing about places like Coastal Peaks Coffee, Haymarket, High Street Deli, Il Cortile, McPhee’s Grill, Terry Hoage Vineyards or Stephen Ross Wine Cellars.
If you are planning a trip to California’s Central Coast and need a lodging recommendation, we strongly suggest checking out Denner Vineyards’ spectacular Bed & Breakfast, the Comus House (2885 Willow Creek Road, Paso Robles, 805-239-4287). For tranquility, it’s hard to beat gazing out the wall of cathedral windows in its living room offering a panoramic view of gentle rolling hills and Coastal Oaks. The hosts are gracious and friendly and make your stay a warm and wonderful experience. Each day begins with a luxurious breakfast and each afternoon has a wine tasting along with an individually plated assortment of cheese, charcuterie, and nuts. The four bedrooms (with King-sized beds) are beautifully decorated and each has a designated outdoor space for two people to relax.
Visit San Luis Obispo County (producer and manager of Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast) promotes San Luis Obispo County through advertising, marketing, public relations and group sales. Its membership base is comprised of over 500 tourism industry-related businesses including lodging properties, restaurants, wineries, golf courses and retail stores. Their website also contains helpful information regarding meeting, wedding and event planning.