Paso Robles has long been a favorite region of mine for many reasons: temperate climate, easy going vibe and, of course, exceptional red wine.  Years ago we would travel up that way annually to spend time boating on Lake Nacimientowith family friends and the adults would always break away for a quick jaunt to Paso for some wine tasting.  It has been many years since we’ve been able to take that trip, so I was thrilled when Linda Kissam announced that our Women’s Wine Council would be tasting Don Sebasitani & Sons “Project Paso” wines.


The Sebastiani’s have been partnered with local Paso Robles winemaker Sam Balakian for over 30 years.  Quietly blending Paso Robles juice into their wines for over three decades, Don & Sons is proud to launch the “Project Paso” label as an homage to the hard work and dedication of the two families.


As a fellow member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, our “Head Grape Nut,” Linda Kissam, spirited off to France at the last moment (whatever, Linda!), so I stood in for her and did my best to keep the women in line.  Also missing from our ranks, Ginger Baker-Giordanio, of The Wine Chixx.  To our delight, guest taster and writer, Robin Dohrn-Simpson, joined us and our group was rounded out by regulars: Laura McCoy Plant, Debbie Israel Wiens, Carmen Micheli and Judee Jachim Smith.  The ladies brought food to pair with a white or red as assigned by Linda and the abundant array of delicious bites tested the strength of our table per usual.  As I mentioned, I am well familiar with Paso reds, so I looked forward to indulging in those as well as tasting and learning more about the white varietals.  Each wine comes with a new Zork closure and has a suggested retail price of $14.  Temecula locals can pick up Project Paso wines at Rancho Liquor 28322 Old Town Front Street, Temecula, CA 92590-1814. (951) 676-5419.  All others, Google, find and enjoy!


Our first taste was of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.  Everyone’s palate is different (isn’t that great?) so our group responded to this wine with words like: food friendly, fickle, citrus, light and refreshing.  Blended with a small amount of Semillon to add complexity and some richness to the mouthfeel, this white was a classic citrus Sauvignon Blanc.  Flavors of tart grapefruit with a hint of green apple paired very nicely with the lemon curd and creamy cheese on a cracker.  I found that most of the other food that we prepared overpowered the wine, so I would suggest enjoying it with light, simple flavors like a summer salad or a soft cheese on crusty bread.


Next up was the 2009 Chardonnay.  The ladies responded to this white with: oaky, vanilla, and “so 1990’s” from one sassy sipper.  I picked up green apple on the nose and predominantly vanilla and oak on the palate (which you would expect since it is aged 8 months on half French Oak and half American Oak).  Project Paso recommends bone-in chicken or pork chops as a food pairing.  We found that it compliments Laura’s salmon with cucumber dill sauce beautifully.


On to the Reds!  After some debate on correct tasting order (Linda, we missed you!), we decided to venture forth with the 2009 Cabernet.  With a WOW! from Robin Dorhn-Simpson, other descriptors bloomed: heavy, licorice, maple, complex.  Project Paso touts this as a steakhouse Cab and that is right on the mark.  With big, dark fruit and a bit of earth, this lush red is a perfect match for a piece of grilled meat, not to mention anything with bacon in it.  The Cabernet became an even bigger wow when paired with Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds & Currants (thanks to Carmen Micheli).


We moved on to the 2009 Red Wine Blend.  My sister sippers responded with: satisfying, cherry, lush and complex.  My culinary offerings were designed to pair with this wine, so I am happy to report the walnut pesto on flat bread with goat cheese & roasted garlic and chicken salad with walnuts & dried cranberries made it sing.  This distinct Paso Robles blend hit all the right notes.  With jammy red cherry and white pepper followed by blueberry, cranberry and raspberry along with subtle hints of walnut and warm spices from the French oak, it was both complex and completely approachable.  The layers of flavor made the RWB a slam dunk (hello fellas!) with Debbie’s Fresh Figs with Bacon and Goat Cheese.


Our final taste of the evening was the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel.  Even our white wine aficionadas queued up to rank this number one!  Our loyal Cab lover (remember the wow?) was true to the end, but the rest of us fawned over the OVZ like teenagers with Bieber Fever.  Comments included: inky, spice, full-bodied, tobacco & spice and exciting.  We all picked up blueberry on the nose with a great big Zin pepper bite on the palate along with lush cherry, chocolate and tobacco.  Is it any wonder we loved it so?  Project Paso recommends the OVZ with barbecue or any other spicy, savory, sweet combo that you can think of.  While I agree that this wine would compliment stronger flavors, I am thinking more along the lines of a moment alone: just me, a glass and a Jodi Picoult novel.


Although the group enjoyed the whites, the reds wines easily edged them out of top ranking with all of the greatness one would expect from Paso reds. Ranked (almost unanimously) in order of preference by our group, with the first being the favorite: Old Vine Zinfandel, Red Wine Blend, Cabernet (with one dissenter giving this a WOW!), Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay.


Good wine is often like a good melody . . . the right note brings back happy memories and we let the nostalgia fold around us.  Thank you Don & Sons, Linda Kissam and the Women’s Wine Council for taking my taste buds and heart on a long overdue journey to Paso Robles.

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