Wine of the Week: Central Coast California has SLO wines

WASHINGTON — On recent trip to visit my son, a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I had the unique opportunity to spend a day taking him to local wineries in and around SLO (local vernacular) to teach him about wine. An admitted beer drinker, I had my work cut out for me.

San Luis Obispo sits smack dab in the middle of the central coast region of California. It is approximately 212 miles north of Los Angeles and 212 miles south of San Francisco. While visiting the region can be a bit of a challenge, the scenic drive up the coast from LA or down the coast from San Francisco is worth the effort. Added bonus: The local regional airport was recently upgraded and now offers limited commuter jet service.

The Central Coast is one of the largest and most desirable grape growing regions in the world. It stretches roughly 250 miles along the bucolic California coastline, starting in San Francisco County in the north, and winding its way down to Monterey and San Benito in the center and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County in the south.

While the region encompasses almost 4 million acres of land, only about 100,000 acres are actually planted to wine grapes among approximately 400 wineries. The region produces just about 20 percent of the state’s total wine production.

While much of the southern part of the Central Coast has developed a reputation for producing excellent Rhone-style wines (think syrah, Grenache and mourvedre), the area around SLO is known more for its work with traditional Bordeaux varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and malbec. Closer to the coast, there is a strong devotion to pinot noir and chardonnay production.

With over 50 wineries within a 20 minute drive from downtown SLO, you’re bound to find a winery — and a wine or two — that grabs your palate’s attention.

Don’t let the price fool you. The 2014 Edna Valley Merlot is an affordable and delicious introduction to the quality of wine being produced in the region. The Edna Valley is located next to the town of San Luis Obispo and runs in a northeast-southwest orientation. It enjoys summertime heat in the afternoon and cool Pacific Ocean breezes during the overnight hours. These significant diurnal swings in air temperature aides phenolic ripening and provides juicy acidity. Aromas of blueberry jam, blackberry and mocha dominate the bouquet. Thick and chewy flavors of blackberry, dark cassis and black plum sit on the middle of the tongue with authority while hints of cocoa and pepper fill in the back of the palate. Dusty tannins hold everything together on the medium-bodied finish. Try it with a local favorite — a tri-tip sandwich. $11

In addition to its famous “hay-built” winery — yes, an entire structure made from hay bales and then covered in stucco — the Claiborne and Churchill Winery has earned a reputation in the Edna Valley for making some of the most respected Alsace-styled wines in the Central Coast region. Its award-winning 2015 Claiborne and Churchill Dry Riesling is vinified completely dry in stainless steel tanks (90 percent) and neutral oak barrels (10 percent), then aged 12 months in the bottle before it is released. Wonderful scents of acacia flowers, green melon and orange citrus blossom are pronounced on the fragrant nose. Flavors of pear and bright apple attacked the front of the palate while creamy flavors of apricot and ripe peach provide a memorable finish. It is extremely versatile and will pair well with a wide variety of Thai and Szechwan-styled dishes. $22

Stephen Ross started off making rhubarb and apple wines as a teenager in his family’s home in Minnesota. Fortunately, his degree in Oenology from The University of California, Davis led him to greater pursuits, like opening his own winery and producing the 2014 Stephen Ross Winery Chardonnay Edna Valley. This wine is 100-percent barrel fermented and aged in 33 percent new French oak barrels. It features flavors of green apple, ripe pear and juicy nectarine on the front of the tongue are supported by tropical fruit and bright acidity on the back end. There is just enough oak treatment to provide a hint of vanilla on a semi-creamy frame and lend structure on the crisp, well-delineated finish. $25

Two brothers, Daniel and George Daou, escaped the atrocities of the Lebanese civil war after their family home was destroyed by an errant rocket in the 1970s. They eventually made their way to America, where they both earned degrees in engineering at UC San Diego, then went on to create a very successful technology management company. Following the sale of the company, the brothers went in search of the perfect place to grow cabernet sauvignon. That search led them to a hilltop vineyard in the Paso Robles — about a 30 minute drive north of SLO — known as the Hoffman Mountain Ranch. The brothers lovingly restored the vineyards and built a new state-of-the-art winery where they produce the 2015 DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine sports aromas of blackberry, dark licorice and floral violets. It is big-bodied with enough structure to hold the bold flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and smoked meats together on a frame that is supported by dusty tannins and accented by cocoa and vanilla notes on the long, powerful finish. $30

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