Highway 46 West
The densest concentration of wineries around Paso Robles cluster along Highway 46 West and the little roads that spring off that main thoroughfare. Many intrepid wine tasters never make it past this short and easy-to-travel stretch, which locals refer to as the Westside.
One of the best of wineries in these parts is Hunt Cellars (2875 Oakdale Rd., 805/237-1600, www.huntcellars.com, daily 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., tasting fee $5–10). Friendly and intensely knowledgeable staff members pour some of the best wines in Paso at this mid-sized, informal tasting room. You’ll enter a building that looks more like a house than a winery, then choose the regular or reserve tasting. Also be sure to check the chalkboard behind the bar for the day’s specialty offerings.
All the wines at Hunt are grown in the family-owned Destiny Vineyard. The specialty of the house is Cabernet Sauvignon, and Hunt makes some of the best in California. You’ll also get to taste a few Chardonnays, other red varietals, some red blends, and the famed (and expensive) port and dessert wines.
If you favor small wineries that only produce tiny runs of wine, Dark Star Cellars (2985 Anderson Rd., 805/237-2389, www.darkstarcellars.com, Fri.–Sun. 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m.) is perfect for you. Be sure to ask at the bar about the “synthetic gravity” that’s so important to the slow fermentation process used at Dark Star. You’ll taste about five vintages here—all red wines of the Bordeaux tribe.
Most visitors think that the best of the lot is the much-lauded Ricordati, a Bordeaux blend that wins international awards year after year. Perhaps the nicest surprise of all comes when you’ve picked your favorites; prices at Dark Star range up to about $35 a bottle, and many are under $30.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition