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Central Coast Wine Insider Blog

Central Coast Wine Insider Blog

The 411 on BYOB

BYOB (bring your own bottle) BYOB

Thinking about bringing your own bottle to a restaurant? Many restaurants not only allow you to BYOB,  some now have special nights where they don’t even charge Corkage! Corkage refers to the fee a restaurant charges for a bottle you bring yourself. And yes, you are still obliged to pay corkage on a bottle with a screw cap (I’ve had folks ask, seriously). Think of it as a courtesy for the restaurant allowing you to bring your own special bottle.  Keep in mind that various state and local laws might affect this. It’s illegal to bring your own wine to a restaurant in Colorado, for instance. And please, please remember, it is at the discretion of the restaurant owner/management team whether to extend you the privilege to BYOB.  So stick with these basic rules of etiquette and you will surely rank among those ‘In the Know’.

etiquetteDon’t BYOB to save money. I say this first, even though it overlaps with some of what you’ll read below, because it’s the bottom line. BYOB because it’s your birthday and you have a great Cabernet from your birth year, or because you have an import that you’re dying to try with some fabulous grub, or because the bottle is unique in some way. I promise you that bottle of Three Buck Chuck isn’t going to be worth it.

Get to know the place first. Go at least once, and if it seems like the kind of place that might be receptive — and, of course, the kind of place you’d like to go back to — then think about bringing your own bottle.

Consider the restaurant. If it’s a fancy place with a great wine list, it’s probably a bad idea to bring your own wine except under very special circumstances.

Just Play it Cool Boy…….

Call ahead and ask if you can bring your own bottle, and ask about the corkage fee. From the response, you’ll get a sense of how the restaurant really feels about this. The corkage fee will tell you something, too. If it’s high — $10-$15 is pretty standard, $25 is getting up there — my guess is the restaurant really doesn’t encourage the practice. Also, if you plan to take more than one bottle, ask if that’s OK. In some cases, it’s not.

Take something special. This is key. If you walk in with a widely available Chardonnay that you could have gotten at the corner wine shop on the way to the restaurant, or something that’s likely on the wine list, you’re probably not going to be treated warmly. But if you have a bottle that is special in some way, the restaurant will likely be charmed.  And that incredible bottle of Champagne that you have left over from your wedding would be nice to bring to your first anniversary dinner.  Restaurants spend time, money, and effort creating and maintaining their wine lists. I know from experience -it is the work of many including chefs, owners  and management to bring you a carefully considered list

….Real Cool.paper bag

Be discreet. Maybe the restaurant doesn’t encourage people to bring their own, but makes exceptions for awesome folks like you. In that case, be awesome. Don’t walk in with a paper bag, hold up the bottle and shout, “Here’s the wine I brought!”

Order some of the restaurant’s wine first. If you’re a party of two, consider having two glasses of the house wine, or two glasses of bubbly, or a specialty cocktail while you study the menu. If there are four of you with a single bottle, perhaps order a bottle of the restaurant’s wine first. This shows good faith, and quite often the restaurant will waive corkage on one bottle if you also order a bottle from the list.

Offer a glass to your server or sommelier or chef. Remember that the reason you have brought this wine is that it’s special in some way. It’s fun to share special wines, and the waiter, sommelier or chef will appreciate your generosity (and they probably won’t take more than a sip anyway).

Tip as though you had purchased a bottle from the wine list.  I cannot stress this enough. Your server is working just as hard opening and pouring that bottle as he would if you’d bought it there. If the restaurant seems to charge about $40 for a good bottle of wine, figure the tip based on your bill plus the $40.

Everything I’ve detailed here is really just simple common sense and good manners. If you keep these points in mind, you can make your dining experiences even more special. And the maitre d’ won’t cringe the next time he sees you!

Grilling with Gusto! Perfect local pairings for all your favorites.

Don’t even think of doing some grilling until you take a look at some of these amazing local wine pairings. Just in time for summer! Here’s what to grab to compliment that perfectly charred masterpiece!

Grilled bbq foodGrilled Veggies

Easy-to-sip Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s star grape, snaps with grassy and apple notes. All those green overtones make it a good fit for any skewers stacked with vegetables, or a summer grain salad.

You may not immediately think of washing down that grilled eggplant or zucchini with Chardonnay, but you should.  After all, while some are heavy-handed with the oak, others surprise, unfurling lovely flavors of lime, cantaloupe, and pineapple. To make things simple look for a Chardonnay that retains fresh fruit flavors by doing time in stainless steel.

Zocker Wines – Gruner Veltliner 2013 $20.00

Chamisal Vineyards – Stainless Steel Chardonnay 2013 $18.00


Marrying a seafood dish with white wine has long been tradition. For a piece of grilled fish, naked save for a few squirts of lemon and a light brushing of Grilled fisholive oil, seek out something complementary that ratchets up flavor instead of masking it. You cant go wrong with a local Sauvignon Blanc. Bright and fresh with some citrus and and good acid.

A meatier fish, like say, a swordfish steak, does need some backbone, and that’s when I love a well structured Rhone blend.  Enjoy the floral aromatics and stone fruit of Viognier, the crisp acids and rich mouthfeel of Grenache Blanc, and the structure and minerality of Marsanne and Roussanne.

If you’re grilling up a side of salmon or other softer-flavored fish, think of Pinot Gris. Unlike its ubiquitous cousin Pinot Grigio, the ones from the Central Coast tend to have more gumption thanks to a lively blend of citrus and mineral flavors.

Alta Maria Vineyards – Sauvignon Blanc 2013 $18.00

Tablas Creek Vineyard – Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2013 $27.00


Often deemed a blah substitute for the array of smoky meats favored on the grill, chicken can be its most flavorful when seared over coals. While an everyday roast chicken goes well with, say, a delicate Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir, a bird’s time on the grill provides intriguing contrast to easy-drinking whites. A yeasty Verdelho , with aromatic peach and pear flavors with racy acidity. Another alternative: lighter and leaner Grenache Blanc is unfussy, fruity and a killer value.

A Greek Malvasia Bianca is another good bet. It’s is fruity and floral, crackling with orange and grapefruit flavors. Pleasant acidity makes you happy to have it in your glass all dinner long.

Wild Horse Winery Verdelho 2013 $22.00

Clesi Winery Malvasia Bianca 2013 $20.00


At first, a hearty red seems like a boon with grilled sausage. But given the meaty coils’ predilection for spice and snap, Riesling—especially a dry Alsatian—provides a rush of acidity that enlivens like no other. Just think of all the sauerkraut-laden choucroute these German-speaking French eat with their Riesling day after day.

Solminer Wines Dry Reisling”Kick On” 2014 $28.00

Red is not verboten, of course. Just consider one that is soft and lush, devoid of overpowering tannins. Sausage of the lamb variety, say, a zesty Moroccan merguez, is an ideal match for a light and bright Pinot Noir.

Kynsi Winery Bien Nacido Pinot Noir 2011 $41.00


No two burgers are made alike. Of course there is the basic version of the all-beef patty—that’s going to get slid into a squishy Martin’s potato roll and topped with cheese, (fresh-from-the-garden) tomatoes, and hopefully a smattering of raw onions and pickles. But your pals may have more gourmet hankerings, desiring to pile their burgers with a heady blue cheese or the sweet mango chutney they fell for at winery gift shop. These tweaks set the agenda for what should be in your glass.

In general, though, burgers make a fine pair with Zinfandel. It is simultaneously earthy and bursting with red fruit, exactly what you want to wash down a pink-in-the-middle, protein-packed sphere still redolent of charcoal.

Shale Oak Winery Zinfandel 2011 $32.00


Grilled steakSteak

It’s a familiar adage, one oft-repeated because it’s true: steak and red wine are a pair for the ages. It does not mean, however, that the red in question needs to be a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon. Not only does that varietal instantly conjure a roaring fireplace—which has no place in summertime daydreams—buying a good bottle is often a pricey investment. Remember, you’re at a cookout eating off paper plates, not a white tablecloth steakhouse. This is a good opportunity, then, to savor the depth of more offbeat gems. A Malbec, filled with plum and tobacco notes, is a suitable—and much more affordable—alternative to cut through a fatty, glistening steak. Or, reach for a bottle of Tempranillo. The Spanish varietal’s thick-skinned indigenous grape yields a ruby liquid both high on tannins and acid. And more and more Central Coast winemakers are embracing this fierce grape. The combination of earth and spice adds luster to each morsel of that melt-in-your-mouth meat.

Niner Wines Estate Malbec 2012 $30.00

Force of Nature Tempranillo 2013 $22.50

Well, now I’m hungry. And thirsty. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Happy grilling!

Why We Oak: The Whys of Wine and Wood for Wine

Why We Oak: The Whys of Wine and Wood for Wine (How’s THAT for alliteration?)

When you picture in your mind a working winery,  you likely envision stacks of barrels containing that magical potential of the next vintage of wine. But why barrels? Where do they come from? What do they do for the wine?

A Brief History

Why we Oak

Clay Amphorae

Over two millennia ago, when the Romans began to spread their empire across the globe, they not only wanted to take with them weapons and food, but also wine. Wine was safer to drink than water, it provided calories to malnourished troops, and of course it provided its imbiber with an intoxicating buzz. For a few thousand years, starting with the ancient Egyptians, clay amphorae were the way armies (and traders) transported wine over long distances. There were other civilizations, primarily in the Mesopotamian region, who used palm wood barrels, but this was the exception, not the rule. While palm wood barrels weighed far less than clay amphorae, palm wood was quite difficult to bend.

The practice of using amphorae continued in Greece and then the Roman Empire. As the Romans pushed north into Europe, and away from the Mediterranean, transporting the clay amphorae grew increasingly difficult. Those buggers were heavy, and more breakable than desired. While the Romans were aware of palm wood barrels, the price and difficulty of bending the wood made them a poor choice. When the Romans encountered the Gauls, they found a group of people who were using wooden barrels, often made of oak, to transport beer. The Gauls LOVED beer…. but that’s a story for another time.

The Romans quickly realized they had found a solution to their wine transportation quandry. While other woods were used, oak was popular for a number of reasons. First, the wood was much softer and easier to bend into the traditional barrel shape than palm wood, thus the oak only needed minimal toasting and a barrel could be created much faster. Second, oak was abundant in the forests of continental Europe. And finally, oak, with its tight grain, offered a waterproof storage medium. The transition to wooden barrels was swift. In less than two centuries, tens of millions of amphorae were discarded.

After the switch to barrels, the Romans and those that followed began to realize that the oak barrels imparted new, pleasant qualities to the wine. The contact with the wood made the wine softer and smoother, and with some wines, it also made it better tasting. Due to the toasting of the wood, wines developed additional scents such as cloves, cinnamon, allspice or vanilla, and when consumed they had additional flavors present, such as caramel, vanilla or even butter. As the practice of using oak barrels continued, merchants, wine producers, and armies alike, found that the longer the wine remained inside the barrels, the more qualities from the oak would be imparted into the wine, and thus began the practice of aging wine in oak.

Benefits of Oak

Oak is often described as a winemaker’s spice rack, its flavor-imparting properties meant to complement to the wine. Some wines can handle more of it and some are produced entirely without. When done right,  barrel aging can add beautiful layers to the wine further bringing out the flavors of the fruit. When in balance, it can create great depth and complexity, contributing to a wine’s longevity. As with all spice, however, a deft hand must be used so as to strike the proper balance and not over-season.

Oak barrelBarrel aging wine has benefits way beyond just imparting flavor.
-A newly pressed red wine has been sitting with skins and seeds. Think about chewing on a grape skin from a berry you just picked off the vine. The skin is dry, a velvety texture. Now imagine the wine soaking all those tannins up. It can be quite harsh at a young stage in its life. For several months, the wine will sit in barrel and actually precipitate out these solids that it has acquired from the skins and seeds, softening the wine, smoothing the tannins, making it less “chewy.”-Wine barrels are also semi-porous. They will absorb some part of the wine if new but will also allow a small amount of oxygen to reach the wine, giving it an ever-so-slight aeration. It’s similar to decanting a finished and bottled wine, but very slow motion, called oxidation. During this process, the wine develops secondary flavors and aromas. (Primary aromas are mostly from the fruit itself, tertiary aromas mostly evolve in the bottle). In barrel, they can develop flavors like tobacco, tea, and vanilla, non fruit components.Malolactic Fermentation, or a secondary fermentation after the alcoholic fermentation, is often done in barrel. This process, with the help of Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB or Oenococcus oeni or Lactobacillus or Pediococcus) converts the crisp malic acid (think about salivating after taking a bite of a Granny Smith apple) into lactic acid (creamy textured acid found in milk, yogurt). The wine then has a chance to develop more flavors while these interactions and processes happening at once.

The Main Types of Oak Barrels used in Winemaking

The most popular oak used by winemakers is French oak followed by American oak and sometimes Hungarian oak. French oak, because of its finer grains, will typically impart more delicate flavors and aromas, not to overwhelm lighter wines. American oak has a much stronger influence with powerful flavors and aromas to impart to the wine because it has larger a grain. Hungarian is the third most widely used type of oak barrels and has gained popularity recently. Its worth a note that Slovenian oak has also begun to make a world wide presence in winemaking. Cost varies with the quality and provenance of the barrel, but can run as much as $900-$1500 per barrel.

So, you just got a bit of History, a bit of Craftsmanship, and about as much Chemistry as I can be expected to remember. You’ve officially earned that next glass of wine!


Sips and Songs: Wine Events at Claiborne & Churchill Winery


Wine Events

On the hunt for something fun to do on a Friday evening this summer? Looking to kick your weekend into gear? Happy Hour on the Central Coast has stepped up it’s game with Claiborne & Churchill ‘s Sips and Songs summer concert series. Relax on the garden patio and take in the views from the heart of Edna Valley. Boogie to the groove of local bands and artists. The best part – admission is free!! Seriously. C&C wines and food from local purveyors such as Bon Temps Creole Café , The Pairing Knife , Haute Skillet , and Taqueria Santa Cruz are available for purchase. Just 5 minutes south of downtown San Luis Obispo or 15 minutes north of Pismo Beach. You’re sure to see this SLO girl living it up a few times this summer!

Wine Events

Wine Events

Claiborne & Churchill Winery Presents:


Free Concert Series

Fridays 5:30-7:30






Aug 21    SOUL SAUCE

Sep 4    THE KICKS



Wine Events

Wine Events


Bon Temps Creole Café

The Pairing Knife

Taqueria Santa Cruz

Haute Skillet

The Importance of First Impressions : Shale Oak Winery


First Impressions: Shale Oak Winery

My grandmother always told me “You only get one chance to make a first impression”.  She recommended always (slightly) over dressing for occasions and never stepping out the door without your face on. Well, let me tell you something: Shale Oak Winery has got it’s face on. At a Marilyn Monroe, Betty Davis, Liz Taylor eyeliner level.

On a recent visit as part of one of  Breakaway Tours’ Paso Robles Public Wine Tours I was treated to a level of service that left me wondering ‘Do they think I’m SOMEONE?’ I did look pretty spiffy in my new summer sandals….. What I quickly learned is that at Shale Oak Winery, everyone is given VIP treatment.

We were greeted as we stepped off our van by the owner Suzette, a tray of glasses in hand. As we swirled and sampled their 2013 Albarino , Suzette treated our group to a brief history of how Shale Oak Winery came to be the wonder that it is. She spoke of a deep commitment to sustainability and working with the land. Their website details their concept as “Adhering to the belief that form follows function, Shale Oak was built by a carefully crafted team. While each individual is a strong expert in her/his respective field, the group was able to synergistically come together to plan, plant and build a vineyard, winery and tasting room that would have very shaleoakfireplacelow impact on the surrounding environment.”

And its also really, REALLY pretty. Boasting an impressive amount of stained glass, reclaimed wood interior, a clean-burning alcohol fed fireplace, and a lovely sheltered back patio, you may want to make it a regular weekend destination. We were treated to live music by a friend of mine (surprise!), the silken voiced Nataly Lola and Co. providing the perfect vibe as shaleoakpatiowe relaxed with our picnic lunch on the outdoor patio.

And the wines… the WINES. Shale Oak Winery offers several options for tasting that include a classic tasting menu of 6 offerings, a ‘cookie pairing’ utilizing savory and sweet cookies to compliment their wines, and finally a ‘truffle pairing’ for those unafraid of the ultimate decadence. Our wine steward Julie was gracious and knowledgeable and made us feel like friends. I left with a few bottles, including the 2011 Zinfandel and the 2011 Petit Verdot . I may share with my husband. I may not.

So if you find yourself looking for the ultimate in concierge level service, contact  Breakaway Tours & Event Planning , put your face on, and stop by Shale Oak Winery for an experience you won’t soon forget!


A Rosé by any Other Name…

rose2 Rosé wine.

Take it on a picnic. Pair it with your favorite dish. Share with friends…or keep it all for yourself. I’m loving the amazing rosés coming out of the Central Coast Wine Regions. But what makes a rosé a rosé? Is it a red wine or a white? And how does it get that beautiful color?

A rosé (from French rosérosado in Portugal and Spanish-speaking countries; rosato in Italy) is a type of wine made from red grape varietals that incorporates some of the color from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as a red wine. It may be the oldest known type of wine, as it is the most straightforward to make with the skin contact method. The pink color can range from a pale orange to a deeper near-purple, depending on the grapes used and winemaking techniques. There are three major ways to produce rosé wine: skin contact, saignée (pronounced san-yay) and blending. Rosé wines can be made still, semi-sparkling or sparkling and with a wide range of sweetness levels from bone-dry to sweet. Rosé wines are made from a wide variety of grapes and can be found all around the globe. Here on the Central Coast winemakers favor Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Grenache for their rosés, but I’ve seen Zinfandel, Sangiovese and even Malbec rosés. For some local favorites check out our local Edible SLO Magazine for their top picks.  The possibilities are endless!

When a winemaker sets out with the goal to make a Rosé it is usually produced with the skin contact method. Black-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period, usually one to three days. The must (skins and juice) is then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation, as is common in red wine making. The final color of the Rosé depend on how long the juice has contact with the skins. Longer contact = deeper color.

Saignée occurs when a winemaker uses the pink juice removed from red wine during the winemaking process. In French Saignée means ‘to bleed’. To impart more tannin and color to a red wine, winemakers remove (or bleed off) some of the pink juice from the must as a way of concentrating the red wine. The red wine remaining in the vats is intensified as a result of the bleeding, because the volume of juice in the must is reduced, and the must involved in the maceration becomes more concentrated. The pink juice that is removed can be fermented separately to produce Rosé.

In other parts of the world, blending, the simple mixing of red wine to a white to impart color, is uncommon. This method is discouraged in most wine rose1growing regions, especially in France, where it is forbidden by law, except for Champagne. Even in Champagne, several high-end producers do not use this method but rather the Saignée method.

So, now you’re officially versed in the basics of rosé! The next time you’re in your favorite tasting room sampling a glass o’ the pink, ask your pourer whether their winemaker prefers the skin contact method, or if its a Saignée you’re sipping.  You will learnn a lot about winemaking techniques and look super savvy in front of your friends!

I recommend swinging by Beckmen Vineyards in Santa Ynez for their  2014 Grenache Rosé $25, Claiborne & Churchill Winery in Edna Valley for their 2012 Cuvee Elizabeth Rosé $24 (I actually bribe my sister with bottles of this wine) or Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles for their 2014 Dianthus Rosé $27.

Dads and Grads

Fathersday1It’s that time of year. Spring has sprung and we’re already feeling the warm winds of summer that drive us on outdoor adventures, and in search of WINE!

What better way to celebrate this magical time of year with your favorite Dads and Grads than with a fully guided and curated tour of one of the Central Coast’s incredible wine regions?

Show your love and appreciation for Dad with a day tour through Grad1Santa Ynez (He loved Sideways, right?). Celebrate the milestone of your favorite College Grad with a trek through Paso Robles in search of the perfect Cabernet! With both private and scheduled tour options, you can bring along the party or make new friends along the way.

This year Father’s Day (June 21st) coincides with Passport Weekend in Paso Robles, so many wineries, restaurants, and other activities have planned special events.  Want to Paint while sipping an amazing Zinfandel? Sample BBQ wile listening to local music? Check out Paso Robles Wine Country for details on specifics.

So, whether you’re celebrating that special Dad or Grad in your life, or are on the hunt for an early summer adventure, look no further than Breakaway Tours & Event Planning to make your getaway one to remember!