Forget Napa California's Central Coast Is the Place to Learn about Wine

By Gleasner, Diana C. | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

Forget Napa California's Central Coast Is the Place to Learn about Wine


Gleasner, Diana C., Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Diana C. Gleasner Daily Herald Correspondent

Need to know:

San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau, 1037 Mill St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401; phone: (800) 634-1414; FAX: (805) 543-9498.

Destination: California

GO: If you delight in wine tastings, fine cuisine, missions and castles.

NO: If you have young children the beaches are grand, but you'll want to skip the wineries, San Luis Obispo Mission and Hearst Castle.

If you go:

The region: San Luis Obispo is located half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco along U.S. Route 101.

The climate: Mild year-round climate with 315 days of sunshine annually.

Getting around:

By car: From the Bay Area the most scenic route is Calif. Hwy. 1, but it's winding and will take about five hours. The most direct route is U.S. Route 101 south. From the Los Angeles area, take the Ventura Freeway (U.S. Route 101) north. Both trips take about four hours. From the east, take Calif. Hwy. 46 west to Paso Robles, then U.S. Route 101 to San Luis Obispo.

By air: San Luis Obispo County Airport, three miles from town, serves the area. There are several car-rental agencies, and local limousine services provide cars and drivers for everything from shuttle service to full-day tours.

By bus: Greyhound and many tour and charter companies provide service to San Luis Obispo.

By train: Amtrak operates daily to points north and south, often with connecting bus service.

Accommodations: Among the 8,000 rooms are resort hotels, moderate hotels and motels, quaint inns and historic bed-and-breakfasts.

- Diana Gleasner

Hedonists and sybarites take notice. A vacation should add up to something besides fun. You really ought to learn something.

Thank goodness California's Central Coast is more than sipping vintage wines in the sunshine, hanging out at the beach and savoring gourmet meals under the stars.

Midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this pastoral area is at the stage Napa Valley was 20 years ago - before the crowds descended, before small family-owned wineries became victims of their own success. Here, earnest vintners see their mission to educate the populace and they are doing a creditable job.

Even if a wine simply tasted good, we learned not to be so gauche as to say as much. "Structure in the mouth" is not about dentures but rather something called "mouth feel." Supple mouth feel, by the way, is good, and lush mouth feel is truly yummy. Nothing wrong with a slight spritz and please don't rush - some vintages have incredible length on the palate. Bouquet (gorgeous, oaky aromas that are "intense in the nose"), eye appeal (salmon-tinted clarity) and complex flavors are important as is a clean, brisk "finish."

Some wines are unpretentious (but with ample character), some frankly assertive and others exhibit a delightful balance thanks to unhurried nestling in the oak. Did you know there are 200 identified flavors (such as smoky bacon, cinnamon and buttery) in oak? But you don't necessarily want your wine awash in a sea of oak, which is why some vintners prefer Italian chestnut.

Oh, there is so much to learn. And so much to taste.

Bucolic San Luis (pronounced Loo-is) Obispo county boasts 40 wineries and local touring companies offer tours by bus, bike or limousine. We chose instead a leisurely exploration by car, answering only to our own whims.

The two distinct wine regions of San Luis Obispo are bounded by mountains to the north and south, to the east by Las Padres National Forest and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Each has a specific microclimate. The long, hot summers of the north (Paso Robles and Templeton) are responsible for robust merlots and zinfandels. The south (Edna and Arroyo Grande valleys) credits cooler summers with maritime morning fog for its fruity chardonnays and pinot noirs. …

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