Ahhh, the holidays, that wonderful time of the year when extreme overindulgence is socially acceptable and highly encouraged. Our first memorable gastronomic experience during the month of December came to us courtesy of Vina Robles. While on a mid-summer visit to Paso to see my brother Mike and his fam, we’d joined their wine club. Since then, we’ve enjoyed several visits to their tasting room, but our most recent, to attend one of Vina Robles’ pick-up parties, has been the best so far.
Surprisingly, this was our first time attending a pick-up party, ever. A typical wine club benefit, it’s always sounded good to us in theory: sample the wines and save on shipping costs in the process, usually with some good food and music thrown in to boot. But despite the many clubs we’ve belonged to offering this perk, for some reason or another—too busy, too tired, conflicting plans—we’ve yet to attend any of them.
So it was with much anticipation that we looked forward to our experience at Vina Robles: not only were we getting the chance to sample the three hearty reds in our holiday shipment—hopefully preventing us from popping those suckers open soon after they hit our doorstep—but we’d also been promised an intriguing pairing of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches created by their on-site chef.
Upon entering the winery’s spacious tasting room, we were surprised to see it relatively empty—definitely unexpected given the packed parking lot outside. But after checking in and moving toward their banquet hall, we found that room packed solid with other club members. Granted, due to our long drive up, we did arrive about an hour into the party. But that actually turned out to be a good thing: no waiting, as we stepped right up to the first table in the room to receive our initial gift of the evening.
Our first pairing was their 2008 Suendero, a Meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, accompanied by a grilled gruyere and leek sandwich that was topped with a wine-infused fondue of some sort. The mild, yet flavorful red went beautifully with the creamy, slightly sweet filling of the crispy sandwich. And things only got better from there.
Our second duo was the 2008 Signature, a blend of Petit Verdot (83%), Petite Sirah (15%) and Cabernet (2%), served with another knockout sando—although I’m ashamed to admit, other than the caramelized onions—which were amazing—I can’t quite recall what was in it. Meat, most definitely, although there was some debate on the drive home as to whether it was shaved prime rib (as I thought) or pork (as others at the table said). Regardless, it was absolutely delicious, served with a small side of vinaigrette glazed spinach (which Mike devoured—surprising, because he loathes spinach).
But the best was definitely yet to come: our final tasting, the 2008 Fore Petite Sirah, paired with an open-faced grilled gorgonzola with pancetta, sundried tomato and arugula. Petite Sirah is fast becoming one of my favorite varietals; as of late, a lot of Paso winemakers seem to be discovering and doing great things with it. If big, bold, jammy, fruit-forward wines appeal to you, then Vina Robles’ Fore is definitely one to add to your collection (be warned, however, that the price is a bit on the steep side).
Definitely one of the most enjoyable aspects of the evening was the group at our table, many of whom, it turns out, work for the winery in a part-time capacity. In fact, one couple, originally from Arizona, had discovered Vina Robles while on vacation; after relocating here a year or so ago, both husband and wife now work in the tasting room. Clearly, after attending this event, it only confirmed that in addition to the great wines it’s producing, Vina Robles is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to event planning. In addition to the fantastic food and wine, there was a photo booth, spectacular shots of the Swiss Alps projected on a big screen at the front of the banquet hall (the owner is from Switzerland), and a champagne toast toward the end of the evening. Our new friends from the tasting room also let us in on a little secret: that the winery plans to break ground soon for an onsite amphitheater.
Needless to say, it was a wonderful way to launch the holiday season, and well worth the hour’s drive up and back at the end of a long work week. Already looking forward to their next pick-up party—though I must say the bar’s been set pretty high, indeed.