The Best Small Production Vineyards in Paso Robles: Il Cortile
A three-day whirlwind small production vineyard and winery tour hosted by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance culminated each day in a lavish food and wine pairing at the area’s finest restaurants. The chefs at Artisan, Il Cortile, and Thomas Hill Organics were each given four wines and challenged to create complementary courses for each of them.
Our second wine-pairing challenge was held at Paso Robles’s Il Cortile. The inviting interior space is enhanced by a long, attractive bar, well-spaced tables, and serene lighting. The service is warm and professional.
We began the evening with a 2014 Copia Vineyards “The Reason,” a bright, crisp, 100 percent viognier with enviable natural acidity balanced by flower, fruit, and Paso Robles’ wonderful limestone in the finish.
This is small producer (200 cases) winemaker Michael DeWit’s first white, and it is a lovely first-time vintage. All the grapes were sourced from award-winning growers in the Willow Creek appellation and aged in stainless steel.
Chef Santos chose to pair this viognier with nuggets of shrimp and scallop nestled in tender rings of lightly garlicky grilled calamari, arugula, and tomato. The viognier was more than up to the challenge.
The next course featured a 2012 Pelletiere Lagrein, a big, beautiful Italian varietal from relative newcomer Janis Denner, who, along with vineyard manager Mindy Allen and rock star winemaker Amy Butler, form a triumvirate of talent more than able to hold its own in the male-dominated Paso Robles wine industry. This wine was ink-dark in the glass, with aromas of dark blackberry fruit and some herb and flower in the nose. Well-structured with fine tannins and a smooth finish, it is as elegant as the women who produced it.
Chef Santos knocked it out of the park by pairing this wine with a lush and savory dish of braised pork cheeks on a purée of celery root. A perfect pairing, and my favorite dish of the three-night event; it was drop-dead delicious.
Next up was a 2013 Glunz Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, from fourth-generation winemaker Matt Glunz. There is no nepotism in this family: children are ordered to go learn elsewhere for five years before setting foot in the family business, and each returns with something new to contribute. The 2013 Reserve, unfined and unfiltered, is the winery’s first vintage cabernet, and it is a big, well-structured wine composed mostly of cabernet sauvignon grapes with 14 percent cabernet franc for added complexity. It is redolent of dark stone fruit, well-structured with a bit of oak in the velvety tannin finish.
Chef Santos paired this cab with al dente agnolotti di carne filled with braised filet of beef, creating a harmonious combination that enhanced both wine and pasta.
The final wine of the night was 2010 Guyomar “Monsignor,” from passionate environmentalist Ishka Stanislaus. Despite a brutal period of drought, Stanislaus’s steep-sloped St. Peter of Alcantara vineyard has never used irrigation; it is totally dry-farmed, a small miracle in the drought-tormented Paso Robles AVA (although the vineyard does benefit from being in the somewhat cooler, more rain-prone Templeton Gap).
The 2010 “Monsignor” is still tight, but will, I believe, knock serious oenophiles’ socks off in 10 years. It’s a heady, predominantly petite sirah (56 percent) blend, with 24 percent zinfandel, 16 percent syrah, and 4 percent grenache added to the mix. It is one intense wine. A dizzying combination of herb and fruit notes seduce the nose, and it boasts dark stone fruit, currant, and cassis, as well as coffee and pepper, on the palate, with a strong tannin finish.
Chef Santos met this challenge with a heartily seasoned, kick-ass herb-marinated skirt steak, about the only cut I can think of that could stand up to this wine at this point in its evolution. A masterful pairing.