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Despite its size, San Luis Obispo wine country offers variety

08/21/2014 9:54 AM

08/21/2014 9:54 AM

Grape varieties from all over the world are produced in a remarkable single area of California, the beautiful and delicious San Luis Obispo appellation in California’s central coast.

There you can sample an Albarino, native to northern Spain; pop open a Gruner Vetliner, the classic grape of Austria; move into reds like a Pinot Noir, home region Burgundy, France; or an old-vine Zinfandel, thought to have originated in what is now Croatia.

The region is tiny by California wine standards. In fact, there are nearly as many grape varieties grown there, 23, as there are wineries — fewer than 30. I tried six wines from five grape varieties and six producers.

San Luis Obispo Wine Country consists of two American Viticultural Areas, government-designated grape growing regions, the Edna Valley and the Arroyo Grande Valley.

As with any great wine producing region, there are many aspects of San Luis Obispo that make it special. But first and foremost, in my opinion, is the region’s maritime influence.

The wineries of this region boast an average distance of just five miles from the Pacific Ocean, which provides a natural nightly refrigerator for the vineyards, allowing for a long and cool growing season yielding wines of balance, structure and complexity. It also means cooler climate grapes like the aforementioned Albarino, Grunter Vetliner and Pinot Noir along with others such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier can ripen slowly and evenly, maintaining freshness and acidity.

Bottom line: These are wines that celebrate elegance over power, finesse over extraction. No wonder I liked them so much.

“The Pacific Ocean shapes our culture, our terrain, and our wines,” said Heather Muran, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association.

One of the things I truly love about this wine country is the diversity. I mean, 23 grape varieties? That’s insane.

I enjoyed all the wines I sampled, including the Chardonnay from Chamisal Vineyard and the Saucelito Canyon’s Estate Zinfandel — and I’m not a big fan of either California Chardonnay or Zinfandel.

I found the two San Luis Obispo especially delightful. I was familiar with the Tolosa Estate Pinot having filmed and tasted there for my television show “Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert.” Winemaker Larry Brooks, whom I’d met years ago while he was plying his trade at Acacia in Carneros, Calif., is a Pinot master so it’s no surprise that Toloso’s version is delicious.

The other Pinot I tasted was from Talley, and this was an eye-opener. Using estate-grown fruit from two vineyards, the Talley Pinot is extremely aromatic and intensely complex with tons of black fruit and hints of rhubarb, all buttressed in toasty oak that compliments rather than overwhelms.

The final two wines I sampled, the Stephen Ross Albarino and a Zocker Gruner Veltliner, were both tasty and varietally correct — something I honestly didn’t anticipate from either wine. They were both great examples of the wide range of grapes and styles SLO wine country offers. You can anticipate more of the same moving forward and I, for one, can’t wait.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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