Just south of Paso Robles in an area known as the Templeton Gap, there is located a small family run winery - Laraneta Winery. They don’t have a tasting room, yet, and are not open to public tastings, so you would drive right by the property on Templeton Road going to and returning from the many other wineries in the area. But if you’re lucky enough to have received an invitation to visit or are in need of lodging, at the end of the Liquid Amber tree lined driveway lies Honey Oak House and B & B where Melinda and Joseph Laraneta warmly welcome their B & B guests to old fashioned hospitality and, of course, a glass of their wine.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of all that hospitality when, on one beautiful Paso Robles day last Autumn, they invited us to taste their line-up of award winning wines. I had tasted a few earlier in the year at a tasting in the LA area, and was anxious to spend some time with the Laraneta’s learning about them and their wine making adventures. As we entered the drive, we noticed the olive orchard situated opposite the vineyard. They also have a line of hand-crafted olive oils, which we tasted that afternoon as well. The Laraneta’s and their dog Peaches greeted us and brought us in to meet some friends and we spent the next hour tasting and chatting. The Laraneta’s enthusiasm and passion turned into an invitation to take a golf cart tour of their estate which we eagerly accepted.
We learned about planting, harvesting, owl boxes, protection from cold and wind and birds, and even what chestnuts look like just off the tree. We saw the different kinds of olives and Joe proudly explained about the many varieties of shrubs, trees, flowers and roses he had lovingly planted about his property.We left, glad to have made new friends in the Laranetas and making the commitment to “stay in touch”.
As luck would have it, Melinda and Joe were planning a visit to family and were going to be in the LA area for just two days in March. We asked them if they would like to come to our home and share some of their wines with a few of our close friends who really appreciated wine and those whose passion it is to create it. They said yes, and a week later we were hosting them and a small group of eager tasters.
We greeted each guest with a glass of Segura Viudas Cava to set a festive mood for the evening. Being a strong believer in food and wine bringing out the best in each other, I decided to create a tasting menu pairing an appetizer or dish with each of the 6 wines they would be pouring. They also brought four different olive oils which I put out for tasting with bread dippers.
After all the introductions were made Melinda poured their first wine. Cameo is made from Vernaccia, a white wine grape from the San Gimignano area of Tuscany. It is crisp, clean and a bit lemony with a buttery mouthfeel and a slight vanilla finish. The guests were offered rich, creamy Clam Fondue on sourdough toast. They happily noshed while Melinda elaborated further on the background of the grape and how they came to plant it.
Next up was their Vera Sano Rose, which is an unusual blend of 80% Vernaccia and 20% Sangiovese. One taste of this delightful wine had us all thinking “salmon”. So luckily I had made salmon salad with Dill nestled in Endive leaves with a drizzle of the Laraneta’s Lemon Olive Oil.
Their Merlot, which they call Sa Va, is actually the wine that attracted my attention to Laraneta in the first place. Dark and full bodied, this 100% Merlot is layered with black cherry, roasted coffee, sage and red currant. For this wine, I made a Merlot Risotto, then shaped it into bite size cakes, pan fried them and topped them with a dollop of aioli made with Laraneta Rosemary Olive Oil. What a beautiful color these tasty morsels were!
Next in the line-up was the Sangiovese, and of course I thought, pasta! So a quick pour, some education on Italian wine, and everyone grabbed a plate of Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Mushrooms served with some good crusty rosemary/olive oil bread.
With everyone well fed and feeling good, we moved into the “decadent” portion of the evening, and the last two pairings. First, the cheese course served with Laraneta’s Cabernet Sauvignon. This elegant cab, enhanced with Merlot and Sangiovese, was extra yummy paired with Cambezola and an aged Gouda. We all had great fun determining our opinions of which cheese was more delicious with the wine, and of course we had to keep trying them just to make sure. It was a task happily taken on with much gusto.
Wine, bread, pasta, cheese - only one thing was still needed. Yes, chocolate! And lucky for us the Laraneta’s had brought with them their ‘05 -No. 5. This is also a blend with the predominant grape being Merlot at 75%, supported by 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Sangiovese. This velvety wine boasts characteristics of dried cherry, plum and toasted hazelnuts with aromas of cocoa, blackberry and sweet spices. All that was needed here to compliment this delicious wine was an assortment of chocolate truffles, and I was happy to oblige.
So…if you plan on visiting the Paso Robles area for a special event or festival, or just need a weekend away, consider Honey Oak House and Laraneta Winery - good wine, good friends, good times!
I’ll Drink to That!
Date: March 20, 2010