On our first night in Paso Robles dinner featured iconic Paso wine producers with products that were familiar, delivered tremendous value for the price, and lived up to their well-established reputations.

Tonight, or Wednesday, was an entirely different experience. Dinner featured winemakers, save one, that most readers have probably never heard about. These were mostly small production wineries making really interesting wines.

The dining experience was again an over-the-top tasting menu paired with the local wines. We ate at Chef Santos McDonal’s Il Cortile restaurant. The chef prepared great grilled octopus paired with a Prosseco to welcome us to his Italian fare.

He kept the seafood coming with seared scallops with truffle oil that was paired with Wild Horse Verdelho. Wild Horse is one of the bigger national brands out of Paso Robles you have probably seen on shelves. The Verdelho is one of several grapes the winery works with for limited distribution.

The highlight for me was the next three entries and wine pairings. Chef McDougal offered a wonderful Risotto with wild boar sausage that wss paired with Ortman Sangiovese. Matt and Lisa Ortman were on hand to talk about their family’s history in the business and Matt’s efforts with the Italian grape. Matt’s winemaking includes a stint at Gabbiano in Italy. The $20 Sangiovese is the most popular wine in their tasting room. It was beautifully balanced and probably the best I’ve ever tasted from California.

Clautiere Winery’s Mourvedre was served with Chilean Sea Bass in a lobster sauce. The ying-and-yang of a red wine and fish pairing was really great. Terry and Claudine were delightful dinner companions. The wine had that delightful earthiness you expect from well-made Rhone varietals. It retails for $23 and has been honored as best varietal wine in California wine competitions.

Classic Osso Buco was the final dish paired with kukkula Lorthario. Kevin Jussila’s interesting blend had us all guessing on the grapes. We were close. Instead of the traditional GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvredre, Jussila drops the Syrah and uses Zinfandel. He produces 8 blends and just 2,100 cases a year. The grapes for this wine were grown to make rich juice at just two tons an acre.

These wines would be hard to find outside the Paso Robles area because of the limited production. It’s more of a a reason to consider a visit to Paso, or any wine region because you can’t find these very well made wines from small wineries in retail shops in the Midwest or probably the east.

Our first night was largely about big names in Paso Robles wines and they sure did not disappoint. Wednesday night was equally, if not more, delightful because of the unexpected varietals and quality we enjoyed with a great dinner.

Dining with four or five winemakers each night is an incredible experience that really adds depth to anyone’s wine knowledge base. The Paso Robles Wine Alliance, hosting a group of wine writes, takes us to the Pacific Ocean Thursday morning to oyster and abalone operations, a session on Rhone Varietals in the afternoon, and another great local restaurant and winemakers dinner to wrap up the trip.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com