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The Place: Paso Robles, California
The Poison: Meritage, simply put, is the American version of Bordeaux. Since only wines from the Bordeaux region of France can legally call themselves by that name, California vintners came up with their own trademark ("merit" + "heritage") to describe similar blends of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and other grapes.
The Buzz: Meritage is produced up and down the California coast, but visiting the Paso Robles area—a three- to four-hour drive from either San Francisco or Los Angeles—means you won't have to suffer the groan-inducing Sideways-ization of more popular California wine destinations. A short detour away from the mythical Highway 1, the landscape of vineyards and oak chaparral is utterly gorgeous. And within 24 square miles you'll find more than 26,000 vineyard acres, where 40 grape varieties are grown by nearly 200 wineries.
Down the Hatch: Justin Vineyards and Winery is one of Paso's oldest—and best—vineyards. Their top-flight Bordeaux blend Isosceles hit number six on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list in 2000, and remains a strong seller. Tours and tastings are given seven days a week, so you can learn how the winemakers choose the precise amount of each varietal to put into the finished product.
Sleep It Off: Snooze above the barrel room of the Frances James Vineyard at the three-room Winemakers Porch Bed & Breakfast. There's nothing like waking up and looking over the vines as the sun comes up, and you'll get a vine-to-wine property tour and a complimentary bottle to taste on the terrace.
Drink at Home: So, you might as well try for the Isosceles, right? It's a big wine with a soft finish—think bright fruit and berry taste with a bit of coffee and caramel at the end. Grab it when you see it, though—it always sells out quickly (around $60).
Justin Vineyards and Winery
Tel: 805 238 6932
Winemakers Porch Bed & Breakfast
Tel: 805 237 2168
Doubles from $175 per night