<strong>SMART SIPS:</strong>  A typical scene from Hospice du Rhône, which looks a lot like World of Pinot Noir during the panel tastings.

Courtesy Photo

SMART SIPS: A typical scene from Hospice du Rhône, which looks a lot like World of Pinot Noir during the panel tastings.

World of Pinot Noir vs. Hospice du Rhône

Which Central Coast Wine Fest Is Best for You?

Each spring, two of California’s most anticipated wine-tasting events go down on the Central Coast: the World of Pinot Noir, in which pinotphiles get spun on the classic Burgundian grape in the vicinity of Pismo Beach, and the Hospice du Rhône, where lovers of syrah, grenache, viognier, and other Rhône varietals talk shop in Paso Robles. For those of us who enjoy an elegant Sta. Rita Hills pinot as much as a boisterous Australian GSM, it can be challenging to determine which of these equally exquisite weekend events — which both feature celebrated winemakers from around the world pouring during informative sessions, grand tastings, and gourmet meals — is worth our time and money. Drawing from my experiences at each last year, here’s a breakdown to help with your decision in 2012. Of course, you could always do both!


Pinot Noir By The Sea Grand Tasting on the clifftop by the Pacific Ocean.

Hospice du Rhône

Dates: April 26-28

Vibe:Fun-loving reunion for dirt-under-fingers Rhône Ranger types

Headquarters: Paso Robles Event Center, also home to cowboys, rodeos, and Mid-State Fair

History:20th year

Accommodations: Storied hotels (Paso Robles Inn) and wine-country villas (Hotel Cheval) but plenty of affordable motels, too (discount deal: bed-only upstairs of Pine Street Saloon;

Main Event: Big Rhône Rendezvous: More than 130 wineries featuring 400-plus wines, from Cabot Vineyard in Humboldt County and Mullineux Family Wines in South Africa to Beckmen in Santa Ynez and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France.

Go Big: Conversations with Châteauneuf-du-Pape on Thursday: Bistro Laurent food served alongside historic wines from the Rhône, $150

2012 Sessions to Hit: The Return of the Bionic Frog: Christophe Baron of Cayuse in Walla Walla, Washington, will update his 2000 talk about going biodynamic.

Midday Not-to-Miss Events: Rosé Lunch: More pink than you can drink with food from the girl & the fig and a chance to sit down with winemakers

Memorable Bottles of 2011: Château Rayas 2006: Best of six French wines served during a six-course Bistro Laurent dinner; Domaine de Cabasse 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret Cuvée Garnacho: Grenache base offset with syrah, carignan, and counoise offered a “subtle truffle or mushroom flavor”; La Sangre de Jonata 2006: Served up by winemaker Matt Dees during Rhône ’n’ Bowl had original Rhône Rangers going cuckoo.


World of Pinot Noir

Dates: March 2-3

Vibe: Classy white-tent seaside sipping for serious pinot freaks

Headquarters: The Cliffs Resort at Shell Beach, also home to fancy weddings and corporate retreats

History: 12th year

Accommodations: Resorts overlooking ocean, with corresponding coastal-view prices (discount deal: Embassy Suites in S.L.O., just 10 minutes away;

Main Event: Pinot Noir by the Sea Grand Tasting: Where else can you sip both renowned and obscure pinots from Oregon to Italy with views from Guadalupe’s sand dunes to Montaña de Oro?

Go Big: Vintage Burgundy Dinner on Friday: A 50-person dinner by Campanile and Lido chefs with vintage wines selected by a master sommelier, $400

2012 Sessions to Hit: Technique vs. Terroir: With Foley Estates, Bouchaine Vineyards, and Anne Amie Vineyards

Midday Not-to-Miss Events: Pinot Adventure Camps: Kayak, golf, and hike your way to a special wine-soaked lunch

Memorable Bottles of 2011: Domaine du Clos Frantin: “Meaty and rugged” wine grown just steps away from La Tâche Vineyard of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; Bergström: “Something regal, like an aged strawberry” from Dundee Hills in Oregon; Breggo Cellars: “Great balance of intensity and drinkability” from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County

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