Many of SLO County’s restaurants and night spots offer a good selection of local wines. But for those who are thirsty not just for the beverage but also for knowledge of the vintner’s art, hit these casual but enlightening havens where you can taste varietals from across the region and around the world, often with a winemaker as your guide.
CAMBRIA WINE SHOP
788 Main St., Cambria
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Hours: 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Atmosphere: This is a place for avid wine buyers, not dilettantes. "If you want to come in and just taste, it's not a good spot," staffer Kelley Batson said. "It is a good spot if you want to learn about wines and you want to buy."
Tasting: Premium wines from Napa, France, Italy and beyond are opened on the bar, depending on the tasters' interests and price range.
Retail shop: Yes.
CENTRAL COAST WINES INTERNATIONAL
712 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing at 6 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 9 p.m. Thursday and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Atmosphere: This is a wine emporium with a tiny tasting room in back. In the store, tall bookcases hold around 1,000 local wines, and filling all other surfaces are accessories such as plate clips ("Hold your wine and your food with one hand"), wineberry body lotion, wine totes, scarves and jewelry.
Tasting: About six bottles open at the bar. "You can experience a wine at the bar and take home a bottle from the shop," says manager Brandon Edmonds.
Food: Crackers at the bar, a selection of artisan cheeses, olives and spreads for purchase.
Retail shop: Extensive selection of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county wines plus selections from the major wine-growing areas of the world.
Extras: Order by phone. Winemakers come in to pour every Thursday during Farmers Market from 6 to 9 p.m. "Wine by the Glass" every Friday and Saturday, 6 to 10 p.m.
Web site: www.CCwines.com
4056 Burton Drive, Cambria
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Atmosphere: A party atmosphere, with two bartenders scurrying back and forth, calling out to the people strolling in
Tasting: 15 to 20 bottles open, specializing in small local wineries without tasting rooms. No wine sold by the glass.
Retail shop: The adjoining store buzzes with samplers and shoppers among the fancy olive oils, gourmet pretzels and polished-to-mirror-shine cheese spreaders. Every wine gift imaginable is here, including "My Wine Journal" ($25) and the "wine sling" ($15) that, with its leather pouch and lanyard, turns your wine glass into an appendage.
Extras: Order by phone, catalog or Internet. Featured on "Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels" on the Food Network in July.
Web site: www.fermentations.com
1940 Main St., Cambria
Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing about 3 p.m. Sunday, 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, though may close earlier on slow nights.
Atmosphere: Part wine bar, part cheese shop and part patio serving delectably flavor-intense foods.
Tasting: Local wines, for tastes or by the glass, are predominant.
Food: Soup, appetizers, cheese plates, salads and sandwiches.
Retail shop: Artisan cheeses and bottles of wine.
MONTEREY STREET WINE CO.
1255-A Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Atmosphere: A retail shop with a tempting array of wines and gourmet cheeses from around the world.
Tasting: Wines from the Central Coast and beyond for tasting and by the glass. "We want to make sure the wines we pour are fresh and unique," says John Stipicevich, one of the owners. "We want to pour wines no one else is pouring locally, and have fun."
Food: None served, but plenty for sale.
Retail shop: In addition to a wide selection of wines, the shop sells a mix of traditional and unusual cheeses, bread from Hush Harbor in Atascadero and olive oils.
Web site: www.montereystreetwines.com
MORRO BAY WINE SELLER
601 Embarcadero (between Marina and Pacific), Morro Bay
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Atmosphere: A wide window affords wine tasters a view of moored boats, the sand spit and Morro Rock. The feeling is casual and irreverent, with Wine Seller T-shirts hanging around that declare, "Friends don't let friends drink two-buck Chuck," "I got my wine, you get your Rhone," and "Wine tasting in Morro Bay? You bet Shiraz."
Tasting: Local and international wines, from Edna Valley to Spain, are featured.
Food: Just crackers at the bar, but you can purchase artisan cheese or other fancy goodies from the fridge.
Retail shop: Alongside 300 wines from around the globe, the store features fancy cheeses, La Bella olives, grape-shaped pasta and corkscrew earrings.
Extras: "We know after talking to somebody that we can match them to a wine," says co-owner John Nordhus. But if the pairing doesn't work out, the customer can bring it back for a refund. The Wine Seller also hosts tasting seminars; call to register.
Web site: www.morrobaywineseller.com
Court Street Centre, 1003 Osos St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Atmosphere: The Enomatic, a kind of wine ATM common in Italy, dispenses one-ounce tastes at the push of a button.
Tasting: Patrons purchase a "wine card," similar to a phone card, and load it with as much credit as they want. Glass in hand, patrons stroll and sample their way around the 770-square-foot space focusing on wines produced by members of the San Luis Obispo Vintners Association. Bottles and cases are also for sale.
Web site: www.taste-slo.com
VINOTECA WINE BAR
835 12th St., Paso Robles
Hours: 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Atmosphere: "As you walk in, it's like you're coming into my own home," says owner Cynthia Reed. Vinoteca (Italian for "wine library") has sofas, overstuffed chairs, high pub tables and an 18-foot granite bar to accommodate 55 people, plus a cozy room especially for couples.
Tasting: Local and global wines. "I like to do 'flights,'" adds Reed. A flight is three tastes for comparison, such as one chardonnay each from Paso Robles, Edna Valley and Napa. Food: Hors d'oeuvres include 24 cheeses, pates, oysters on the half shell, oysters Rockefeller and desserts. Vinoteca also has an international beer list.
Retail shop: Gift baskets, olive oils, Riedel stemware and much wine paraphernalia.
Extras: Every Wednesday a local winemaker arrives to pour, chat and share a barrel sample. Often it's standing room only for these events, which start at 5:30 p.m. On the first Thursday of the month, it's international night, and Reed ventures outside the Central Coast region. Online ordering.
Web site: www.vinotecawinebar.com.
THE WINE ATTIC
1305 Park St., Paso Robles
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Atmosphere: The Wine Attic is a blended retail shop and tasting bar with a secluded courtyard. "What's really fun about this place is you can shop for wine and then have it served at your table," says owner Jan Manni.
Tasting: Ten to 12 wines are open at the bar. Selections run from the Central Coast to Napa to Oregon to South Africa.
Food: A tapas-style menu features imported cheese plates, artisan bread and specials such as shrimp cocktail, potato galettes on baby lettuce and paella.
Retail shop: The majority of the 200 labels at the Wine Attic are in the $20 to $40 range, with nothing over $100.
Extras: Jazz at Jan’s from 6-9 p.m. Saturdays. Online ordering.
Web site: www.thewineattic.com
THE WINE OUTLET
Factory Outlet Center, 2280 El Camino Real, Atascadero
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. 9:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Atmosphere: This casual wine bar shares its space with an espresso bar serving mochas, lattes, milkshakes and pastries. A mural features Jeremiah the bullfrog sipping a glass of red wine.
Tasting: Five or six wines await at the bar.
Food: Not at the wine bar, but snacks and smoothies are served at the espresso bar.
Retail shop: Around 650 wines, half from the Monterey-to-Santa Barbara region
Extras: "We taste just about all of the wines that come in, and we have personal tasting notes, like reviews, on all of the wines," says owner Joy Swann. Online ordering.
Web site: www.wineoutlet.net
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