Refining a Wine List with the Best of California

To bring you unique, quality wines at Pacific Standard Prime, I’ve spent the better part of the last six months scouring internet databases and wineries throughout the state. The process was at times grueling, but ultimately satisfactory as I began cultivating the eclectic, California-centric wine list that exists today.

When the process first began, I was looking for wines I hadn’t heard of before, to see what was out there. Publications like the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter were key references as I began the somewhat laborious process of sifting through about 4,500 California wineries listed on the American Winery Guide

Starting from the letter A, I would first read each winery’s “About Us” page. I was interested in their philosophy, how much wine they made, and how they made it. You can learn a lot from the type of operation by the About Us page. If it looked interesting, I would explore a little more.

Next, I started assessing the different types of wines in California and the significance of their locations. I wanted to find wines made with a sense of place. For example, Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County is known for its pinot noir and chardonnay. The Alexander Valley and Knights Valley in Sonoma County are renowned for cabernet sauvignon. And Napa Valley with its bordeaux grapes produces a range of wines, from cabernet franc to sauvignon blanc. 

Since narrowing down the list, I’ve discussed several with Michele Cohen (pictured here), a fellow wine expert who’s working with us on the wine list. We’ve been hosting small, informal wine tastings with colleagues and friends to get a feel for which wines people seem to genuinely enjoy. Here are three standouts we want to share with you.

Dilecta, meaning “the lovely one,” makes a wine called Tiller, a syrah/grenache blend from Paso Robles. The story is fascinating. The winemaker studied abroad in Italy and got sommelier credentials from the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. He then went to the central coast, worked for a few well-known wineries in Paso Robles, and started his own small label. All that hard work paid off, with a great-looking package and a delicious wine. At my most recent tasting, this was the only one that every single person in attendance liked, even the Chardonnay fans. 

Nelle, which I stumbled across on the database, is also made in Paso Robles and is 100% grenache. It was created by a wine lover who worked at a wine shop in New York, but decided he wanted to be involved with production. He came to the central coast, worked in tasting rooms, took whatever odd jobs he could get that were part of production, and morphed that into producing some of his own wines. It’s not everywhere, but it’s known among wine lovers – especially people who love the Rhone varietal grapes. I found myself drawn to his philosophy of letting the grapes tell him what to make.

Urban Legend is run by a husband and wife in Alameda. They buy sourced grapes from growers in different areas, such as merlot from Napa and zinfandel from the Amador foothills. I was struck by their belief that wine doesn’t have to be formal to be delicious; if you want to drink your wine out of a paper cup, go for it. And Urban Legend definitely delivers great wines. They aren’t pretentious, and they love connecting with people. In their own words, “We’re doing something remarkable with wine here: we’re listening.”