Located almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles (Spanish for Oak Pass) has a vineyard tradition stretching back over two centuries: Spanish missionaries planted the first wine grapes here in 1797. The region, about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean, now has more than 80 wineries.
Signature Wines Paso Robles has been known for the generous flavors of its full-bodied red winesfirst Zinfandel from the county's west side, then Cabernet Sauvignon, and now big-bodied Syrah, which is "the new Merlot" in these parts.
Wine Country Style Compared with Napa or even Sonoma, Paso Robles puts the country back in wine country. The wineries are mostly small, family-owned and spread out far and wide; tasting rooms tend to be low-key and homespun. For a pleasurable 300-wine overview, check out the Paso Robles Wine Festival, May 14 to 16 (805-239-8463 or pasowine.com).