Cheap wine, cheap hotels, what could possibly go wrong?  Ghost Signs 2011 Central Coast Petite Sirah

Several of you may have noticed, your humble author changed jobs and moved a few years back. That job impacted my ability to write for this blog on a regular basis. In many ways it kept me so busy that a lot of my previous life was seriously impacted as well. Too many changes to summarize now, but I’ll do my best to sprinkle that tale around as time goes on. I have a new, new job now, that has me on the road a lot. I’m growing to like it. However this past week threw me a curve that I wasn’t able to dodge and that errant pitch hit me square in the face. Right at the beginning of a business trip I caught some sort of viral illness that laid me out like a feverish near-dead thing for four straight days. 

In a hotel, right next to an major international airport. 

It wasn’t the absolute worst week of my life, but it was damn close. It is bad enough being sick at home, but trapped inside a soulless corporate hotel, unable to really care for myself… ugh. Of course, being my cheap self, I am a regular at this hotel because it is no-frills, but doles out loyalty points for every option you choose to make it even cheaper. I had opted to forgo housekeeping for the entire week, as usually I’m only in the room to sleep. I have a million social connections in this metro area because I’ve worked and had professional connections around it since the early 90s. So my weeks there consist of work during the day, socializing at night, and easy access to/from this hotel via public transport as there is several train, shuttles, and car service type options that converge within walking distance of this hotel. 

Not this week though. This week I spend close to 80 straight hours in that room, feeling close to death. Never measured my fever but I can deduct from the humidity levels of my bedsheets that it peaked around 4:52am Thursday. Later that morning I relented and call down to request housekeeping and new sheets. The small victory was still collecting the 250 loyalty points (to be used to cash in on some luxury night non-work related someday) for that day’s “save the environment” option. 

By Saturday morning, I am largely recovered but not a good candidate to sit in an aluminum tube for three hours exposing fellow passengers to what may linger in my occasionally rattling respiratory tract. I check a few options on some travel websites, rebook my return flight from another airport a distance away, and head off for a little weekend wine getaway!

Convertibles were on sale for the price of a Kia, so I grab the drop-top Mustang and head south to Paso. Arriving at an ultra-famous mountaintop winery an hour before closing time, a squeaky clean kid with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie stops me at the gate: “Do you have a reservation sir?” “Nope!” I answer cheerfully. “Well, we usually … um… well… nobody is answering me up there… (looks the car over) Just go on up and if there is a parking space take it. If not come back down here. Ok?” 

Made the right choice with the Mustang. 

$45 of sipping my way through ultra-high end Bordeaux style blends (with one odd, but good Bordeaux/Rhône mix that would only ever happen in Paso Robles!) among stunning Mission-style architecture, fountains, and views of mountains. Not a bad way to earn an hour of my  life back after my hell of a week. I successfully avoid spending any more high altitude money here, as the bottles start at $85 and only go higher. 

To entertain myself I coast the ‘Stang in neutral as far as I can down the mountain, until I notice that I’m slowing up some local in a pickup, at which point I punch it and beeline for Paso Proper for a Pizza. Rustic Fire is a nice local strip-mall family pizza place I discovered last time I was in Paso Robles and I recalled how they sold small local wines at good prices. After all that high-falootin’ stuff I needed a basic Paso Petite Sirah and a pizza to ground me again. 

They have two Petites to pick with my pizza, “Chronic” or “Ghost Signs” I chose the latter. A 2011 vintage the Ghost Signs Central Coast Petite Sirah is VERY intense. Almost too intense, if by intense the intention is tannic. The cork is darkly stained to the point that the Rustic Fire staffer (hard to use the term “waiter” here!) even noticed how dark it was when he pulled it. Given that I always adorn my pizzas with peppers and other things that burn, it is a steep road a wine has to climb to keep up, but this Petit Sirah is heavy heavy fuel… it could coast downhill easily  against any big food, like that pickup truck behind me on the road, relentlessly progressing with big presence. This is a BIG, petit wine. I had two small glasses in nice stemware (the Petite left stains I noted) along with half of my small, spicy pie before it was time to hit the road and find a hotel. 

Now on my own without benefit of corporate sponsored/subsidized choices I consulted the mobile travel app and noted every hotel in wine country was far beyond my cheapness-throttled personal subsidy thresholds, so extending the search area over the hills eastward revealed economic bounties of super-cheap domiciles. Booking one, I dropped the top of the Mustang and drove past the last of the vineyards, over the dusty hills and into the Central Valley’s Petroleum Patch for a cheap motel. There I made use of the plastic wrapped stemware you see above to finish off the last two pie slices and fully contemplate the Ghost Signs Durif. 

I imagine the winemaker, like me, really likes the “bigness” of Petite Sirah and sought that target. A bullseye was achieved, but with such precision that all of the other things we love so much about Petite Sirah were missed. The round fruit and long, lingering finish most of all. Intensity is there, but not much else. 

After letting this wine “decant” or perhaps the better term is “recline” overnight to breathe and open it has lost a bit of intensity and gained a bit of betterness. If you buy some of this (which retails for between $12 and $14) it might be worth it to open it up and taste it over time. Odd for a cheap wine, but as I’ve found time can improve even the cheap. Look at me, I’m getting better!

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