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Thomas Hill Organic's Sherry Julep and Ancient Peaks Winery's 2011 Renegade 

Less booze, more fun: Thomas Hill Organic’s Sherry Julep

With its dual reputation as a fabulous cooking companion and somewhat stuffy drinking buddy, sherry is a complicated mistress, indeed. Last week, the dry, Spanish fortified wine earned its place in my heart as a delightfully less-alcoholic summer sipper, thanks to Thomas Hill Organics’ new sake and sherry-inspired cocktail menu. Comprised of Sangre y Trabajadero Oloroso sherry, fresh mint, orange bitters, raw sugar, and a splash of Cava, the Paso eatery’s citrus-spiked Sherry Julep is made for a midweek lunch that runs so long it might warrant an email auto-reply. And, with less than half the alcohol content of bourbon, you can order one more without fear of falling over. We can’t all function like the half-pickled folks on Mad Men! Available at Thomas Hill Organics, 1313 Park St., Paso Robles.

A blend for the bold: Ancient Peaks Winery’s 2011 Renegade

Blending wine is not for the faint of heart. If you ask Ancient Peaks winemaker Stewart Cameron, blending begins in the vineyard, down the specific block … the specific vine … the specific grape. Yes! Yet another instance where mathematics and science trumps the “romance” so many of us associate with making wine. Surrounded by beakers and bottles at a blending event at the Santa Margarita winery’s Oyster Ridge Barn earlier this month, I experienced a brief moment of clarity. As I fumbled to create a wine worth drinking, I was inspired by a sip of something worth aspiring to. Ancient Peak’s 2011 estate-grown Renegade is—as its title proclaims—a badass. Loaded with dark, spicy fruit, the bold blend of 62 percent syrah, 28 percent petit verdot, and 10 percent malbec is a testament to the gunslingers and outlaws that first tread on the winery’s historic soil. Pair with grilled meats and aviator sunglasses. Available at Ancient Peaks Winery, 22720 El Camino Real, suite B, Santa Margarita.

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