We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
Want sunshine in a glass? Then look no further than California’s Central Coast. Known for its marine breezes, sun-drenched days, and vineyards as far as the eye can see, this vast and viticulturally diverse region promises something for every palate preference out there. Whether full-bodied reds, marine-influenced whites, or grippy skin-contact wines and zesty rosés are more your thing, the Central Coast of the Golden State offers it all.
Which Regions Are Considered to Be within California’s Central Coast?
The Central Coast AVA spans a vast area in the middle of California, running from Contra Costa County to the Santa Ynez Valley. The region contains 40 AVAs within its overarching designation, the most popular of which are Monterey, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara (including each of these region’s respective sub-AVAs).
What Kinds of Wine Are Made in the Central Coast?
Central Coast wines are made all over the flavor profile spectrum. Due to the region’s massive topographical diversity, vineyards within the Central Coast experience a variety of climate conditions and thrive in a handful of soil types. All styles of wine (red, white, rosé, and skin-contact) are produced within the Central Coast. The majority of wines hailing from the region are still and dry.
Which Grapes Are Used in Central Coast Wine?
Although dozens of grapes are grown in Central Coast wine regions, the area is most famous for its pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah in Monterey and Santa Barbara, while cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties, as well as the Rhône varieties of syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre, thrive in the Paso Robles area.
What Does Wine from the Central Coast Taste Like?
The flavor profiles of wines from the Central Coast are all over the spectrum, as the region is home to a mosaic of climate conditions and soil types. Wines from cooler-climate, higher-elevation sites will generally have higher acidity and more restrained levels of alcohol. In hotter areas, particularly those located farther inland, wines will generally be riper, bolder, and pack a heftier alcoholic punch.
What Are Good Food Pairings with Central Coast Wine?
Thanks to the versatility of the region, there’s no meal that a Central Coast wine cannot pair with. For shellfish, salads, and lighter happy-hour snacks, look for a bottle of Central Coast chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. For veggie burgers, game, or charcuterie boards, seek out a bottle of Central Coast pinot noir. For red meats, burgers, and heartier foods, look no further than a robust red wine from Paso Robles: cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, or a Bordeaux or Rhône-inspired blend—the choice is yours.
These are six bottles to try.
Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Chardonnay
Think of this bottle as the Goldilocks-pleaser of California chardonnay: It’s rich and round enough for those with an affinity for fuller-bodied expressions, yet maintains enough thirst-quenching acidity to satisfy those who prefer more restrained expressions. The wine shows gorgeous flavors of lemon cream, citrus rind, and a touch of toasty oak. It’s concentrated yet bright, and promises to pair well with a variety of foods. It should withstand up to a decade in the cellar, should you be able to hold out that long to drink it.
Field Recordings SKINS Orange Wine
Remember how we said the Central Coast does it all? Orange wines are no exception. This accessible, easy-to-find bottle of skin-contact wine is produced using sustainable farming practices and ecologically responsible packaging. Expect flavors of orange blossoms, apricot skin, blood orange wine, and sweet spice to jump from the wine’s just-grippy-enough palate.
Stolpman Vineyards La Cuadrilla
The Stolpman family is credited with putting Santa Barbara syrah on the map, and while we love each and every varietal bottling produced at their hands, this particular one is definitely worth getting excited about. This flavor-packed red blend produced from syrah, grenache, and sangiovese shows flavors of red and black fruits, cracked black pepper, cranberries, and dried flowers. La Cuadrilla is named after the hard-working team of vineyard workers that dedicate their efforts to the vineyard year-round. All proceeds from this wine go to the family members of these passionate employees.
Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rouge
Although Paso is generally regarded for its full-bodied bottles of cabernet, this Rhône blend promises to give the famous variety a run for its money. The wine is produced from syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, and counoise hailing from nine different vineyard sites within the region. Flavors of ripe black cherries, plums, and damp earth lead to a palate-coating finish. Drink it now or lay it down for three to five years.
A Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Rose of Grenache
Winemaker Angela Osborne’s passion for California grenache runs deep, and as much as we love her varietal red version, this zesty and flavor-packed rosé checks all of our boxes. It’s produced from old vine fruit cultivated at soaring altitudes of 3,200 feet above sea level and is foot-tread by Angela herself prior to fermentation and skin maceration. The resulting wine exudes delicate flavors of crunchy red fruits, rose petals, and citrus peel.
Tyler Pinot Noir
Produced by talented winemaker Justin Willett, this entry-level pinot noir is the perfect gateway bottle to discovering just how ethereal pinot noir from Santa Barbara County can be. Produced with a generous amount of whole clusters, this refreshing red wine shows flavors of tart red cherries, crushed raspberries, sage, and a touch of black pepper. It’s best enjoyed chilled.