Santa Barbara’s pinot noirs have substance
The movie "Sideways" generated a lot of interest in Santa Barbara wines, especially pinot noir, but the popularity of wines from this area wouldn't last this long if there wasn't some substance.
I hadn't been to Santa Barbara in ... I can't even remember when ... but I visited last month. Despite the increased focus on wines of the area, you can tell the winemakers haven't let it get to their heads. Most of those in the wine industry that I encountered were sincere, genuine, friendly and eager. And the wines they are making are good.
To be honest, having grown up drinking fine Burgundy (pinot noir from France) with my father, my palate took a while to calibrate to Santa Barbara pinot noir. The flavors and styles are different. Santa Barbara pinots tend to have riper and richer fruit with less acidity and minerality than their French counterparts.
If you keep an open mind, as I did, you can really learn to appreciate this style. Because the grape is so difficult grape to produce, it is hard to find good, inexpensive examples. These prices are very fair, considering the quality of the wines:
2004 Melville Pinot Noir Estate ($27.99): A blend of 14 pinot noir clones. Super-sweet and super-ripe dark cherry flavors; silky smooth and opulent. Great balance. A lovely wine, it is concentrated without being over the top. An outstanding example of Santa Barbara's new wave pinot noirs.
2004 Hitching Post Cork Dancer Pinot Noir ($26.99): Hitching Post's entry-level bottling emphasizes youthful forward fruit from Bien Nacido, Gold Coast and Julia's Vineyards, all from the Santa Maria Valley. Zippy berry fruit, a touch of flowers and a hint of spice.
While Pinot Noir is still king in Santa Barbara, some other grape varietals also do well, such as viognier, syrah and chardonnay. And one producer, Palmina, is making some of the best versions of traditional Italian varietals in California. Here are some other favorites from my trip.
2003 Melville Syrah Estate ($19.99): This is a luscious wine with gobs of blackberry, boysenberry and exotic Indian spices. A rich wine with lovely mouthfeel and good flow.
2005 Melville Viognier Estate ($19.99): As with most good viognier, this is aromatic and pure. Orange blossom, guava, papaya and pineapple; with a mineral quality and a good acidity level for balance. Perfect hot-weather wine.
2005 Palmina Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara ($17.99): Perfect summertime drinker, with a slightly sweet tinge from the super-lush and ripe fruit. Mostly citrus flavor with some floral notes. The wine is clean and has a nice, creamy mouthfeel.
If you have a day or two free the next time you visit Los Angeles, it would be fun to take a two-hour drive north to Santa Barbara. While the beaches aren't as spectacular as Hawaii's, Santa Barbara's wineries are worth exploring. I had a great time, and have started to really appreciate the style of wine Santa Barbara is producing.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org