By The Glass
Pinot noir choices are just the start
A RECENT trip to Santa Barbara reminded me how much potential this area has for producing very elegant, top-echelon wines. The movie "Sideways" created many believers in the region's pinot noirs, but this trip showed me there is much more here.
The area's cool climate, lighter soils (in many cases with a limestone base) and the wind howling and literally pounding the vineyards, greatly slow down the ripening period, which can create a very different wine profile.
In the best scenarios, these wines are remarkably light-bodied, without losing intensity or complexity.
Here are some examples quite suited to warm summer dining:
2005 Palmina Pinot Grigio "Santa Barbara" ($20): One of the most exciting, unique wineries in California is Palmina, which specializes in Italian grape varieties grown and produced in the cooler confines of the Santa Barbara appellation by star winemaker Steve Clifton (and wife Chrystal) of Brewer Clifton fame. Brewer Clifton wines are dramatic and showy, but the Palmina wines are all about purity, refinement, drinkability and food-friendliness.
One of the centerpieces of their portfolio is this pinot grigio -- dry, brisk, wonderfully delicious and refreshing. You'd have a hard time having just one glass. In a blind tasting I think most people would say this is a top-echelon Italian wine -- it is that good!
2003 Costa de Oro Chardonnay "Gold Coast Vineyard" ($20): A short time ago, there seemed to be a glut of California chardonnay. Times have changed, especially when it comes to distinctive, quality chardonnay, in the mid-price range. Here is one, from a vineyard is up on a wind-pounded bluff. Winemaker and owner Gary Burk's chardonnay is fresh, pure and alive, with a very crisp, refreshing edge to it. It is a style ideal for warm-weather sippin'.
2005 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir "Santa Barbara" ($20): Can you believe it? A 2005 red wine already! I have been a big fan of Au Bon Climat for many, many years, but I must say, this is the best Santa Barbara pinot noir bottling I have had -- delicious, seamless, seductively textured and a great value. The wine should arrive in Hawaii stores in mid-August.
2005 Rusack Sauvignon Blanc ($16): This is one of the best California sauvignon blancs I have had in quite some time -- fresh, completely refreshing, light on the palate and quite the thirst-quencher.
2004 Duo Grenache "Larner Vineyard" ($27): I never been very impressed by the grenache grape. Rarely have I found one that was an absolute "must-try." But I found two on this last trip to Santa Barbara that were standouts. Both were very much about deliciousness. This one is not only lovely, but also very elegant, suave and well-textured, probably because winemaker Gary Burk is a pinot noir specialist. This would explain the somewhat exotic, enticing perfume, seamlessness and superb texture of the wine. It ain't cheap, but it sure is good!
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the Sansei restaurants.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org