Sunday, September 26, 2010

UNEXPECTED GRAPES FROM UNEXPECTED PLACES: SANTA BARBARA COUNTY


Steve Clifton (right)

Santa Barbara County is one wine country within an easy drive of Southern California, so it's not unexpected for me to find great wine originating from there. I've certainly tasted enough of it. Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein counts SBC as a "once removed" wine region, meaning just slightly less well known than Napa and Sonoma, the "big two" of California wine AVAs.

At the recent Grand Tasting event, "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," their table was definitely one I had circled on my program.  Palmina winemaker Steve Clifton (on the right in the picture) was pouring when I stopped by, and he patiently went through eleven Santa Barbara County wines for me despite the crowds which kept him pretty busy the whole time I was there.

The Santa Barbara County AVA is one region that is getting a lot of recognition beyond the Central Coast, with good reason.  The five distinct winegrowing areas of the county - Santa Maria Valley, Los Alamos Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, and Happy Canyon - make up an extremely diverse wine region.  The ocean breezes sweep eastward through the transverse valleys and bring a rather cool growing climate far inland.

Clifton's Palmina Wines specializes in Cal-Italia - Italian grape varieties grown and produced in the Golden State - but his wines weren't the only ones on the table utilizing what Evan Goldstein calls "quirky grapes."

Here are my notes on the wines from the Santa Barbara County table:

Palmina Tocai Friulano 2009 - lovely floral nose with grapefruit and zest on the palate - Santa Ynez Valley, Honea Vineyard

Palmina Malvasia Bianca 2009 - very floral nose and taste - tastes like flowers - Santa Ynez Valley, Larner Vineyard

Silver Viognier 2007 - nuts and citrus with great acidity - 13% Grenache Blanc

Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - citrus nose and palate, nice acidity - lemon zest on finish - blended with SĂ©millon - winery has a new winemaker

Rancho Sisquoc Sylvaner 2009 - melon, pear and peaches with some residual sugar - don't know of another winery producing Sylvaner in California

Palmina Nebbiolo 2006 - floral nose with a taste of very bright cherry and raspberry - spices

Mosby Sagrantino 2006 - big, dark nose, reminds me of Mourvèdre - smooth and fruity - Bill Mosby imported the cuttings from Italy - first vintage

Hitching Post Merlot 2007 - dry, with big blackberry and cherry flavors - winemaking team of Hartley and Ostini

Bridlewood Zinfandel 2007 - Santa Ynez Valley grapes, estate grown - herbal notes and a minty aspect - full and rich

Ampelos Syrah 2006 - spicy and fruity - Sta. Rita Hills fruit

Star Lane "Astral" Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - extremely full and very dry, with black plum and pencil lead flavors

Tomorrow we'll visit the San Luis Obispo table.