Saturday, January 22, 2011


Stars of Santa Barbara

California’s Santa Barbara County is loaded with vineyards, wineries, winemakers and wine lovers.  The winemakers and wine lovers turned out in big numbers for Learn About Wine’s Stars Of Santa Barbara event January 19, 2011 at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Last year, Stars Of Santa Barbara proved to be one of my favorite tasting events of the year.  This year’s event held to Ian Blackburn’s usual high standards and attracted about 40 wineries from the SBC - from Alma Rosa to Zotovich - pouring over 100 different wines.

With limited time, there was no way for me to stop at all the tables on my list, and my apologies go to those to whom I did not get a chance to speak.  I attended the trade tasting session in the afternoon.

My Five Favorites
Alma Rosa El Jabali Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 - Santa Barbara winemaking legend Richard Sanford poured this masterpiece and said, "Our other Chardonnay is more like Chablis.  This one's like Meursault.  It's our reaction to big, over-the-top Chardonnays."  He allowed only 17% malolactic fermentation, so the fruit is the highlight.  The finish is looooooooooooong.

Curtis Winery Heritage 2007 - Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault blend with lavender-meets-cherry on the nose and palate; huge flavor and lip-smacking acidity.

Epiphany Cellars Hampton Vineyard Syrah 2007 - All Syrah and very dark, in every way.  Great minerals and acidity in this anti-fruit-bomb done in old world style.

Foxen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 - Just released, this wine is a brilliant purple in the glass with a lovely floral nose and a green herbal aspect on the palate which is quite intriguing.

Tantara Winery Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 - Dark with an extremely smokey flavor profile.  Delicious.

Richard Sanford, Alma RosaAlma Rosa winemaker Richard Sanford showed his pride in each of the wines he poured.  His '09 Pinot Gris shows a delicate floral nose and lots of minerals with a bright acidity.  The '07 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir is all about plums with a floral nose and an earthy palate while the '07 La Encantada Vineyard shows the darker side of Pinot.  The El Jabali and La Encantada vineyards are organically certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers.

Buttonwood Farm Winery had winemaker Karen Steinwachsbehind the table.  Her 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, called Zingy, is appropriately named.  Its big, grassy nose leads to a tropical grapefruit taste, which leads to a long finish.  By comparison, the'09 Sauvignon Blanc has 12% Semillon grapes blended into it.  Barrel aging softens the steel-fermented wine and gives it some creamy, vanilla notes.  The '07 Merlot is 100% Merlot and has a dark and smokey texture.  Buttonwood's '07 Cabernet Francthrows a blanket of spices over the dark fruit, a result of a couple of years in French oak.  It finishes very dry.  The '07 Cabernet Sauvignon actually has 40% Cabernet Franc in it.  It's deliciously creamy with vanilla notes on the fruit.  I didn't pay too much attention to retail prices of the wines I tasted, but I'm told this one goes for $14, which makes it a steal.

Julia Cargasacchi poured the Point Concepción 2009 Chardonnay, which has a bright acidity and tropical flavors as its calling card.  The '09 Pinot Grigio is full of minerals on the nose and floral fruit on tha palate.  The Cargasacchi '05 Cuvée comes across dark and earthy, reminding me of bricks, while their '07 Pinot Noir also shows very dark traits. 

Ernst Storm, Curtis WineryThe Curtis Winery table was hosted by Ernst Storm, Assistant Winemaker at Curtis.  He poured the Rock Hollow Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara County 2009.  Rock Hollow is the Curtis second label for Bordeaux varietals.  This crisp white has one-third neutral oak and is made from a majority of estate fruit. It shows tropical guava on the nose and an abundance of rocky minerals on the palate.  Storm says, "It tastes like a Santa Ynez Valley wine."  The Curtis Heritage Blanc, Santa Barbara County 2009 is Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  Apples and salinity dominate.  Their'07 Grenache has a splash of Syrah in it.  It's lean and full of red fruit.  Storm notified me that Curtis is trimming its offerings: only one major Syrah is in future production plans.

Dragonette's winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis poured his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, with fruit from Happy Canyon and Refugio Ranch.  The Refugio Ranch Vineyard is outside the AVA, else it would have been designated a Happy Canyon wine.  Fermented in half steel and half neutral oak, there's a mild nose and a crisp acidity.  The '09 Sauvignon Blanc that is all Happy Canyon is all neutral oak, too.  It has a very interesting nose and fabulous acidity.  The '09 Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, offers a very spicy nose and great fruit flavor.  The'08 Syrah is a three vineyard blend of fruit from Paso Robles and Santa Maria.  There's great minerality in this old world-styled effort.

At the Epiphany Cellars table, Hector Osuna extolled the virtues of this Fess Parker brand.
Epiphany's '09 Grenache Blanc sports a salty, mineral nose and has great acid underlying the floral, tropical, rock garden flavors.  The Grenache Blanc hails from the Camp Four Vineyard.
The 2007 Gypsy - a blend of Grenache, Counoise, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Syrah - gives an earthy slant to the flowers on the nose.  Revelation, also a 2007 vintage, mixes Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah.  It's dark and jammy with a nice grip.  22 months in oak.

Foxen Vineyard was represented by co-owner Dick Doré and Jenny Williamson-Doré.  Their crisp, clean '09 Chardonnay is sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard.  Foxen's '07 CabernetSauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley, has a nose like a Pinot and firm tannins.  There's a very old-world feel on both their Pinot Noir and their Cab.

Loring Wine Company's Kimberly Loring had four '09 Pinot Noirs to pour.  Rosella's Vineyard has a pretty nose with a bright cherry flavor.  Gary's Vineyard shows a darker version of those attributes.  Cargasacchi Vineyard is light and delicate, while Clos Pepe Vineyard adds rocks to the nose and plums to flavor profile.  All four were shown to have 90+ scores from Wine Spectator magazine.

Matt Dugan at the Palmina station poured some wines made from Italian grape varieties which probably didn't show up anywhere else in the room.  Palmina's 2009 Arneis is minerals, minerals, minerals.  The '09 Tocai Friulano throws in a tropical angle and a tart finish.  Great acidity.  The Palmina '09 Dolcetto reminds me of cherry sweet tarts.  Their '06 Nebbiolo, from the Rancho Sisquoc and Stolpman vineyards, shows very nice acidity, a bright and explosive fruit presence and a loooong finish.

Sweeny Canyon's Chris Marks poured for me.  He's known as the vineyard manager for Sweeny Canyon.  To hear him tell it, "My wife is the winemaker.  I just drive the tractor."  He also has some stories to go along with the wine.  Sageflower Chardonnay is listed as non-vintage, but it's actually a 2001 unoaked chardonnay.  Marks says the wine was relabeled when it didn't move.  Now it sells better, maybe because of some intriguing effects of the bottle aging it has received.  Sweeny Canyon's '06 Chardonnay is mellow with 15 months in oak.  Their 2008 Chardonnay is big and creamy.  Three Pinot Noirs - '06, '07 and '08 - are quite nice, with the '08 being the creamiest of the trio.

Tantara Winery's Melissa Vandegrift poured Tantara's Chablis-like '08 Chardonnay. The 2008 Pinot Noir, Solomon Hills, shows delicious black cherry, while the '08 Dierberg Pinot offers plums and a great acidity.

William James Cellars had winemaker Robin Bogue on hand with her '06 Syrah showing off a nose of candy and a very dark taste and lean structure.  The '07 Grenache has earthy cherry notes and the 2005 PortScandalous, is sourced from Lodi with Portuguese varieties Souzao and Tinta Cao blended.  It smells of anise and has tons of dark flavor.  All their wines are very dry.

From Zaca MesaCeleste Bernard shared an '08 Chardonnay which is lean and spare like a Grenache Blanc, a fresh and floral '09 Viognier, an '07 Roussanne which may be the most palate-cleansing wine I've ever had and the '07 Z Cuvée.  The Z is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah from the Santa Rita Hills, and it is bold and dark.

Ryan Zotovich and Brit Tanquary, Zotovich CellarsThe Zotovich station was staffed by winemaker Ryan Zotovichand his future wife Brit Tanquary.  The wedding is in July, and - I'm sorry - I neglected to get the registry information.  I interrupted their pre-nuptial bliss, but they were happy to pour the '07 Pinot Noir - all dark and earthy - and the '08 Santa Rita Hills Syrah - bold, fruity and strong on tannins.  Both of them spoke lovingly of making wine in what is known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  They both agreed there's a camaraderie among the winemakers there that is comforting.

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