Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Palmina Wines of Santa Barbara County


It has always struck me that Palmina wines are made specifically to pair with food - so much so that they might seem a little less than impressive at first sniff or taste.  Their wines are made to pair with food, meaning they are made to complement the food, not show it up.  The full expression of their wines really doesn’t occur until they have been matched with food.  Steve Clifton states on the website, “Palmina is a Californian celebration of the rich, wonderful lifestyle and attitude toward food, wine, friends and family that exists in Italy

Clifton is one of the more focused of the “Cal-Italia” winemakers in the Golden State.  He and his wife, Chrystal, specialize in making wine from Italian grape varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.  They do not, he admits, try to emulate the Italian versions of those grapes.  They do try to allow their sense of place in the Central Coast to shine through.  All the while, they keep in mind the Italian perspective that wine isn’t merely a beverage, but one of the things which helps give life its meaning.  Wine is “an extension of the plate” at Palmina.

The wines of Palmina are notable for their acidity, a must when pairing wine with food.  Their flavors are delicious without overwhelming the palate.  The food is the star in Clifton’s philosophy, wine is the supporting actor.

I had the pleasure of experiencing quite a full tasting of Palmina wines at the Wine Warehouse tasting event on April 24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.  I don’t usually have food at large wine tasting events, but this time I found myself drifting over to an appetizer station between samples.

The Palmina whites are great sippers on their own, but the minerality and acidity found in their Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Arneis and Malvasia Bianca almost make a food pairing mandatory.  The Malvasia Bianca, from the Santa Ynez Valley’s Larner Vineyard, is the one Palmina white that displays a nose and palate that might compete with food.  The floral element in this one is enormous and beautiful.

The Botasea Rosato di Palmina is a beautiful pink blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.  It is not produced in the saignée method, where juice is bled off in the process of making a red wine.  All the fruit for this rosé was picked especially to make this wine.  It’s nice and dry, with a light cherry flavor that could beckon spring on its own.

As for the reds, Palmina’s Dolcetto is light and breezy, the Barbera offers a light touch of smoke and the Nebbiolo is lightweight yet tannic.  Alisos is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot.  It was the first wine made by Palmina, in 1997.  The wine is produced by allowing some of the Sangiovese grapes to dry and become raisins.  They are then vinified and blended with the previously vinified wine.

If you find you really need a wine that packs its own punch, Palmina’s Undici has a big nose of smoke and chocolate-covered cherries.  The Sangiovese fruit comes from the Honea Vineyard, and there are traces of Malvasia Bianca in the mix.  The Nebbiolo from the Sisquoc Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley offers a huge expression of fresh cherries and an array of spices that would fill a spice rack.  TheStolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo has great grip and a palate based in cherry and layered with a host of other delicacies.