Category Archives: Santa Barbara County
|To borrow a phrase from my good friend Mendel, Palmina wines are for people who are interested in Italian varietals from California but do not necessarily want Cal-Ital wines. The 2011 Dolcetto from Palmina is nothing short of delicious and is an authentic expression of the grape. The punched up berry fruit, soft tannins and succulent acidity which are present in the 2011 Palmina Dolcetto are all elements one demands from high quality Piedmontese Dolcettos. The effusive aromatics hint at things to come. The flavors on the palate are stunning – rich, tangy raspberry flavors that remind me of the soft-center fillings of European hard candies. With all that fruit, you might be concerned with the finish, but no need to because there exists a freshness and vibrancy that culminates into a lively, dry finish. It wouldn’t take much effort to drain a bottle before the pizza gets delivered.
Steve Clifton, of Brewer-Clifton fame, has been playing around with Italian varietals grown in Santa Barbara County since 1995. Well, he’s not playing around anymore! I believe, and this is especially true for the last couple of vintages, that the wines from Palmina are spot-on and, again I’ll use this term, authentic expressions of Italian varietals. Their Dolcetto, which can be thought of as Palmina’s entry-level red wine, has commendable depth and personality. I wouldn’t feel cheated out if I were served this rather than a comparably priced Dolcetto from Piedmonte. In fact, I may even prefer it…honestly. The 2011 Dolcetto captures the sun-ripe fruit of south coast grapes without sacrificing balance and attack. Sixteen years experience is evident in Steve’s ability to pick just at the right time and in his confidence to back off in the cellar, allowing the grapes to express themselves as naturally as possible.
|At the conclusion of a tasting appointment, I might ask to have a sample of wine poured into a vial so that I can later get to know it better in the comfort of my home without the distractions of work; nothing like relaxing on a comfy chair with a sample of wine to really get a hold on it. I was so taken with the 2011 Dolcetto at the shop, I felt I just had to take a sample home to examine it further. That evening, I poured my sample into a glass and was about to sit down when my husband, who normally doesn’t share in my imbibing on a weeknight, asked to take a sip. I obliged, giving him the glass, and proceeded to sit down. Reaching back for the glass, low and behold, he had drained it! “Hey”, I said. “That was my sample!” He looked at me with doe-eyed innocence and said, “It’s really good. Don’t you have a bottle opened?” And there I had my confirmation: the 2011 Dolcetto is indeed delicious. I promptly placed an order via my smart phone.
I think that a lot of the intimidation surrounding wine is the idea that only the very top echelon (expensive) wines are good and therefore enjoyable, when in truth this is just rubbish. The good news is that a lot of fabulous and affordable wine is being made from all corners of the world.For well under $20, the 2011 Palmina Dolcetto will out-deliver on quality and flavor, not to mention its ideal pairing with pizza and pasta – so yummy! If you haven’t done so already, it is time to take notice of Palmina, the wines are worth everyone’s consideration. As an added bonus, to accompany the red Dolcetto, we have in stock their white 2011 Arneis; also not to be missed. —Anya Balistreri
I understand. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend like me. But now you come to me, and you say: “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather.…. (Ooohhh, chills).
Well, last night marked the (hold for pensive moment…23rd? 57th? 134th?) time I’ve watched “The Godfather”. How does one describe a movie like this to someone who’s never seen it? Well, if you’re me, your eyes bulge out of their sockets and you stammer out something like What!? How have you never seen this movie?! It’s like, it’s uh… I mean, it’s just really good.
Enough said, right?
OK, for the sake of conversation, you could say it’s the 3-part story of an old world family making their mark on new world soil. Oooh, more chills. And so, it is with this story (and all the delicious details) fresh in my mind that I felt inspired to pay homage to a trilogy of wines with Italian bloodlines but domestic zip codes. The following wines aren’t your typical let’s-take-a-stab at “Cal-Ital” and see what happens type of thing. NOT at all. In fact, I’d venture to guess that the creative minds behind the bottles wouldn’t be too keen with such a quaint categorization of what is not only their professional passion, but their personal identity.
P A L M I N A
Ex-surfer/rockstar/Italophile, Steve Clifton (of the Brewer-Clifton fame) and his wife Chrystal (fluent Italian speaker and former wine manager at Bouchon) are the the heart & soul behind Palmina in Santa Barbara, where they make wines that not only represent the varietals indigenous to Italy, but also the culture & lifestyle surrounding the consumption of wine. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen another domestic winemaker so insistent upon the fact that they make wines meant to complement food… in addition to “conversation, celebration, and love.” (I don’t know if that’s more Californian or Italian but I like it!). Based on the two wines we have from them, I’d say they ain’t kidding. Both the Palmina 2010 Santa Barbara County Pinot Grigio and the Palmina 2009 Santa Barbara County Barbera are in a nutshell, wildly unexpected. The fruit shows through in a way that suggests they’re not trying to hide their Santa Barbara upbringing, yet they have that undeniable acidity & finesse one finds in their quality Italian cohorts. Both were picked from various cool-climate vineyard sites throughout the area and whole cluster-pressed directly after picking in order to retain the cool evening temperatures. The Pinot Grigio is lively and aromatic (two qualities often missing in P.G. on this side of the pond) with hints of lemon curd, quince, and a bit of mineral flintiness that I like quite a bit. While the Barbera is a melange of dark plummy and more tangy cherry/rhubarb fruit underlined by medium tannins and enough earthiness to give it some street cred.
PETRONI VINEYARDS 2006 Rosso di Sonoma
Most people know Lorenzo Petroni as the face behind the San Francisco institution known as North Beach Restaurant, which serves authentic Tuscan cuisine to weary travelers and eccentric locals alike. However, rumor has it that Lorenzo’s first love is the grape. More specifically, his dream was to be the first California vintner to grow the prized Sangiovese Grosso clone from his native Tuscany in Sonoma soil. Lofty, but apparently not impossible. In the Spring of 1992, Lorenzo & his wife stumbled upon a vineyard site on the red, rocky, mineral rich terrain of the Mayacamas Range, bought it the next day, and began growing grapes. His Rosso is a Super Tuscan-like blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet. Again, a wine that aptly reflects both its Italian heritage and its high elevation Sonoma home. Dense blackberry & dark cherry, cedar, spicebox, and hints of the volcanic soil from which it hails are the hallmarks of the Rosso’s aromatics. On the palate the tannins are soft & rich, but again, the old world structure hasn’t been lost to a heavy, overly-extracting hand.
In keeping with my old-world-meets-new-world theme today, I’m going to grab a bottle each of these wines and head out to watch the Brew Crew play the Giants and eat some sausages…. Italian sausages, of course! – Emily Crichton
Check out our Dirty Dozen archive HERE on our blog
Yay! Summer’s here … finally. To get you going this July, may we suggest the Dirty Dozen. That’s 12 different bottles, all chosen for their versatility, packed in a case for a song. A great choice for a long weekend, picnics, parties and any other gathering, you’ll find something for everyone here. Going global, the July DD represents 6 countries!
2009 Pinot Grigio, Inacayal
Grown in vineyards averaging altitudes of 3000+ feet, Inacayal’s Pinot Grigio is a Pinot Grigio all to itself. The altitude allows for cool nights maintaining proper acidity levels; the warm summer days contribute the rich, ripe, earthy fruitiness that finishes with a kiss of honey. That sweet kiss makes it ideal for light, spicy dishes like kung pao chicken.
2010 Scaia Bianco, Tenuta Sant’Antonio
‘Super Soave’ is what Tom likes to call this one; as blending Garganega with Chardonnay is tantamount to calling Sangiovese/Bordeaux Varietal blends ‘Super Tuscans’. All’s we know is it’s pretty dang yummy for its price point. Think rich, fleshy yellow fruit with just the right amount of zip to make this a no brainer when that lobster salad arrives.
2009 Vinho Verde, Vale da Mina
This crisp, herbal white from Portugal could be the most interesting bottle in the bunch. Its lipsmacking citrusy goodness will make you crave a couple of oysters. Checking in at 11% alcohol, it should be no surprise as to how fast it’s empty.
2006 Gewurztraminer, Herrenweg, Domaine Ehrhart
Philippe Ehrhart coaxes perfect balance of fruit and acidity out of his wines … and his Gewurz Herrenweg is known for its single vineyard richness. Rose petal, lychee nut and spice, this will pair perfectly with spicy curried shrimp.
2008 Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, ‘The Flying Winemaker’
Cameron Hughes has done us all a solid by sourcing grapes from all over (see below), but let’s talk about the Chardonnay he gets from Santa Barbara County. He gets the fruit from a long-time grower, uses new barrel on a third of it, and produces a delectable, complex Chardonnay that puts a smile on your face and keeps the green in your billfold.
2010 Bordeaux Rosé, l’Ecuyer de Château Couronneau
Brand new for us and fresh off the boat is a Bordeaux Rosé made by our friends Christophe and Bénédicte Piat of Château Couronneau. Bottled under their “l’Ecuyer” label, this fresh Rosé is comprised of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot. As you may know, the Piats have been certified Agricole Biologique, so cheers to July … and to organic Rosé!
2005 Tempranillo, Alberto Furque
Trekking back down to Argentina, we’ve got yet another product of high altitude vineyards. In this case, Rioja’s red champion Tempranillo. We love the cedary, tobacco-like nuance of the variety, and combined with the ripe New Worldiness Carolina Furque coaxes from her grapes, it’s all systems go! A little bottle age has given it the time to develop further complexity, which is a huge bonus. Bottled unfiltered, please don’t mind the sediment.
2005 Palombières, Domaine Montpezat
Last call for the Palombières! This seductive little number is made from 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre. The latter providing the backbone for all that juicy fruit. This is a sip-on-its-own wine that is delicious with or without food.
2005 Merlot, Sonoma County, Table Wine, Sutton Cellars
Not your run of the mill, tutti fruity Merlot, this ‘old soul’ of a wine has an amalgam of complexity that will leave you dumbfounded as to how it can be done, in California, for such a price. Leave it to our pal Carl Sutton to come to the rescue. Hints of cigar box and pencil lead are usually complexities found in wines from St. Emilion, but here they are.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile, ‘The Flying Winemaker’
It’s a long way from Santa Barbara County (see above) to the Maipo Valley in Chile, but again Cameron Hughes knows no borders when it comes to finding fruit that can be made into great wine. Situated between the coastal mountains and the Andes, the Maipo Valley is an ideal growing space for Cabernet Sauvignon. If you’re grilling lamburgers, pour this.
2008 Syrah ‘Only Girls’, Château d’Or et des Gueules
Ah, then there’s Diane Puymorin, who needs no introduction around these parts. Diane has crafted a 100% Syrah from the environs of the southern Rhône, and the result is money in the bank! Rich, round, spicy, unadulterated Syrah fruit will tantalize your palate and make you start thinking about grabbing some mesquite and a chunk of meat.
2007 Chianti Colli Senesi, Sono Montenidoli
This may come as a shocker, for as much as we laud the wines crafted by Mme Puymorin (above), Elisabetta Fagiuoli’s reputation as a winemaker is of legendary status. With vines planted in and around San Gimignano, her wines have a global following. This Chianti Colli Senesi is deep, rich and complex. Elisabetta herself told Anya that this was the wine for barbequing. No, she didn’t mean Memphis pork, she meant, “Just grill something, would ya?” Enjoy!
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|I first got to know winemaker Gary Burk back when he was still working with Jim Clendenen over at Au Bon Climat more than a decade ago. In 1994, he was hired on for harvest and stayed for eight years. There’s a great story how Gary and Jim first met, classic Jim really, described in a local paper. It’s a fun read and I love the way the article touches on all of Gary’s passions: wine, music and farming. Coinciding with Gary’s tenure at ABC, he began making his own wine under the Costa de Oro label. The idea was to make wine from the Gold Coast Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, a vineyard his father planted in the late 80s. We carried some of Gary’s early releases and somehow, as can happen in our personal lives as well as in business, we lost touch. Fortunately, Gary didn’t forget us and paid us a recent visit showing off his latest releases. I was blown away by the aromatics and texture of his wines. I was especially impressed with his entry level “Santa Barbara County” Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. For the SBC wines, Gary uses fruit from the estate Gold Coast Vineyard and some that is purchased. For me, what set the Costa de Oro SBC-designated wines apart from other Central Coast wines similarly priced are the aromatics. I love it when you can be satisfied with a wine simply by smelling it. Just stick your nose in and inhale. So much going on with only a whiff. And you can’t beat the quality/price ratio either, both wines come well under $25.|
|The 2009 harvest was a challenging one for Chardonnay. Rains came in at midharvest stopping picking for several days. At Costa de Oro they picked 2 lots prior to the rain and 3 after. The sugars came in low, which translated to lower alcohol levels. I get lots of distinct lemon citrus peel on the palate with lingering flavors of apricot and peach skins. The low 13% alcohol content lends a crisp and snappy finish….so refreshing and pleasing to sip! The Chronicle’s Jon Bonné had this to say about the 2009 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, “Winemaker Gary Burk put a lot of effort into this affordable bottle, which landed at a more modest 13 percent alcohol. Even with barrel fermentation, it retains plenty of precision: marjoram, bright mineral and lemon zest, with rich peach skin, cantaloupe and a lovely brightness.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 31st, 2011).
The 2009 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir has a light touch with overtones of strawberry, cranberry and earth. I get a nice tangy, savory quality to the wine with a slight earthy note of nori seaweed. It’s a wine to drink now and like the Chardonnay, restrained and elegant. They are the perfect antidotes for those looking to avoid overblown, heavy-handed wines. —Anya Balistreri