published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/18/14
Red may well be the greatest of holiday hues, weather hanging from my Christmas tree or swimming in my glass. Even the most avid white wine drinker is likely to turn to reds this time of year, to better enjoy both longer nights as well as the richer foods the season inspires. Here are a few top finds.
This was a year of many wins for Byron winemaker Jonathan Nagy. His release of the 2012 Monument pinot ($60) and the 2012 Julia’s Vineyard pinot ($45) showcase a knack for extrapolating nuances from every vineyard site he taps. The 2013 Santa Barbara County release is an awesome value; a fresh and bouncy mouth feel, a floral nose and abundant flavors of cherries and berries make it the perfect holiday table topper. www.byronwines.com.
Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley ($60)
This thriving family project is proof the Santa Maria Valley has world-class written all over it; the deluxe Presqu’ile visitor center is a destination all its own. The Murphys, along with winemaker Dieter Cronje and vineyard manager Jim Stollberg, farm their 70-plus acres of estate grapes sustainably and favor an earlier harvest to keep alcohols low and acidity bright. This estate pinot noir spent close to a year and a half in French oak and is a wonderfully elegant, smooth, balanced wine full of spicy notes and cherry flavors. www.presquilewine.com.
Edmeades 2012 Zinfandel, Piffero Vineyard ($31)
Nestled in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, this labels focus is squarely on zinfandel; they released six this year. A trend emerges from their refreshingly natural and hands-on approach: all these wines have balance, a supple texture and solid integration. But my favorite is from Piffero Vineyard, where grapes struggle in tough, rocky red soil to produce powerful flavors. This wine is rich and jammy, yet velvety, and delicious red berry flavors are enhanced by spice rack touches. www.edmeades.com.
Brander 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley ($28)
Fred Brander helms one of our area’s top cabernet programs; his reserve cabs are tougher to find but worth nabbing whenever you can. This Bordeaux-inspired wine, helmed by winemaker Fabian Bravo, is made entirely from estate grapes, in Los Olivos, and from 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. It shines for its fruit-forward approach and incredible approachability; blue and red berries, cherry and vanilla notes prevail. www.brander.com.
This is my pick for the year’s ultimate stocking stuffer. For one, what a story! The Rusack label, based in Ballard Canyon and already well-known for winemaker Steve Gerbac’s sophisticated Rhones, is developing a world-class wine program on Catalina Island. For Mrs. Alison Rusack, a member of the famous Wrigley family, this is personal; her great-grandfather bought it in 1919 and would go on to revamp its infrastructure. Today, a ranch he founded in 1930 – El Rancho Escondido – is the epicenter of a project by Alison and Geoff Rusack that will include a winery and visitor center. Chardonnay, pinot and zin grow here, under oft-challenging ocean-driven conditions that have required extra investment and extra ingenuity. But, neat story aside, these wines are unique and remarkable. The 2012 pinot noir is big on acidity and layered aromatics, with a supple mouth feel, a tangy essence and bright cranberry flavors. Only 98 cases were made. www.rusackvineyards.com.