story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/30/16
As summer temps continue to climb these days, even the most ardent red wine drinkers are going lighter to quench their thirst. Santa Barbara rosé wines are clearly getting renewed attention and – with fresh flavors that match their pretty colors – for good reason. But I’ve been exploring a newly released batch of refreshing whites, and here are some of my favorites.
Lucas & Lewellen 2014 Viognier ($22): With more than two dozen grape varieties under his watch, Louie Lucas remains one of Santa Barbara County’s most prolific growers. This delicious viognier, made by Megan McGrath Gates, was sourced from his sustainable vineyards near the town of Los Alamos. Peaches and tropical notes on the nose are followed by bright flavors of melon and citrus. In a sale that ends today, Lucas & Lewellen is offering a six-pack of white wines – this viognier, along with sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, dry riesling and two chardonnays – for an awesome $59 (UPDATE: this offer has been extended through July 15th). llwine.com.
Palmina 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Larner Vineyard ($26): The aromas of this wine are enchanting: flowers, honey, grapefruit. The palate experience is bracing and fresh, brimming with flavors of tangerines and a super clean finish. These grapes were sourced from Michael Larner’s celebrated vineyards in Ballard Canyon, “where the climate is quite similar to its Fruili-Venezia roots – maritime fog, warm sunny days and cool, crisp nights,” according to Palmina winemaker Steve Clifton. This wine is a winner with spicy Asian dishes or fresh crab legs. palminawines.com.
Alma Rosa 2014 Chardonnay, El Jabali Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills ($30): Winemaker Richard Sanford delivers another spectacular chardonnay here, complete with pretty straw hues, clean minerality and racy flavors of white stone fruits and lemongrass. A subtle creaminess on the palate enhances the sipping experience. The fact these grapes are 34 years old – sourced from the historic El Jabali Vineyard along Santa Rosa Road that Richard and Thekla Sanford planted in the early 1980s and that they continue to farm organically – enhances the wine’s distinguished structure. almarosawinery.com.
Cambria 2014 Benchbreak Chardonnay ($22): Much of the chardonnay fruit that grows on the Cambria estate in the Santa Maria Valley dates back to the 1970s and, since 2009, has been cultivated sustainably. This brilliant wine is teeming with green apple and ripe tropical flavors, like pineapple. Generous acidity and a lovely spicy thread add character. Fresh fish off the grill or a bevy of aperitif cheeses will make a perfect match. Another standout chardonnay by longtime winemaker Denise Shurtleff. cambriawines.com.
Babcock 2014 Chardonnay Top Cream ($45): The search for the perfect dinner table chardonnay ends with this spectacular release by Bryan Babcock. Drawn by his spectacular pinot noirs to the Babcock tasting room along Highway 246 this past weekend, this remarkably textured estate wine – alive with bright acidity and stone fruit and citrus flavors – blew me away. There’s a delicious creaminess here, with a flavor-rich finish that doesn’t give up. This is what you drink during an al fresco meal of chicken fajitas and grilled veggies at the end of a warm summer day spent mostly outdoors. Top Cream refers to the lean, gravelly, loamy top soil that blankets sandstone on the Babcock ranch which, according to the winemaker, “definitely governs the vigor and morphology of the vines that grow in it.” babcockwinery.com.
Liquid Farm 2014 Chardonnay La Hermana ($40): When Nikki and Jeff Nelson treated us to a homemade wine country lunch at their Santa Ynez home this week, we met their kids. It was their lineup of chardonnays, actually, which they presented and described in terms of personality and character. The five boutique bottlings of chard we sipped, imagined by the Nelsons and crafted James Sparks, are all made to impress and, more importantly, to capture the unique character if their vintage and vineyard source. The La Hermana wows with its zesty character, freshness and subtle suppleness. A nod to the FOUR Chardonnay ($74), too, which combines the best four barrels of the 2014 vintage and delivers an amazingly complex and structured drinking experience. Keep in mind that, due to super low production, most of the Liquid Farm wines go by allocation to wine club members. liquidfarm.com.
La Crema 2015 Pinot Gris Monterey ($20): This is my one out-of-town choice, a just-released white from cool-climate vineyards in Monterey. This wine is juicy and refreshing, especially if you’re trying to cool off during a toasty summer afternoon spent by the pool – full of grassy notes and flavors of peaches, apricots and lemons. “Pinot gris expresses itself best when handled gently, so we pressed the grapes without de-stemming and fermented the wine slowly in 100% stainless steel to preserve with vibrant fruit flavors,” says winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas. This wine drinks really well on its own; a spread of fresh fruits, nuts and semi-soft cheeses, though, won’t hurt. lacrema.com.