The Bright, Compelling ‘Future’ of Santa Barbara Wines

Doug Margerum and Wendy Van Horn, owner and wine director, respectively, of the eponymous wine-centric restaurant and wine store, The Wine Cask, have once again presented yet another successful S.B. County Wine Futures program. Margerum and Van Horn work tirelessly to formulate their sweeping selection of distinctive wines, and winemakers are so enamored with this annual event that they very rarely decline an invitation to pour. Held on Saturday, April 22 at The Wine Cask and the adjacent El Paseo restaurant courtyard, the tasting was teeming with seasoned wine collectors, hip wine acolytes, and members of the Santa Barbara wine-loving community. All were vying for the attention of winemakers who were introducing their not-yet-released wines for sale as “futures” — wines that are still in barrel, or have just been bottled, but have not yet been released into the marketplace. The Wine Cask S.B. County Futures tasting offers wine lovers the rare opportunity to purchase much-coveted wines early; wines that often sell out quickly once they are offered to the public.

Because Margerum and Van Horn have personally tasted all the wines included in the tasting, it’s hard to find a bad one in the bunch. That being said, there were a few standouts that I found immediately attractive and truly representative of what this wonderful county has to offer the world of wine lovers. Here are the most memorable wines of the tasting, in alphabetical order: Au Bon Climat, 2004 Pinot Noir “Old World Rules,” Santa Maria Valley This pinot noir is amazingly wrought, with a deft minerality and earthiness that is reminiscent of the great Burgundies of France. Jim Clendenen made only 200 cases of this wine, and true pinot noir lovers would be well-served including it in their cellars. Pinot noirs like this one should not be missed. Cargasacchi, 2005 Pinot Noir, Cargasacchi Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills Peter Cargasacchi’s name is one to remember. He has become a force with which to be reckoned in the wine world, albeit a humble and sweet one. His wines have a boldness and structure that satisfy, but they possess great balance and structure and never fatigue the palate. This is a lovely, transcendent rendition of pinot noir, and was one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time. Cold Heaven, 2005 Viognier “Sanford and Benedict Old Vines,” Santa Rita Hills It would be too easy to dismiss Morgan Clendenen as just another pretty face making wine. Rather, her approach to viognier is erudite and passionate; she has made it her mission to produce world-class viogniers and this latest offering literally showcases the fruits of her labor. A lush underpinning of tropical fruit notes is measured by a crisp acidity and sexy minerality. Hitching Post, 2004 Pinot Noir “Highliner,” Santa Barbara County After the film Sideways, there surfaced a rumor that the Hitching Post team of Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley had sold out, producing more wine than usual to capitalize on the success of the film. Well, gossip, be damned. The latest offerings from Hitching Post puts them back on top. All of their futures wines were lovely, focused, and well-made, but the Highliner pinot noir, comprised of fruit from Bien Nacido, Cargasacchi, and other esteemed vineyards, is simply gorgeous. Paul Lato, 2004 Pinot Noir “Duende,” Gold Coast Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Paul Lato is an elegant, sophisticated winemaker. He brings a high degree of class and old-world panache to any tasting he attends, and each wine he delivers proves to be even better than the last. The “Duende” casts a spell on any pinot lover. He’s the producer to beat. Qupé, 2004 Syrah “Bien Nacido Hillside Estate,” Santa Maria Valley

Bob Lindquist has proven that he has staying power. Year in and year out, he delivers consistently powerful and delicious wines. This cool-weather Syrah is quite different from others, with notes of white pepper, truffles, crushed wet rocks, and boysenberries on the nose. Samsara, 2005 Syrah “Verna’s Vineyard,” Santa Barbara County

Chad Melville has pulled out ahead of many other young syrah producers in California with his own Samsara label. This is a wine that has captivated sommeliers around the country because of its sheer beauty and unstoppable aromatics. The unmistakable note of bergamot on the nose will remind syrah lovers of Guigal’s La Mouline offerings. Tensley, 2005 Syrah “OGT,” Santa Barbara County

Don’t let Joey Tensley’s renegade roots full you. He’s a proud son of Bakersfield, California, and a die-hard NASCAR fan, but ultra-premium, fine wines, and everyman tastes need not be mutually exclusive terms. This beguiling syrah, named for the winemaker’s son, Oliver Gunnar Tensely, is just one in a lineup of definitive, singular American syrahs. Tensley is considered by some wine critics to be one of the finest syrah producers in the country, and his latest offerings only support that perception.

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