Like many die-hard, smitten, obsessed wine lovers, I am always on the lookout for new wines with which to fall in love. In order to become an object of my adoration, a wine must hold my interest, it must captivate my senses, it must make me want to return to it again and again by virtue of its complexity and charm, and, finally, it must have personality. When you talk about a wine’s personality, you enter the realm of the ineffable. After all, how can a beverage have personality? Well, if that beverage is grown by mother nature, is a vehicle for the soils and climate in which it is grown, and is also the reflection of those who made it, then you have a viable recipe for something that is, in a sense, alive and has personality, verve, and character.
It’s been my experience that wines with real personality and beauty are rarer than they are common. Sure, there are many nicely made, drinkable wines out there. When one is looking for sheer artistry and singularity, however, the field of options narrows dramatically and considerably. But if you’re a wine lover, you’re not afraid of the search. In fact, you feed off the high you achieve every time you find a wine that fascinates you.
In the past few months, I’ve had the rare pleasure of discovering some real beauties. I consider these wines I’ve listed below to be some of the best I have had in recent memory. Each one meets and, indeed, exceeds my criteria for a great wine. I stake my palate on these recommendations:
2006 Babcock Winery and Vineyards Chardonnay, “Top Cream”
I tasted this wine as a barrel sample, so it won’t be available for purchase until this fall. It’s the embodiment of what chardonnay should be like when it’s not overly manipulated, too heavily oaked, or, conversely, too acidic. There is a lovely balance in this wine of just the right measure of oak, just the right amount of natural acid, and just the right amount of fruit, minerality, and floral notes. In other words, it’s nearly perfect. A lovely, definitive chardonnay from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County.
2004 Ortman Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard
This wine should not have surprised me as much as it did; it’s made by Matt and Chuck Ortman. Chuck has been making wines on the Central Coast of California for decades and he’s known for being down-to-earth, talented, and discerning. His son, clearly following in his footsteps, is also highly regarded. But, in the past, the Ortman wines had pleased me, but left me unexcited. This offering, however, is absolutely beautiful, seamless, and balanced. If it signals the wines to come from this property, then I’m issuing a caveat-sign up for their mailing list now! These pinots will soon be the ones to watch. The vineyard source, Fiddlestix, is one of the most respected designates in Sta. Rita Hills.
2005 Anthill Farms Winery Pinot Noir, Tina Marie Vineyard
An astoundingly lovely and refined pinot noir from the Green Valley appellation. An abundance of raspberry and blackberry fruit notes lure you in, only to further entrance with green tea, toasted brown rice, and mushroom notes. Simply seductive, balanced, and a pleasure to imbibe. There were only 210 cases of this wine produced so do rush to get a few bottles. I haven’t been able to source them in Santa Barbara, but you can order this wine at anthillfarms.com.
2005 Anthill Farms Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard
Yet another startlingly beautiful pinot from the folks at Anthill Farms. When I first tasted this wine, my immediate thought was Kosta Browne who? This is a cult pinot, if ever there was one, with only 102 cases produced. Rich, dark chocolate notes, balanced by sage, violet, roses, and cherries, round out a breathtaking effort. Again, available online from Anthill Farms, but I haven’t been able to find it locally at any shops or restaurants, and, at such small quantities, one wonders if they’ll ever make it to our neck of the woods.