Saturday, July 12, was a perfect summer afternoon for Elements Restaurant’s 3rd Annual Old Spanish Days Wine Tasting. The Sunken Gardens of the Courthouse made for a lovely venue: tents provided plenty of shade, live music added to the festive ambiance, and the hors d’oeuvres were lavish. All served as a pleasant backdrop for the stars of the show, the more than 100 wines being poured by 34 different producers.

I arrived as the event was in full swing and got right to tasting. The overall quality of the lineup was quite strong. There were, as always, some standouts and a couple of nice surprises.

Of the trends that I noticed, none makes my palate happier than the style pendulum swinging away from super heavy, oak-laden chardonnay toward more sleekly crafted, vibrantly structured expressions of the grape. These leaner chards are far more refreshing to drink and allow the truly lovely flavors of the grape to really shine. Tasty examples of this lively style included the 2006 Foxen Chardonnay Bien Nacido Block UU, 2006 Lafond Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills, 2006 Vino V Chardonnay Solomon Hills, and 2007 Foley Chardonnay “Steel” Rancho Santa Rosa.

Other standout whites included the 2006 Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon with its crisp minerality; the 2006 Brander Sauvignon Blanc “Au Naturel”, a California classic; and 2006 Palmina Arneis Honea, a regional take on a delightful Italian grape full of fragrant peach and apple flavors. And then there was the Demetria 2005 Cuvee Papou, a blend of viognier and roussanne. Viognier is an opulently perfumed grape with low acidity; roussanne has more verve, but also tends to be somewhat aromatically subdued. I’ve tasted many wines based on either one as well as blends of these grapes, and too many fall short by coming across as either cloying and heavy or insipid and characterless. Not the case with the Papou, which offers impressive depth of flavor as well as elegant structure.

Of course, there were plenty of delicious pinots and syrahs on hand, but the best surprises came from other red varietals. The 2006 Carr Grenache Paredon Vineyard really caught my attention. I’d never heard of the vineyard that, according to Ryan Carr, sits at 1,200 feet just above Carpinteria. The climate is quite cool, but the vineyard takes advantage of sunlight reflecting off the ocean to create a micro-climate suitable for grapes. This grenache is medium-bodied and laden with juicy red berry fruit spiked with white pepper spice.

Steve and Crystal Clifton of Palmina specialize in Italian varietals. Their wines are typically very well made with notable reference to their old-world counterparts. The 2006 Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara County is lush and friendly and abounds with dark plummy fruit while the 2005 Sangiovese Undici offers vibrant red-berry fruit underscored by a subtle streak of mouthwatering acidity.

Bordeaux varietals, especially cabernet sauvignon-based wines, are gaining ground among Santa Barbara County producers. While there were several solid entries from Napa Valley, the 2004 Foxen Range 30 West, a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot, and 20 percent cabernet franc clearly demonstrates our Bordeaux potential. In the realm of non-traditional blends, the 2006 Domaine Alfred “Da Red” is a no-brainer. Vintage after vintage, this blend of pinot and syrah is slurpably good, yet easy on the pocketbook.

There are more wines to write about than space available! This, in itself, is testimony to the quality of wines present. Sign up early for next year.


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