XMAS: Faves for the Family

‘Tis the most wonderful time of the year, but when it comes to pleasing family and friends, ‘tis also the most frazzled time of the year. Here, The Winehound’s Bob Wesley and The Liquor &Wine Grotto’s Brian Brunello make your trip to the bottle shop the easiest task on your to-do list this year.

Grassini Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 ($40): Light and refreshing but far from lacking in flavor, Brunello calls this, “the best Santa Barbara sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted.”

Melville Viognier, 2009 ($24): Winning a 93-point score from the Wine Advocate, Wesley recommends this fuller-bodied white as a “cocktail” wine, considering its “room-filling aromas.”

The Paring “The Hilt” Chardonnay, 2008 ($25): Satisfy Chardonnay-lovers’ lust with this rich and creamy glass of this. Wesley comments on its fantastic use of French oak.

“Undercover” Pinot Noir, 2008 ($25): The Winehound’s first private label wine makes a nice, warm pinot for these chillier times from which raspberries and cherries emerge with baking spices, like allspice and cinnamon.

Brewer-Clifton Mount Carmel Pinot Noir, 2008 ($50): Cultivated on one of the toughest growing sites, Wesley considers this “concentrated” pinot “a great example of how critical it is to have the right site.”

Derby Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 ($17): Wesley values this wine at over $100, thus recommends getting it now. “I’ve got people buying it by the case, which is fairly unusual for a $70 wine,” he says. Have it with meatier fare, like pork chops of prime rib.

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 ($46): For a less costly—yet still worthy—cab, Star Lane offers a great product. “If you want something big to hold up to a massive meal, this Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect,” suggests Brunello.

Hocus Pocus Santa Barbara Syrah, 2008 ($18): Three different vineyard sites around the county—Star Lane, White Hawk, and Presidio—makes this wine well-rounded and complex. “It’s very cold climate, very northern Rhone,” says Wesley. On a side note, there couldn’t be a wintrier label out there.

Dragonette Cellars Santa Ynez Valley Syrah, 2007 ($33): Winemaker Brandon Sparks-Phillis makes “a real powerhouse,” raves Wesley. “It just turns on all the spigots and has loads of black fruits.” Enjoy it with salmon or lamb.

Harrison-Clarke Estate Syrah 2007 ($36): For that deep, dark syrah that arguably put Santa Barbara County on the map, Wesley calls this one complex, flourishing with blueberry and blackberry essences, and “penetratingly” dark and intense. —Chelsey Steinman

NYE: A Spectrum of Sparkle

Santa Barbara County boasts a bubbly in every shade of grape — from crystalline blanc de blancs to pale pink rosés and even garnet-hued sparkling shiraz — for New Year’s Eve or any occasion that commands the dazzle of effervescence.

Nearly 58 million bubbles intermingle with an abundance of flavors inside every bottle of sparkling wine and it is precisely this festive fusion that makes them so delicious. To create the fizz, sparkling wines are fermented twice — once in barrel and again in the bottle. Winemakers add yeast and sugar to a bottle of still wine, which produces tiny carbon dioxide bubbles. When the second fermentation is complete, the nose of each bottle is frozen and uncapped so that the remaining sediment can be removed. Then, one by one, the bottles are topped with sweetened wine and carefully re-corked. This elaborate process, called the méthode champenoise, produces sparkling wines with ethereal bubbles and intricate flavors.

Santa Barbara sparklers in particular reflect the vibrant hues and diverse terrain of our local landscape — something we’re happy to celebrate with each sip. Toast 2011 with one these bubbles:

Riverbench Cork Jumper Blanc de Blancs 2008: A lithe sparkling wine made from 100% estate-grown chardonnay with green apple, bright lime, and tropical nuances, balanced by a fine mousse and a toasty, yeasty finish. riverbench.com

Goat Bubbles Blanc de Blancs Sierra Madre Vineyard 2008: Meyer lemon flavors, Asian pear, hints of pineapple and macadamia nuttiness, framed by stony minerality, zesty acidity, and creamy texture. A refreshingly complex sparkler. East Beach Wine Co., flyinggoatcellars.com

Lucas & Lewellen Brut 2006: A combination of chardonnay and pinot noir fruit produce an elegant mélange of flavors—crisp apple, peach and pineapple—and flowers on the palate. Llwine.com

Goat Bubbles, Rosé Sparkling Wine, Santa Maria Valley 2009: Whole clusters of pinot noir from the Solomon Hills Vineyard produce layers of black cherry, pomegranate, and strawberry fruit flavors that intermingle with citrus zest and creamy textures. The Winehound, Vino Divino, flyinggoatcellars.com

Oreana Blanc de Noirs (California, NV): 100 percent pinot noir fruit lends this sparkler a rosy-copper color and an elegant earthiness. Aromas of berries and dried orange peel lead. Cherry, wild berry, and dried currant flavors are accented by savory herbs. Vino Divino, oreanawinery.com

Municipal Winemakers FIZZ Sparkling Shiraz: Its deep purple color, violet-pink mousse, and unexpected effervescence make this a unique SB sparkler. Vibrant blackberry and strawberry flavors mingle mid-palate with cocoa and ripe cherry essences. municipalwinemakers.com —Laura Sanchez


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