This didn't take any expertise, because there were just three dishes to match, all pastas, and a huge choice of wines only a step or two from my table.
At the top you can see what I was eating--truffle macaroni and cheese, spinach and mushroom ravioli in pesto sauce and orecchiette pasta with oven-dried tomatoes, asparagus and fontina cream sauce. These were bland enough not to interfere with any of the wines.
1. Brave & Maiden's 2011 Union, a blend of 49% Syrah, 35% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc from the Santa Ynez Valley and the winery's first vintage. "Wonderful," my notes say, but I was more intrigued by the label, which represents a waterfall in the area, the site of a legend about indigenous star-crossed lovers (above).
2. Cebada Pinot Nor, Santa Ynez Valley 2012. Even closer to my table was Cebada estate grown wines, all made by owner Sandra Newman (above), who also grows blueberries, mulberries and other fruits, even tea plants, on property in North Santa Barbara County. You can buy her jams, syrups and fresh berries in season at the Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and other farmers markets in the Los Angeles area.
Notice the small blue bottle at the left. It's Cebada's Blueberry Dessert Wine, fortified with aged brandy. I ended my meal with this. It's subtly flavored with blueberries and not too sweet.
3. Larner Vineyard & Winery Elemental, Santa Ynez Valley 2010. Next to the Cebada table, I found this beautiful, inky dark purple wine from Larner. Soft, so easy to drink, even relaxing, it's a blend of 57% Grenache, 33% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre.
4. Kaena Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley 2012. I had been eyeing this unusual wine label and went to Kaena's table to find out what it was. It's a Syrah leaf reworked into a pattern from a Hawaiian quilt.
The guy in the Hawaiian shirt is Kaena winemaker Mikael Sigouin, who is part Hawaiian and raised in the islands. Winemaker for Beckman Vineyards for seven years, he left in 2014 to go on his own. He's known for his Grenache, which I found light and pleasant--you could enjoy it even in hot tropical weather in the islands.
5. Demetria Estate Cuvee Papou, Santa Ynez Valley 2013. If you're organized, you start a tasting with white wines, then move on to the reds. But it never works that way for me. I found this one after deciding I ought to investigate the whites. It's a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc and Viognier, more appropriate with light pastas than a gutsy red.
6. Kenneth Volk Vineyards Albariño, River Bench Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley 2013. And then I found this white wine, with light acids that went really well with the ravioli.
7. Kitá Wines Grenache, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley 2011. And then back to the reds for this fruity, light and lovely Grenache. Interestingly, this winery is owned and operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. The word kitá is Chumash for "our valley oak."
By chance, a genuine sommelier, Danny Bendett of The Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills, joined me at my table. Reds with good acid, tannins and structure balance with charred, grilled meats, he said. He thought a Viognier or a buttery, oaky Chardonnay would pair wll with the Peninsula's ravioli with pesto (above).
It was he who sent me to Kitá and also to Jaffurs Wine Cellars, which had a wonderful, jammy Syrah, Santa Barbara County 2012. "Wow" on my notes says it all.
Of course my tasting didn't stop with this group. I went on to try a few more. Standouts included: Foxen Canyon's Chenin Blanc, Ernest Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley 2013--you don't often run into this varietal; Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills 2012, and Tantara Winery's Pinot Noir, Lindsay's Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills 2012, a real knockout of a wine.
Stolpman Vineyards Estate Grown Rose, Ballard Canyon 2014, was so pale you could hardly see any color. It's perfect for summer. The wine that I saved for last was Shai Cellars Adome, Santa Ynez Valley 2009, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet. Adome is Hebrew for red and Shai means gift. Although the names are Hebrew, the wines are not kosher. The winemaker and proprietor is Shawn Shai Halahmy, who was born in Israel.
This was the 12th annual Stars of Santa Barbara tasting, organized by LearnAboutWine. Forty-two wineries took part, which means there were way more than 100 wines on display. In a couple of hours, I managed to sample only about 10 per cent of what was there. It was tough to leave those other bottles behind.