The lunch--salad with nut-crusted goat cheese, beef tenderloin or chicken and a cheese and cracker plate--was paired with four whites and four reds brought by four Santa Barbara County winery figures, who then talked about their products and industry trends.
It was a prelude to LearnAboutWine's 10th annual STARS of Santa Barbara tasting at The Peninsula Beverly Hills.
The first of the whites was Buttonwood Farm Winery's Zingy, a Sauvignon Blanc brought by winemaker Karen Steinwachs. Designed to be highly aromatic, it's "not everyone's Sauvignon Blanc," she says. And Buttonwood makes two more for other tastes.
The 2012 Zingy was bottled just two days before the lunch. It's $20, and only 246 cases were made. So if you want something fresh, light and affordable, grab Zingy while it's still around.
Buttonwood was the 17th winery to start up in Santa Barbara County. The 40 wineries that took part in the tasting are only part of what is there now. The area is vying to be "the very best wine region in the New World," says LearnAboutWine founder Ian Blackburn.
Winemaking styles there are changing. Tim Snider, president of Fess Parker Winery, says Parker wines used to be bigger, bolder and heavier. Now, like other Santa Barbara wines, they're lightening up and relying less on oak.
He brought Epiphany's 2011 Grenache Blanc, a bright, brisk wine, most of which spent time in stainless steel. Only 20% was placed in older French oak barrels. It's $25.
Kenneth Volk, owner of Kenneth Volk Vineyards, is espcially interested in Iberian grapes, and his 2011 Albariño was the first produced in the Santa Maria Valley. Volk can't figure why there haven't been more plantings in the area, because the colder climate is congenial to the grape.
This first bottling came from 2 1/2 tons of grapes. Heavy rains before harvest resulted in "rockin' acidity," he says. The Albariño is $24 at the winery.
Riverbench is known for its Chardonnays, and this one was barrel-fermented and aged in oak for 11 months, making it more oaky than the other whites at the lunch. It's $26, a bargain if you like well made, oak-accented Chardonnays.
The vines at Riverbench were planted in 1973. Nagy is new. She joined the winery a year ago.
Riverbench focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Moving into the reds, Nagy offered the 2010 Pinot Noir. Fermented with native yeast, it's a luscious wine compared to other, leaner Pinot Noirs and well worth the $48 price tag. (All of the reds poured at the lunch are in the photo above.)
Volk brought his 2009 Santa Maria Pinot Noir, based on grapes from three vineyards. There are less than 3,000 cases, and the wine sells for $30. At the tasting later, Volk poured three Pinot Noirs and brought out a Mourvedre that wasn't on the list. It's one of his Iberian varietals--the grape started out in Spain and then went to France, he explains.
Buttonwood contributed the 2009 Santa Ynez Cabernet Franc. "It's the fussiest, most finicky thing to grow," Steinwachs says of the grape. "It's the Pinot Noir of the Bordeaux family." She babied the wine along, putting 20 % of it into new French oak.
Steinwachs admits that it's not for everyone. "You either like it or you don't," she says. If you want to find out, the wine is $26.
Snider (above) ended up with the 2009 red Rhone blend Revelation from Epiphany. "It's the most popular wine we have," he says. "It's a showy wine, a big wine." This striking, fruity red is composed of two grapes that were at their best in 2009--Grenache, which is the lead grape at 51%, and Syrah. They spent 22 months in French oak before blending. The price is $40.
Revelation's companion at the tasting was the 2009 Gypsy, composed of Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault. It's an everyday wine, lively as a gypsy and good with spicy foods, Snider says. It's $25.