It's been more than 10 years since the film "Sideways" talked up the Santa Barbara wine country and its Pinot Noirs.
That landmark film is still a great publicity tool, and In honor of its 10th anniversary, in October, 2014, the Santa Barbara Vintners distributes a free map that highlights all the "Sideways" sites. You can see it here.
The map was in packets handed out when Morgen McLaughlin (at the top), executive director of the vintners association, came to Los Angeles to bring local wine writers up to date on the region.
2012 Longoria Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard, Sta.Rita Hills
2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido, Santa Maria Valley
2010 LaFond Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone, Sta. Rita Hills
These came from three of Santa Barbara's pioneer winemakers--Richard Longoria, Bruce McGuire of LaFond and Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen (above) who, said McLaughlin, is the "number one ambassador" for Santa Barbara wines.
Once small, neighborly and country-like, the region has grown to more than 200 wineries and five AVAs (approved American Viticultural Areas) with two more in the works, including Los Olivos.
"The diversity of wines is broad," said McLaughlin. It could be broader still if 50 % of the fruit weren't taken out of the county and put into non-Santa Barbara wines.
McLaughlin's red selection did not include Merlot, which got a bad rap in "Sideways." The problem wine today is Syrah. "Everyone loves Syrah," she said. "Winemakers love it." However, she added, "consumers don't seem to buy it."
McLaughlin brought two Syrahs and a Syrah blend, at the left in the photo above. They were:
2012 Brander Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
2012 Demetria Estate Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley
2012 Margerum M5, Santa Barbara County
The Brander wine came from Fred Brander, another of the area's veteran producers. Demetria Estate, which occupies the former Andrew Murray site on Foxen Canyon Road, made only 400 cases of this limited release Syrah.
M5 on the Margerum label (above) stands for Margerum and the five varietals that went into the wine. Grenache leads at 43%, but Syrah is right behind at 41%. The others are Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault.
Even though consumers don't seem to be on to it, Syrah is the third most planted grape in Santa Barbara County. Number one is Chardonnay, followed by Pinot Noir.
McLaughlin brought these Chardonnays:
2013 Foxen Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Block UU, Santa Maria Valley
2013 Melville Chardonnay, Clone 76 – Inox, Sta. Rita Hills
2011 Hilliard Bruce Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills
Foxen is another longtime producer in the region, and this Chardonnay was "gorgeous," my notes say. The Melville wine (above) blossomed in relation to the salmon it accompanied. The Hilliard Bruce was pleasantly fragrant--three very different wines from the same grape.
Fresh and crisp, with rich citrus and guava aromas, this wine came from a warm vintage in the eastern, warmer end of Santa Barbara County, where Bordeaux varietals do well.
It accompanied equally rich lobster truffle mac and cheese, with Boursin cheese and shaved Parmesan (above). This was first up on the wine-tasting lunch menu prepared by West Restaurant at Hotel Angeleno.
Paired with the Chardonnays were seared Scottish salmon, forbidden rice cooked with almond milk, roasted tricolor cauliflower seasoned with cumin and turmeric and, dribbled over the plate, lavender honey glaze (above).
The two Syrahs and red blend got the meatiest dish, seared Australian lamb rack coated with house-made gingersnap crust on a bed of grits blended with lavender goat cheese and topped with rainbow Swiss chard (above).
McLaughlin's intent in choosing the wines paired with the lunch was not to single out the best but to show the wide range that Santa Barbara County can produce. "Our mission is to elevate the visibility of the region," she said.