New reviews of reds from California’s Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley and beyond


Kim Marcus
Posted: August 28, 2017

Tasting Highlights’ wine reviews are fresh out of the tasting room, offering a sneak-peek of our editors’ most recent scores and notes to members.

California’s Santa Barbara County is experiencing a surge in quality Pinot Noir as winemakers hone their skills in the region’s varied terrain. Santa Barbara is one of California’s most distinctive winegrowing regions due to its unique topography. Coastal summertime fogs flood into interior districts, funneled by the east-west coastal ranges, which provide the cooler conditions in which Pinot Noir thrives.

The Sta. Rita Hills is the closest AVA to the coast and thus one of the coolest districts. It offers a wealth of flavorful Pinot Noirs, notable for their delicacy, structure and acidity. Leading the way in today’s selection is Ken Brown, who made wine for two decades at Byron and launched his own label in 2003. Jim Clendenen is another Santa Barbara stalwart, both at Au Bon Climat and Clendenen Family, which specializes in small-lot artisanal bottlings.

The Santa Maria Valley lies in northern Santa Barbara, and one of its most famous vineyards is Bien Nacido. The Sanctuary bottling was made by the late Dennis Martin and is one of the best recent releases from this vineyard. This group of Pinot Noirs is a testament to the increasing diversity of this variety in the Golden State, with Santa Barbara leading the way.

Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2015 Score: 89
Well-framed, with concentrated dark cherry, currant and kirschlike flavors that are supported by zesty acidity and crisp tannins. The minerally finish has hints of pepper. Drink now through 2021. 4,000 cases made.—K.M.


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