In the final movement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the “Danse sacrale (L’Elue),” a young dancer is chosen to dancer herself to death in the ultimate sacrifice to the god of spring. It is in this same spirit that, when the trees begin to bloom, wine critics and aficionados begin to aim their corkscrews at younger, refreshing whites, rosés, and lighter-style higher-acid red wines to toast the season. Temperatures begin their ascent, inspiring a cellaring of those wintery reds that are dense, high in alcohol, and teeming with tannins.
This season, I’ve set my sights on the Central Coast of California and homed in, specifically, on Santa Barbara, though the Central Coast is known for producing an immense amount of bulk wine, the region extending from Paso Robles down through the Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Rita Hills is turning out world-class wines that need to be celebrated. Consumers know Paso, but points south seem to confuse.
Perhaps one of the biggest proponents of the region is L.A.-based Ian Blackburn (LearnAboutWine.com), who in January hosted an event at the Peninsula Hotel dubbed, “Stars of Santa Barbara,” showcasing dozens of producers who as he put it, work on a “‘rising tied raises all boats’ mentality.” He adds, “A once youthful set of wine-making pioneers, has now emerged as very wise and experienced council. Winemaking talent like Matt Dees (Jonata), Sasha Verhage (Eno Wines), Steve Clifton, and Greg Brewer have united with passionate grape growers to show true artistry.”
In the case of Santa Barbara wine country, the concept of the winemaker-as-artist isn’t to be scoffed at. Moreover, since they don’t have hype or legacy to trade on, the limited-production wines coming out of its vineyards tend to cost far less than their northern California counterparts.
The first four wines on this list won’t break the bank, and the second two, though $40+, are worth the money and will provide you with a good foundation of Santa Barbara’s glory. The last four are to help you round out your springtime portfolio with a few unique value wines from Sonoma, Oregon, and France, plus an oddity from South Africa that you won’t want to miss.
Here are 10 bottles to snag as the weather heats up.
Written by Jonathan Cristaldi (@NobleRotNYC)