Today and tomorrow, a delegation of Santa Barbara County wines arrives at Wine Spectator’s Napa office for what has become an annual event.
I will be doing a blind tasting of some of the wines being sold as futures through Wine Cask, a Santa Barbara retailer. Each year, Wine Cask owner Doug Margerum and his staff taste hundreds of infant wines from barrel from their region. From that mass, they choose what they consider the best.
A portion of those selected wines are then sold as wine futures, which is where you pay a discounted price today for wines that will be released in the near future. You can read the offerings at www.winecask.com and also buy tickets to a walk-around tasting at the store on two dates—March 10 and April 28.
I’ve been reviewing some of the futures wines for the past few years, and this year I will taste around 70. It’s a fun way to get an early hand on the soon-to-be released wines, and for consumers, it’s an opportunity to secure special wines that might be harder, and a little more expensive, to get later on. The futures prices are about $5 less than retail.
I focus primarily on red wines. The majority are Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, with a few Grenaches, Rhone blends and the like included. Lately I haven’t reviewed the whites, many of which are still in barrel, because I think it’s wiser, both for me and you, to evaluate those wines after they've been bottled. Whites change faster than reds at this stage of development, and I don't think you should be in a hurry to buy Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs—unless you have a specific producer you buy every year. In that case, it makes sense.
I also like to taste the wines blind at my office. Logistically it’s easier to group the wines by type, input the pertinent data (special vineyard, futures cost, release price, case production, etc.) in my office than on the road.
In the past, I’ve been impressed by Margerum’s choice of wines (and the catalog descriptions of the wines makes for some slick sales pitches) and how well Santa Barbara vintners are able to assemble barrel samples that have been, more or less, true to what ends up in bottle.
That’s not always easy. If a winery has a dozen barrels and has to blend those barrels to create a single bottle sample, that takes skill. It would be easy (and I know it’s been tried) to submit a supersample. But I’ve found the samples are indicative of what lies ahead, and soon I’ll have a handle on what the next crop of Santa Barbara wines tastes like.