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Santa Barbara Sneak Preview

20 red wines worth buying in advance

James Laube
Posted: March 22, 2004

  Barrel sample tasting notes  
  Previous Santa Barbara barrel tastings:  
  Pinots and Syrahs Shine in Santa Barbara Futures Tasting
New wineries are among the names to look for this year
  A Preview of Santa Barbara's Best
Futures sale offers chance to buy 2000 and 2001 vintages at discounted prices, but there are few great deals

Wine futures from Santa Barbara County are now on sale, and fans of this region have plenty to be excited about.

This week, I blind-tasted 45 barrel samples from the 2002 and 2003 vintages at my office in Napa. I focused primarily on reds, with Pinot Noir and Syrah the two main targets. Most of the wines were worthy of recommendation, but I have come up with a short list of 20 wines that merit special consideration.

Five wineries -- Babcock, Beckman, Jaffurs, Margerum and Sea Smoke -- stood out from the pack, offering the most exciting wines. And three sites in particular -- the 135-acre Purisima Mountain Vineyard, which is devoted mostly to Rhône Valley varieties; the 16-acre Cargasacchi Vineyard, at the westernmost outskirts of Santa Rita Hills; and Sea Smoke Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills, a Pinot Noir specialist -- showed how vineyards are driving quality upward.

Every spring, Wine Cask, a Santa Barbara retailer, puts more than 100 of the region's wines on sale as futures. There are two good reasons to consider paying for wines before they have been bottled. One is to secure small-production wines that may be hard to get on release. The second is to buy at a discounted rate -- for the Santa Barbara wines, typically $5 to $7 less per bottle than the retail price.

Wine Cask also holds a barrel-sample tasting for the public; this year it is scheduled for April 24. (For a complete list of wines and prices, and to obtain tickets to the tasting, visit www.winecask.com.) This is an excellent event because it offers a sneak preview of some of the new wines, which have been screened by the Wine Cask staff. They sample hundreds of wines out of barrel from the region's top producers and select their favorites. (A few wineries that are selling futures declined to show their wines -- some because the wines had just been bottled -- and I chose not to review a few wines because the barrel samples weren't showing well.)

The biggest and most pleasant surprise came from Beckmen, with its delicious Purisima Mountain Grenache 2003 ($24 as futures). This is a fantastic wine from Beckmen's hillside vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, gushing with ripe, opulent wild berry and boysenberry flavors. At a terrific price, this wine earns a run-don't-walk recommendation.

Purisima Mountain was also the grape source for another excellent Beckman wine, the Syrah Clone 1 2003 ($28). This is an immense wine, deep and concentrated, with a wealth of flavor and wonderful finesse. The vineyard also supplied the grapes for the Syrah 2002 ($23) from Ethan, a new label from Ethan Lindquist, son of Qupé owner Bob Lindquist. Also of note was the Hitching Post Syrah Purisima Mountain 2002 ($24), another dark, intense, effusively fruity wine delivering a wealth of flavors.

Next in line was Babcock's Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 ($33). Peter Cargasacchi's vineyard is establishing a well-deserved reputation for stellar wines. Already this year I've reviewed brilliant 2002 Pinots from this vineyard, including wines made by Babcock, Hitching Post and Siduri.

Another winery that keeps excelling is Craig Jaffurs' small Santa Barbara-based operation, which buys all of its grapes. Both the Jaffurs Syrah Larner Vineyard 2003 ($28) and the Petite Sirah Thompson Vineyard 2003 ($22) were rich, vibrant, stirring wines.

Margerum is the label of Wine Cask owner Doug Margerum, and he is proving he has a deft touch as a winemaker. His M5 2003 ($20), a blend of five red Rhône varieties, exhibited layers of rich, chocolate-covered cherry flavors. I liked it better than his Syrah Santa Ynez Valley 2003 ($32), which is a formidable wine nonetheless, impressive for its richness and depth of flavors.

Sea Smoke Cellars was one of last year's big discoveries at the Wine Cask tasting, and its 2002s are a step up from the excellent 2001 vintage. The winery, which has nearly 100 acres of Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills area, produced three brilliant Pinots in 2002. 'Ten' ($52) takes its name from the 10 different clones used in the vineyard, and it's a superrich and polished youngster. But I also liked the less expensive Botella ($21), which has a delicious core of ripe, fleshy fruit flavors, and the Southing ($37), which is similar to the Botella in style, though at this stage perhaps a shade more delicate.

My tasting notes follow, listed alphabetically by winery. As the wines are barrel samples, the scores are given in a point range that indicates how I think the wines might rate upon release. Two prices are given: the futures price and the anticipated release price.

Wine Score Futures Price Release Price
BABCOCK Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Cargasacchi Vineyard 2003 92-94 $33 $40
Deeply concentrated, with gorgeous fruit complexity, this is a rich, plush, remarkably flavorful and focused youngster that gushes with fresh fruit flavors. Impeccable balance and smooth, elegant tannins make this a most inspiring barrel sample. 200 cases made. -- J.L.
BECKMEN Grenache Santa Ynez Valley Purisima Mountain Vineyard 2003 95-100 $24 $40
A gorgeous Grenache, ripe, smooth, rich and plush, with tiers of ripe blackberry, wild berry, plum and boysenberry. A delicious mouthful of wine with a fantastic aftertaste. 250 cases made. -- J.L.
BECKMEN Syrah Santa Rita Hills Purisima Mountain Vineyard Clone #1 2003 92-94 $28 $35
Beautifully crafted, rich and complex, with a brilliant beam of ripe raspberry, blackberry, cedar, nutmeg and hazelnut. Tightly wound yet supple and polished, this is a seductive barrel sample. 500 cases made. -- J.L.
CURTIS Grenache Santa Barbara County The Crossroad 2002 89-91 $13 $16
Bright, vivid, crushed berry fruitiness with hints of wild berry and nutmeg and firm tannins. Finishes with a touch of strawberry and floral notes. An exceptional value. 500 cases made. -- J.L.
DREW FAMILY Syrah Santa Barbara County Rodney's & Larner Vineyards 2003 89-91 $26 $32
An impressive barrel sample, serving up ripe, juicy, blackberry, wild berry and boysenberry flavors that are intense and focused. Finishes with a pretty burst of fruit. 150 cases made. -- J.L.
DUENDE Syrah Santa Maria Valley Longshot Bien Nacido Hillside Block ZB 2002 89-91 $26 $32
Beefy, spicy pepper aromas are delightful, commingling with pretty floral and wild berry flavors that give the wine a highly distinctive character. Worth watching. 70 cases made. -- J.L.
ETHAN Syrah Santa Ynez Valley Purisima Mountain Vineyard 2002 89-91 $23 $28
This wine exhibits a solid core of ripe, rich, crushed raspberry and blackberry fruit. Sharply focused, complex and concentrated, it finishes with a pretty touch of oak. From Ethan Lindquist, son of Qupé owner Bob Lindquist. 100 cases made. -- J.L.
HITCHING POST Syrah Santa Ynez Valley Purisima Mountain 2002 89-91 $24 $30
A ripe, effusively fruity Syrah, with layers of blackberry, wild berry and boysenberry flavors that unfold gracefully, picking up a touch of wild flower and finishing with firm tannins and a nice, fresh earth taste. 250 cases made. -- J.L.
HITCHING POST Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Cargasacchi 2002 89-91 $32 $40
Impressive for its purity of flavor and vibrant blackberry, fresh earth and floral scents, this wine wins points for its delicacy and finesse, finishing with a smooth, fleshy aftertaste. Best from 2005 through 2010. 100 cases made. -- J.L.
JAFFURS Syrah Santa Barbara County Larner Vineyard 2003 92-94 $28 $34
Beautifully crafted, with deft balance and a wealth of ripe, supple, concentrated flavors built around a core of vibrant blackberry, wild berry, anise, nutmeg and floral scents. Long, focused finish. 100 cases made -- J.L.
JAFFURS Petite Sirah Santa Barbara County Thompson Vineyard 2003 92-94 $22 $28
A brilliant Petite, dark, ripe, rich and concentrated, with layers of dense berry complexity and a sharp focus, giving the wine a long, persistent aftertaste. 75 cases made. -- J.L.
MARGERUM M5 Santa Ynez Valley 2003 92-94 $20 $25
Dark, rich and complex, with a tasty chocolate-covered cherry flavor, lots of blackberry and wild berry fruit that's ripe and focused, and a long, persistent aftertaste that echoes wild berry and boysenberry fruit. 550 cases made. -- J.L.
MARGERUM Syrah Santa Ynez Valley Alondra de los Prados Vineyard 2003 92-94 $32 $40
This is a delicious young Syrah, ripe, smooth and deeply concentrated, with layers of blackberry, wild berry, plum and boysenberry. Full-bodied and deftly balanced; the flavors are focused and persistent on the long, integrated finish. 100 cases made. -- J.L.
RUSACK Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Reserve 2002 89-91 $26 $32
Pronounced smoky, toasty oak aromas precede a dense, rich, concentrated Pinot with lively blackberry, boysenberry and wild berry flavors, finishing with a wild edge to the fresh earth and mineral nuances. Firmly tannic. Drink now through 2009. 250 cases made. -- J.L.
SANFORD Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills La Rinconada Vineyard 2002 92-94 $26 $32
Dark-hued, superrich and concentrated, with a delicious and distinctive array of flesh blackberry, plum and raspberry flavors. Full-bodied, deftly balanced, with a long, focused finish that shows a flash of toasty oak. Best from 2005 through 2012. 1,300 cases made. -- J.L.
SEA SMOKE Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Ten 2002 92-94 $52 $65
Beautifully crafted, generous with ripe, rich, fleshy blackberry and black cherry fruit that is complex and concentrated, finishing with a long, persistent aftertaste of boysenberry and huckleberry, and firm, ripe tannins. Best from 2005 through 2012. 500 cases made. -- J.L.
SEA SMOKE Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Botella 2002 92-94 $21 $25
Gobs of ripe, rich, opulent Pinot flavors that veer into blackberry, plum and boysenberry flavors that are plush and concentrated. Full-bodied, it offers a rich, persistent finish and has terrific balance. 1,200 cases made. -- J.L.
SEA SMOKE Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Southing 2002 92-94 $37 $45
Delicate and fleshy, with a delicious core of ripe, juicy blackberry and black cherry fruit. Fine balance and depth of flavor, with light oak and a dash of mineral on the finish. Best from 2005 through 2012. 1,000 cases made. -- J.L.
STOLPMAN Angeli Santa Ynez Valley 2003 92-94 $36 $45
Dark and saturated in color, with a dense, complex core of floral-scented blackberry and wild berry fruit that's tightly wound and sharply focused, finishing long. 300 cases made. -- J.L.
TAZ Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Fiddlestix Vineyard Block 1 Clone 667 2003 89-91 $40 $50
Effusively fruity, with intense, spice, wild berry and blackberry flavors that are complex and concentrated. Flexes its tannic strength on the finish, ending with a touch of stemminess. 125 cases made. -- J.L.

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