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Proof That Santa Barbara Pinot Has Arrived—And Is Affordable

By Stephen Eliot

Most observers of fine California wine will agree that no variety has seen as much improvement in the last decade or two as Pinot Noir, and its quality curve is still on the rise. Once something of an ugly duckling, Pinot has grown into unquestioned beauty and found extraordinary success in cool, coastal venues up and down the state. As is has done so, its prices have accordingly climbed, and, if perhaps not as expensive as the best Cabernet Sauvignons, good Pinot Noir is, for most, a bit too dear for more than occasional drinking.

That, nonetheless, does not mean that important bottlings cannot be found at affordable prices, and we were especially impressed during our recent tastings at the number of reasonably priced Pinots emanating from Santa Barbara County. The Sta. Rita Hills, in particular, is getting a fair share of attention these days, but the region in large has been making Pinots of note for a good many years.

Listed below are five standout performers that rank high on our list of overachievers, and they not only demonstrate the beauty to be had in Santa Barbara offerings, they are wines whose incomparable value earns them high recommendation. They will surprise Pinot lovers who believe that outstanding examples are only for those with unlimited budgets.

FIRESTONE Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012 $25.00
There is no shortage of fine Pinot Noirs to be found in 2012 but few offer quite the value that this very well-made version does, and, from its complex aromas of ripe cherries, hardwoods and toast to its lengthy, well-extracted flavors, it manages to be rich, keenly focused and wonderfully vital all at once. It may not be expensive, but it shows a serious and age-worthy aspect that is all too uncommon for wines of its accessible price.

LAFOND SRH Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012 $28.00
Fairly lively and pert as Pinots from its provenance are wont to be, Lafond's latest SRH bottling is a vigorous, somewhat compact version whose ample young fruit is presently bound by evident acidity. That said, the wine shows a good sense of depth and is certain to unfold with additional time on cork, and, while we would lobby for at least two or three years of age, it could grow for a half-decade or more.

RIVERBENCH Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2012 $28.00
Creamy oak and well-stated, ripe-cherry fruit merge in the nicely focused, moderately deep aromas of this immediately inviting young Pinot, and the wine fully follows up on its early promise with precise, youthfully juicy flavors that never let up. There is just enough fine-grained, last-minute tannin to ensure several years of positive growth, yet it will be made moot in the short term by the tempering effects of food, and the wine gets very high marks for value whether enjoyed now or later.

RUSACK Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2012 $30.00
Convincing and very consistent in well-defined Pinot fruit with neatly placed oak bringing a nice spot of mildly root-beer-like sweetness first in the nose and then again in its lively, moderately deep flavors, this pertly balanced middleweight does a very nice job at being firm and slightly fleshy at once with integral acidity apparent throughout. It is not so tight that it cannot be enjoyed now, but it is an ageworthy wine whose best still lies ahead, and a few years of patience are clearly in order.

SANTA BARBARA WINERY Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012 $25.00
Bright and buoyant right from the start, yet a wine that exhibits a good bit of fruity concentration and depth, this well-defined youngster is rife with ripe cherries, and, if it stiffens up just a bit in the latter going, it exhibits very good finishing length. It is sure to improve over the next couple of years, but it can be enjoyed now as a lively foil to lighter pork entrees, and it earns special mention for its noteworthy value.

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SB winery and Lafond Winery
by Michelle Lafond
Posted on:6/27/2014 5:03:47 PM

Thank you Stephen for the wonderful review! Michelle Lafond

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