Better to drink than pack, 54/60: Santa Barbara
I’m not counting, but I’ve likely drunk more Pinot Noir than any other grape in the last eight weeks
Okay, I counted, and with Pinot being a major sparkling grape, the leading wine to enjoy with food, and part of an often-subscribed legend of wine that starts and ends in Burgundy, it’s not a surprise that I’m drinking so much Pinot Noir.
Why not another one? Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Santa Barbara 2012 was a sample provided to me by Rézin, who distributes it to SAQ in Québec. In Ontario, you can only get Au Bon Climat’s Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc cuvée. I’m sure that’s good but… pity.
When you open it, you immediately know it’s good stuff, but then a lot of New World Pinot can convince with its thrust. This has thrust, but at the same time seems like it holds back. It’s holding back on sweetness, on oakiness, and the deployment of the cookie-cutter model that so many Pinot Noirs, including over-$40 Burgundy Pinots. So, it’s holding back and yet offering so much.
Holding back does not directly translate to a wine’s mystique (though this has that too); holding back often indicates the talents of wise winemaker who makes wine using equal parts vision and knowledge of vintage.
To be brief, this is a Pinot that sets itself apart from the pack. It does a good job conveying that. But in the first sips, while I was deciding what to have for dinner, it was still opening up a bit. I was munching on white cheddar popcorn, a great match as it turns out. An intensely zesty vodka sauce with packed tuna loaded with capers would work, I thought. I prepared the meal, started packing (not wine, but other things — there are other things than wine, even for a mover like me) and then forgot about it. The food was made, but it just went into the fridge.
The next day, I didn’t want the leftovers, even though the meal I was making now was not inspired by the ABC Pinot I was about to drink, and the meal prepared in the fridge was. But taking another sip, I saw that the wine was developing, bursting with energy, and pumping with confidence. Why not throw whatever food at it and see what happens?
Like the Collio white last week that is a seamless match for nearly anything, this cuvée is simply perfect for food. It is not only versatile in a dining context, food also allows it to cool its thrust and open up. Opening up to reveal a core of cinnamon and milk chocolate, creamy and rich, while all other signs point in the other direction — explosive and high-pitched acids. I feel like this is the key dynamic that gives this wine mystique. It fires off in one direction quite obviously but reveals profundity where it’s not necessarily expected.
And while I’ve recently been in awe of natural wines for how they leave other wines wanting, this makes Le Coste seem on shaky ground. Nothing against Le Coste — such a great, amazing wine — but what Jim Clendenen does with his Pinot Noir is incredibly purposeful, and even as iconoclastic as the current natural wine scene’s great talents. Which is to say, not at all, unless your wine belief system is metered by the biggest wine always selling the most.
Purposeful, and a huge bargain. It’s an under-$20 wine domestically.
13.5% alc/vol, $31.25 (unlike most other wines I write about, I paid nothing and was given this bottle as a sample).