When it comes to California Pinot Noir, some of the best are coming out of Santa Barbara — a region that should be on your radar every bit as much as the Russian River Valley in Sonoma or the Carneros District of Napa and Sonoma.
Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, especially from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, is California’s answer to the cool-climate, higher-acid style of France’s Burgundy — in other words, somewhat leaner wines that showcase elegance and finesse as much as ripe and concentrated fruit.
A top example is the 2019 “Sta. Rita Hills” Pinot Noir from Sanford Winery, a pioneer of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, which lies in the Santa Ynez Valley northwest of the city of Santa Barbara.
This newly released wine will mellow with some bottle age but is drinking beautifully right now in its youthful exuberance. With its medium body, moderate alcohol (13.5 percent), smooth tannins, and well-integrated oak, the fruit is the star here.
Notes of red and black cherry, raspberry, and touches of cinnamon and orange rind combine in a delicious, refreshing Pinot Noir that shows depth and balance. It’s made for grilled or roasted duck, white meats, and salmon. The grapes are from the winery’s Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada vineyards. The wine is priced well at about $40, and about 7,400 cases were produced, so it should be widely available.
Sanford traces its roots to 1971, when Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict planted their first Pinot Noir vines. In 2005, the Terlato family, an owner and marketer of luxury wine brands, became the majority owner of the winery. No doubt, Sanford is a jewel in its crown.