The wine term balance comes to mind when you are considering the sunny, dry coastal region of Santa Barbara, so effortlessly cooled by the Pacific-winds-turned-rolling-fog that blanket the area. Santa Barbara is an ideal home for Pinot Noir, a grape considered to best express the terroir – or combination of soil, topography and climate – in which it is grown. Some of the finest examples of this medium-bodied, thin-skinned, fickle grape hail from such subregions as Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria and, interestingly, these wines have recently squelched the opinion that fine Pinot Noir must be light-bodied and low-alcohol. Indeed, Santa Barbara Pinots are imbued with balance, and the compelling higher- and lower-alcohol versions continue to capture the world’s attention.
Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2009
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Great acidity, lower tannins and a cherry-strawberry-cola profile define this easily quaffable and easy-on-the-wallet Pinot from legendary Santa Barbara Pinot Noir winemaker Jim Clendenen. He offers numerous single-vineyard Pinots within his portfolio as well. The extended finish and light peppery notes make this wine an excellent pair with pancetta, wild-mushroom-stuffed veal or pear-and-goat-cheese tartlets.
$24; Robust, 227 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, robustwinebar.com
Siduri Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2010
Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Another rock star Santa Barbara Pinot producer is Siduri’s Adam Lee. His emphasis on vineyard site expression is reflected in this value-driven wine and in his lengthy single-vineyard portfolio. Hints of barnyard and earth are intentional reminders of the Old World and are balanced by medium tannins and a sunny raspberry-strawberry-cherry fruit profile. Pair with étouffée, copa Romano or tuna empanadas.
$25.99; The Wine Merchant, 20 S. Hanley Road, Clayton, winemerchantltd.com
A St. Louis-based wine and food enthusiast, Jennifer Johnson is a sommelier, wine educator, journalist, and hospitality and marketing consultant who loves to celebrate life, family, food and wine.