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California Wine: Pigging Out

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I'm trying not to think about the tender and scrumptious whole roast pig not too far from the undeniably adorable piggie petting zoo, and somehow that's possible as there are so many things from the barrel -- wine, spirits, beer -- to dull my thoughts, plus I'm insatiable when it comes to porky goodness. That's what life is like at Bacon & Barrels, a fundraiser for the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association held at Saarloos & Sons Field in Los Olivos on July 20th. Under the summer sun it's toasty, so one piece of advice might be to hold this shindig next year in the fall, when wine will sound even better than beer, although it's easier to make a bacon-y porter, like Stone did, than a bacon-esque wine no matter the weather. Still, there's plenty of delicious vinous goodness to be had, from favorites I've already blogged about here like Tercero and Press Gang, to others ...

Pretty much the first wine stop once inside the gate was Liquid Farm, and winemaker-owner Nikki Nelson was right there pouring for us. On a hot afternoon nothing beats a rosé, and theirs, a Happy Canyon product that's 95% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache, is lovely, dry, refreshing, with a bracing minerality that makes you want more than a mere sample. Liquid Farm was also pouring two of its Chardonnays -- the 2011 White Hill and 2011 Golden Slope -- and both suggested Chard has gotten an awfully bad rep of late. Or that few can make it this well. Alas, it's not the best varietal with pork -- for whites it's best to go with some Riesling for a sweeter pork dish such as one prepared with apples or fruit. But there's never a reason to turn your snout up at a delicious wine.

Such was the case at Tessa Marie, who is one of the youngest winemakers in the Santa Ynez Valley. Her Blush isn't made from Rhone grapes but Sangiovese -- she's a Cal-Ital gal -- but it, too, was perfectly poised as a summer quaffer, with just enough fruitiness to balance the acidity. Even better she's one of the few Santa Barbara winemakers to make a Vermentino, best known for its expression in Sardinia. It's a white wine that's made for summer days, refreshing with its mix of apple and lime.

As for other barrel products, of course the bourbons, with their gamey-smokiness, were hard to beat (thanks, Ascendant and Cutler's, Santa Barbara's brand new distilleries). But for interesting wine by-products, it was hard to top Re:Find, a Paso Robles distiller making gin and vodka from not grain or potato but wine. They take the saignée, the juice released in the earliest stage of wine-making so as to makes the final wines more vivid, and distill that. Starting with a richer base means a richer final product, and the gin, in particular, is quite like Anchor's Junipero in style. Does it go with pork? Well, it certainly cuts through fat like a saber.

Ultimately, though, it was a bit sad it wasn't a day for drinking some of the best varietals with pork (and god was there yummy pork, especially at the booths for Sides Hardware and Shoes and Ranch and Reata Roadhouse). One really wants Syrah and other Rhones, with their stony depth and smoky overtones, to match with pig, but such wines just aren't as fun when the sun is so hot, and the food so pork-o-licious, that by the end you feel as roseate a bacon rasher yourself. Thank Bacchus for pinks in the meantime.

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