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Wine Keeps On Sipping into the Futures

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Wine events don't often come with 57-page spiral bound programs, but perhaps more should. Or that would be the easy assumption after sampling at the 2014 Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting this past weekend at Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant. This was the second year the instant hot spot in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone has hosted futures and they've quickly made it their own, especially when one of the stars of the tasting is a wine they helped create with Justin Willet: the Vallin 2013 Rosé (a 100% Syrah grape expression, beautiful pink going to gold with a lilting flavor to match).

But that's already getting ahead of myself, diving into the wines without considering the vinous forest first. A futures tasting is an opportunity to get a lay of the land, and of a vintage, to begin to understand where a wine growing region might be headed and how it hopes to connect (or break a connection) with its past. The opening pages of that program was a vintage report from Les Marchands co-owner Brian McClintic, Master Sommelier (and one of the featured folks in the doc SOMM), in which he does a dance about over-generalizing and considering what the dawning drought meant to grapes in 2013. Ultimately he claimed, "If you played your cards right, 2013 was a vintage whose quality was not eclipsed by its quantity."

That said, while there was a lot of lovely Santa Barbara pinot noir of both the very Burgundian and racy sort and the more fleshy and fabulous California sort, this event made clear syrah just can't be ignored. From classics like Ojai Vineyard Solomon Hills and Jaffurs Thompson Vineyard, to relative newcomers like Sillix Santa Ynez Valley Syrah, all rich and just the good side of unctuous, the Rhone varietal made an honorable showing.

And then more and more oddball grapes -- not in the greater world, but in Santa Barbara -- are staking their claims when the wines are produced with the right hands. Take Graham Tatomer, who has brought a bit of Austria to the region, now five vintages in, with his wonderful Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. If you want to experiment with white varietals you probably usually don't drink, you can't go wrong here, especially as they are so food friendly: zippy, and as the notes put it for the 2012 Riesling Kick-on Ranch, "displaying great freshness and vibrancy on the palate."

Of course, it's a bit easier for the whites to shine at a futures tasting as they are closer to release; many of the 2013 reds at the event were barrel samples and wouldn't even go into bottle until the end of 2013. That leaves you with some guesswork: Will those darting fruit flavors find a common core? While those tannins sooth themselves into something that won't sand your taste buds?

For many wines, it was easy to predict wonderful futures, precocious babes they were. Gavin Chanin is busy defining what elegance means in wine, both with his own label Chanin (both a chardonnay and a pinot were available), and with his latest project Lutum (it means soil in Latin, hint hint) with Bill Price, where they find killer locations for grapes and then top anything you've had from that spot (his wines ran out quickly). Then actor/winemaker Jeff Fischer and his Habit label makes habit-forming wines, from a Chenin Blanc that will make you rethink how complex yet drinkable that varietal can be to a La Encatada Vineyard pinot noir he aptly described as " feminine and ethereal." He left out delicious, especially for juice that might not be bottled until December. But that's futures for you, so much hope staining your teeth red.

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