Allison Levine from Please The Palate invited a group of wine experts to a Santa Barbara Wine Road Trip luncheon at the restaurant 71Above inside US Bank, located in downtown Los Angeles. Sitting in the dining room, I appreciated the 180 degree spectacular views of the Hollywood sign to Palos Verdes.
Sitting near Jennifer Dudley from Brander Wines, I enjoyed three of her wines with 71Above chef Vartan Abgaryan’s two course lunch. Levine introduced us and explained how the Santa Barbara County is a wine region located along the coastal range of North and South America. The transverse mountain range borders the Pacific Ocean on two sides. Clouds roll over the top of the mountains giving the grapes an ocean influence. “This makes the wines in this region exceptional,” said Levine.
I learned that in 1975, The Brander family purchased 40-acres just east of the town of Los Olives located in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 35 minutes north of Santa Barbara, and 130 miles from Los Angeles. Their first Sauvignon Blanc harvest was in 1977 winning Santa Barbara County’s first gold medal at a major wine competition. In 1979, Fred Brander built his winery. There are three flags at the chateau and tasting room displaying the family’s roots: Sweden, Argentina, and the US.
Jennifer poured a 2016 Brander Sauvignon Blanc from the Los Olivos district. She told me that the wine is made from estate grapes and six other vineyards. Brander produces 15,000 cases of this light, crisp white wine that sits in barrels for 18 months. It’s a popular wine due to its tropical essence with a nose of passion fruit, honeydew melon, and hibiscus blossom. With each sip, I tasted white nectarine and guava on the palate. It went well with the grilled octopus with sliced potatoes and grapes, whole grain mustard, pickled onions, and delightful caper berries. Jennifer said it also pairs nicely with a warm baguette and chunk of Humboldt Fog blue cheese or fresh ceviche and a Caesar salad. This wine is a good value at around $16.
The second glass was a 2016 au Naturel from Santa Ynez Valley, produced entirely from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown on the estate. It’s 100% fruit natural that is produced in 100% stainless steel with 24 hours of skin contact to offer a rich depth. The creamy white wine offering hints of peach and she told us that it “ages phenomenally well.” This paired nicely with the pork belly entree with chopped leeks, potato, rhubarb and spring onions. I tasted notes of honeysuckle, Meyer lemon, and cantaloupe on the palate. The price point is around $30 a bottle.
The third glass was a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon that winemaker Fabian Bravo bottled two months ago. This newer wine is a classically Bordeaux-style Cabernet offering nice berries on the nose. It’s a 100% estate wine made with Cabernet and 20% Merlot grapes that rested in new French oak barrels before being bottled. In a glass it has an attractive, translucent dark ruby color. A nose of creme de cassis, Madagascar vanilla bean and dried cherries paired beautifully with a grilled flat iron steak with potato puree, Cippolini onions, shishito chimichurri and yuzu kosho.
After attending this informative lunch, I was eager to visit Brander Wines Tasting Room the next time I drive North to Santa Ynez. Tastings are offered 7 days a week starting at 11 a.m. to closing. To learn more about Brander’s Santa Barbara wines, go to www.brander.com/ – 401 N. Refugio Road. Santa Ynez, CA (805) 688-2455.