Trying several wines from one producer can be informative

June 10, 2023

While shopping, keep your eyes open for Tyler Santa Rita Hills Santa Barbara County offerings. I recently had the opportunity to enjoy 10 of their line of about 20 products from 2021. They ran from Cabs to Rosés with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Most earned scores of 92 or better from the panel. I was especially attracted to their Santa Barbara County Chardonnay. Generally, I deplore contrived small production from specific vineyard lots, because it drives lower availability and elevated prices. In this case, the price was $29. Careful shoppers can find some at $256/case plus shipping. Wine Advocate’s Erin Brooks laid on a 95-point score in January, so my guess is procrastinators will see it around $35. This label is an easy 93+ McD and compares favorably to most $60 bottles, if you can find any at its price. Winemaker’s art. One of Cali’s bright new stars to watch, Justin Willett chose fruit from Kick-on Ranch to craft this great QPR Chardonnay. The wine reminds me of White Burgundy, medium bodied and elegant, with lemon zest, crème fraiche, hazelnut and subdued floral aromas. More citrus notes on the palate riding a bright acidity and chalky-minerally frame through a long, pleasing finish, with some oak-driven spice closing notes.

Willett sourced three of Santa Barbara’s best-regarded vineyards — Bien Nacido, La Rinconada, and Sanford & Benedict — to produce several Chards and PNs. I tried three releases from Tyler Mae Estate Chard Santa Rita Hills; they earned 94 points for the 2019, 95 for the 2020 and 94 for the 2021 from WA, and will set you back about $75 each. Good value. Mae is Willett’s home vineyard. La Rinconada Chard 2020 was generously rated 98 points, and while I found that a bit rich, at $60 it is a standout 93 McD plus 1.5 price points. The 2020 Sanford & Benedict label was awarded 96 WA and 17 of 20 by Jancis Robinson. Since I had already read both reviews previously, my opinion may have been slightly jaded. Under $70, it is a great buy for patient people, possibly ready for next debt ceiling brouhaha in 2025 or later. The 2020 is a layered, complex, full-bodied, old-vine chardonnay. Let it stand a moment on pouring, because there is a brief whiff of sulphur. It quickly dissipates, and mildly saline ocean breeze notes arise before giving way to baked apple and peach pie aromas with pie spice accents. On the broad, smooth palate, ripe fruit flavors and supporting acidity evolve to a long, clean finish.

I will be covering the PN in a later column. But here’s a tout for the red lovers: Tyler only produces two Cabs. The RSW Happy Canyon Vineyard Santa Ynez Cab 2019 scored 95 points and leaped from $47 to $106. The 2020 came in at $43, was WA’d at 95 points a few months ago and is on the rise but findable under $50. Here is the mildly edited review: “spent 22 months in 50% new French oak. Medium to deep ruby, pure aromas of cassis, bell pepper, cedar, tobacco leaves and grilled meats. Full-bodied, powdery and supple, it boasts concentrated fruits and a long, spicy finish.” Although I am onboard with this, I must say that I avoid Cabs with bell pepper notes; however, many enjoy them. The 2019 was a standout, but it showed green pepper also. Those who find that profile appealing should choose 2020. Both are 100% Cabs from Block 8 in Happy Canyon.

Foxen Chardonnay Tinaquaic Vineyard Santa Maria 2018, 92 McD, is a fine buy for those who prefer minerally, tangy Chardonnay. Look for lemon zest, seashell and nut aromas with lime and crushed shell mineral flavors and acidity. Vintage specific. Sushi lovers should check out their Bien Nacido Block UU label 2019, 93 McD, $32. Chalky, lemon zest and shiso aromas. Bright lemon acidity and nut flavors. Shiso tastes of citrus with cinnamon, cloves and mint nuance. Red leaves are more astringent. It elevates fatty fish to a new level. Don’t use leaves packed in oil; fresh is best, dried OK. I prefer green over red. I always enjoy watching folks who consider shiso just a plate divider and toss it aside.

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