I’ve long been a fan of Santa Barbara County wines, particularly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I was delighted to taste several Santa Barbara County wines on a recent visit to Solvang, and thanks to the Santa Barbara Vintners Association, we did a Chardonnay tasting.

WINEormous tastingSimilar to a tasting earlier this year when we tasted five different Pinot Noirs from Babcock Winery, we mixed it up a little this time and started with a beer from the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. The Tommyknocker Jack Whacker Wheat Ale is brewed in Colorado, but don’t confuse it with anything from Golden. Jean liked the citrus notes and called it a nice, easy-drinking beer. Brian called it slightly sour, but clean and dry. A few members of the panel weren’t interested in tasting it. Check the club’s website for ordering information if you’re interested.

We moved on to the first of six Chardonnays, the 2013 Riverbench “Bedrock” Chardonnay. All around the table people were commenting on the pineapple on the nose and there’s no mistaking it. Ken found it crisp and sharp with lemon and lime notes in addition to the pineapple. Jake enjoyed the fruit and acid balance. It scored just under four out of five stars and it sells for $24.

Next was the 2012 Alta Maria Vineyards Chardonnay also from the Santa Maria Valley. I found it quite soft with great balance and a long finish. Ken thought it had a light, creamy nose and that it was nicely balanced. Jake called it Burgundian, fresh and bright. It scored just under four stars at a retail price of $28.

Ken Brown’s 2012 Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay was next. Al picked up pear and called it crisp and light. Brian said it went down easily, but he expected more for the $36 price. Esther liked the nose. Most felt it was overpriced.

The 2012 Rusack Reserve Chardonnay followed. Ken liked the balance and fruit. Jake loved its round mouthfeel, acidity and tropical fruits and called it a “full boat Chard.” Tony picked up Juicy Fruit gum and said he loved it. Esther loved it and gave it five stars. It sells for $32.

We moved to the Santa Rita Hills for Chardonnay number five, LaFond’s 2012. Ken said the nose reminded him of hard butterscotch candy. Jake said it had classic Chard notes from start to finish. On the other hand, Brian said it reminded him of a kid’s drink you get in a sweet shop. Tony said it was “my style!” At $23 it averaged better than four stars.

The 2012 Demetria Chardonnay was our last. I thought the nose was exceptional, but it fell off a bit on the palate. Jake loved the nose, too and said it was full butter. It sells for $35 and it scored just about four stars.

We finished the evening with two red, the first being Vina Robles 2012 Red 4 Blend. It has an assertive nose with plenty of dark fruit. I could easily pick up the Petite Sirah. Esther loved it and thought it would be good with chocolate. Brian found a “lovely taste of dark cherries.” Ken thought it was well-balanced and smooth, but would like to lay it down for three or four years. A great value at $18, it garnered better than four stars.

We ended the evening with Carlin de Paolo’s 2008 Barolo from Italy.  Brian called it elegant and silky and “best of the night, this.” Ken liked it, but felt it was overpriced at $40. Most of us picked up mint on the nose. You can purchase it online by following the link provided.

All of the wines tasted were provided at no cost.

Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.