By Bob Johnson
State Street is “that great street” not just in Chicago, as Frank Sinatra sang, but also in Santa Barbara, where countless boutiques, restaurants, coffee houses and inns line both sides of the north-south thoroughfare.
One block to the east, paralleling State Street, there’s a fun destination for wine lovers in the 800 block of Anacapa Street in the Presidio neighborhood, next door to the long-established Wine Cask restaurant.
If you look across Anacapa Street at the Wine Cask, then look to the left, you’ll see individual tasting rooms for three Santa Barbara County wineries: Au Bon Climat, Margerum and Grassini.
With time to visit only one on this particular day, we opted for Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen Wine Library. “ABC” was one of the first Santa Barbara County wineries that really got it right back in the 1980s, but it had been a few vintages since I’d last tasted Clendenen’s handiwork. I’m happy to report that the wines I tasted under the Au Bon Climat and Clendenen Family Vintners labels were flawless and flavorful, each filling a niche both in the winery’s product line and on one’s dinner table.
Under the Clendenen Family Vintners label, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) was clean and crisp, an ideal foil for shellfish, while the 2012 Chardonnay known as “The Rip” (named for Clendenen’s dog; $25) was easy drinking and seemingly crying out for some Original Recipe KFC.
The Au Bon Climat wines were bigger, richer and much more complex. The 2011 “Pioneering” Chardonnay ($35), made entirely from Bien Nacido Vineyard fruit, was honeyed and toasty, with butter-kissed apple fruit in the finish. The 2010 “La Bauge” Pinot Noir ($30) is another in a long line of ABC Pinots from Bien Nacido that have helped cement the idea that “California Burgundy” not only is possible, but delicious. And the 2009 Los Alamos Vineyard Pinot Noir ($35) showed off plenty of ripe fruit, earth and spice, with soft tannins that provide for immediate enjoyment — no cellaring necessary. The Chardonnay would match nicely with chicken Alfredo, while the Pinots would pair well with roast beef or grilled salmon.
Were I planning a Santa Barbara weekend around these three tasting rooms, this would be my plan:
- Book a room at the Canary Hotel, just a few blocks away and an easy stroll to/from the tasting rooms.
- Begin your tasting adventure at Au Bon Climat, where you can opt for a mixed flight (which we tried) for $10 or a flight of Reserve-level Pinots Noir for $15.
- Walk next door to Margeum Wine Company, which focuses on Rhone varietals — much different from the wines at ABC, and thus a very different tasting experience.
- Head over to State Street and have a light lunch at one of the countless restaurants.
- Stroll back to Anacapa Street and conclude your sampling at the tasting room of Grassini Family Vineyards, which specializes in varieties that can be traced to yet another appellation of France: Bordeaux. Finish there not just because the wines are “big,” but also because wine-and-chocolate pairings are offered daily. This is your dessert stop.
After that, you’re on your own. I’d probably opt for a nap, or you could walk off that Jessica Foster Confections chocolate with a long stroll on State Street — a great street that’s only a block away from a fun street for wine lovers.
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The tastings rooms of Au Bon Climat, Margerum and Grassini have their own “suite numbers” at 813 Anacapa St. in Santa Barbara.
For hours of operation and other information, call Au Bon Climat at 805-963-7999, Margerum at 805-845-8435, and Grassini at 805-897-3366.