WINE AND COMMUNITY SERVICE, BRIX BY BRIX

What are the movers and shakers and sippers of Montecito and Santa Barbara drinking? With the little time they have between their community dedication, friends and family we found them seeking out new varietals from favorite local winemakers, or venturing over to the pouring tables of wines yet to be discovered. The occasion for the tasting was “Brix in ‘06” a fundraiser celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Junior League of Santa Barbara’s community service.

The Brix Scale is a system of measurement, given in degrees, of the amount of sugar present in grape juice. It is the final sugar content measurement at harvest that is used to approximate the final alcohol content of wine being produced

In the VIP Room at the Gala Jason Hayes poured the Champagne POP, imported from France by W. J. Deutsch and blended from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes ($35). There's something about this Champagne that makes it fun; it is also fresh, yeasty, with cream, lemon, apple and orange flavors in a designer blue glass bottle that pops to the eye (and the ears) when opened.

When Montecitans Barbara and Josh Conviser were sampling wines with owner/winemaker Fred Brander, I asked Barbara about her selections. “I’ve had a love affair with Brander Sauvignon Blanc for years,” she confessed. “It’s the passion fruit fresh, ripe crispness that is better than the best of New Zealand. I love it with all kinds of food and by itself. That is the reason I wanted to try another of Fred’s wines.”

Indeed she did, and Barbara’s response to the Brander Merlot ’04? “This wine also has the concentration of flavor I like but with lots of cherry,” she said. Fred agreed and explained that the fruit is accented because “the tannins are softened by cool, slower fermentation, followed by four months in small French and American oak, giving the wine a touch of wood to complement but not mask its appealing regional identity.”

There was a buzz at Seth Kunin’s table where this newly engaged and happy winemaker of both Kunin and Westerly Wines was pouring a glass of the Westerly ’03 Syrah for Montecito’s Sarah O’Connell (Junior League event co-chair – along with Jennifer Guess and Valerie Tyler). As Kunin poured O’Connell the Syrah, he related, “wine is so subjective, but I like Syrah to be spicy, like black licorice, green peppercorns – in the Old World Northern Rhone style.” O’Connell indeed tasted the peppery tones and says she appreciated the long plum finish.

Fellow Montecito resident Michelle Montez Fisher took the exploration approach to her wine tasting as she explained, “I know and love Central Coast wines and didn’t know Lucas & Lewellen, so that’s where I headed first. I really enjoyed their Pinot Grigio and it was perfect to refresh my taste buds after sampling the cheeses. I’d buy this wine to serve with appetizers and cheese.”

And so went the evening with further tastings generously supplied by other Central Coast favorites, including Au Bon Climat, Consilience, Melville, Qupe and Zaca Mesa. Perhaps the only multi-sensory experience more compelling than the evening’s array of wine, silent auction items and POP Champagne was the band. Thanks to event co-chair Jennifer Guess, of Surf Media Communications, the crowd pleaser of the evening was Jennifer’s husband and his pals, who know how to get bodies movin-movin with their totally ‘80s cover band, 7-FI.

Sip Tips

I recently tasted some wines worth noting from Clos Du Val, a pioneer winery in Napa Valley since 1972. From the new vintages I tasted from the Clos Du Val Classic line, my two favorites were the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) and the 2003 Merlot ($25), both showcasing fruit blended from their Stags Leap District vineyards and other top sites in Napa. The 2003 Napa crop size was small, resulting in exceptional quality. These wines are definite bang for the buck with their balanced fruit and concentrated color and flavors.