Around The Pacific Rim

The Pacific Ocean has great impact on Central Coast wines, especially the early morning fog and cooling afternoon breezes that come off the ocean and through the valleys in the region’s unique east-west facing mountain range. The other countries that border the Pacific Ocean have their individual responses to this mighty ocean. In addition to the shared ocean, the Pan-Pacific countries have all contributed to East-West marriage of food and wine, aptly named Pacific Rim, which revolutionized fusion cuisine of the past 20-plus years.

I spoke with the chef and sommeliers at Kona Village Resort, in Hawaii, where the cuisine reflects Pacific Rim style, to get suggestions for food-wine pairings for Santa Barbara wines and Pacific Rim cooking. They advised that our wines go well with the Kona-style Pacific Rim dishes where each flavor is distinct, clean and complemented, but not overpowered by other flavors. I learned that Pacific Rim food preparations fall into two main categories, one where the sweetness of tropical fruits is prominent, and one where Pacific Rim spices take the lead.

When we had the fruit, vanilla bean and honey flavors of the seared scallop wrapped with pancetta and the grilled ono with coconut lobster reduction, the recommendation was a Santa Barbara Pinot Grigio, Viognier or a rosé-style wine with acidity and sweet tones to complement the fruit and honey essences of the foods and acidity to refresh the palate between bites. Another option for something as exuberant as mussels with coconut curry or Pad Thai is to open a bottle of fruit-forward sparkling wine as a refreshing contrast.

Salad – whether it is topped with oil and vinegar dressing or garnished with more exotic spices that can strip wine of its fruit – is often well paired with white wines with fruit to spare. Here is where rich, floral Viogniers or Gewürztraminers with hints of rose petal and lychee can keep your palate happy. Similarly, when your meals of fresh grilled fish and veggies with tropical fruit salsas are ready for their wine pairings, our Pacific Rim consultants also recommended Rideau White Riesling, Bedford Thompson Gewürztraminer and Mosby Traminer. Wok stir-frying typically produces clean crisp flavors, which favor light-bodied white wines such as un-oaked Melville Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blancs from Brander, Fiddlehead, Babcock and Santa Barbara Winery. In addition, our Pan-Pacific experts suggested specific pairing of aromatic and chili-intense Pacific Rim cuisine with wines with a touch of residual sugar or floral hints such as young Viognier (Jaffurs, Calzada Ridge, Stolpman), Pinot Grigio (Longoria and Babcock) and Pinot Blanc (J. Wilkes).

Spices of any kind have a notoriously difficult relationship with wine. The fiery ones tend to deaden the palate, while the sweet ones can rob a wine of its fruit. Reds end up tasting too tannic and whites too acidic. For spicier dishes seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and oyster sauce the ingredients match the sweet and salty flavors on the palate, so a spicy, fruity white or a low tannin red wine would be a good choice for dishes like seasoned duck or ahi tartar. The reason for this is that the oils in raw seafood are “cut” by the acidity and tannin in these wines, allowing the contrast of the flavors of the fish preparation to be experienced anew after the cleansing sip of Pinot.

Recommended Pinot Noirs include those made by Whitcraft, Foxen, Lane Tanner, Byron, Sea Smoke, Badge and LaFond. As the dishes, or your palate, become bolder in terms of spice, our consultants say it’s time for a more intense, forward wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon from Barnwood, Brander, Foxen, or Vogelzang.

Central Coast Copycat

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but when it comes to brand name recognition there is no up-side when another company produces a product that consumers purchase thinking they are getting the real thing. People who purchase the imitation thinking it is the item they previously enjoyed are rightfully disappointed and the hard-earned, well-deserved reputation of the “real thing” is tarnished for these consumers.

Such is the disturbing state of affairs for Santa Barbara Winery, Santa Barbara county’s oldest winery since it was started by Pierre Lafond in 1962. It was under the tutelage of Santa Barbara winemaker, Bruce McGuire, that Paul and I learned how to make our home wines and we are never without a considerable stockpile of Santa Barbara Winery wines in our cellar (well, wine closet).

The “real thing” here is Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay. Its 2005 Chardonnay was one of 17 wines out of 3,189 entries at the 2006 Orange County Fair awarded a “four star” gold medal and Best of Class.

The imitation brand in question is “Santa Barbara County Chardonnay,” by Santa Barbara Landing, a new $4.99 chardonnay produced by Bronco Wine Company in Ceres that mimics the style and font of the Santa Barbara Winery label. Craig Addis, marketing director at Santa Barbara Winery, explains that copycat labels are certainly not a new tactic, as mega wine producers, like Bronco Wine Company, attempt to make parallels with top-producing appellations or recognizable labels to gain a foothold in the market.

“Over the years we occasionally have folks call us with comments on specific wines – and many times the wines will be a variety we have never made,” Addis says. “These folks were confusing ‘Santa Barbara County’ with ‘Santa Barbara Winery.’ So, sure this comes with the territory, but when someone comes along with a label using very similar fonts and colors, it crosses the line of decency and tries to confuse the consumer with a product that has nothing in common with our hard-earned reputation for world-class Chardonnay. We have no problem with competing Chardonnay makers, but when the consumer is misled, they are disappointed if they expected Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay on their table. Besides, would you rather have a wine from a winery or from a landing?”

Take the time to read the label of this and all wines you think you recognize to avoid falling prey to deceitful advertising and to insure that you enjoy the wine you really want to purchase. Because as Pierre LaFond reminds us, “It’s what’s behind that label that counts.”