It’s getting warmer again and staying lighter out—a cue from Mother Nature to start stocking up on delicious white wines. In our house in Los Feliz, my wife and I cook together most evenings and we love a glass of revelatory white wine to sip on while starting the prep for one of our favorite Julie Child or Jamie Oliver pinch-of-this-handful-of-that recipes. We feel lucky to be so close to California’s Central Coast because when we lived in New York City, many of the gorgeous, small-production whites—from dazzling Viogniers, Chenin Blancs, and Muscat Canelli wines to Old World-style Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs—that can be at every Angeleno’s fingertips never made it East.
If you’re not familiar with the picks from these three passionate wine pros, you’re in for a treat–you might just discover a new “go-to” house white or one that will change your entire mindset about Central Coast whites. Stop in, have a conversation, pick up a bottle or two, and then head home to start dinner with a glassful of a new friend.
Courtney Walsh, wine buyer, Buzz Wine Beer Shop in Downtown
Courtney’s pick (top): Amplify Wines 2013 Viognier, Santa Barbara County, $23
The grape: “100 percent Viognier.”
The story: “Amplify’s winemaker Cameron Porter is one of my favorite newcomers to the Santa Barbara wine scene. We are currently pouring his Carbonic Carignan at the bar, which is truly out of this world, so it’s no surprise that his first vintage of Viognier has followed suit. Cameron refers to this wine as the ‘musical equivalent of Miles Davis on Black Satin–Tension, Funk, and Spice.’ And with only 59 cases produced, we were happy to grab all that we could get.”
Tastes like: “You’ll find some of the variety’s signature floral aromas, but also notes of orange peel and white pepper along with a solid citrus core and mouthwatering acidity. This bottle will finish itself.”
Courtney’s pick (bottom): Storm Steen 2013 Chenin Blanc, Jurassic Park Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, $35
The grape: “100 percent Chenin Blanc.”
The story: “Another young winemaker out of Santa Barbara, Ernst Storm is absolutely killing it with his eponymous label Storm Wines. A South African native working with Chenin Blanc—or ‘Steen’ as it is familiarly known in South Africa—was a natural choice for Storm. He sources his fruit from the Jurassic Park Vineyard, which is planted with some of the oldest Chenin vines in the U.S., and even more amazing is the vines are all own-rooted (not grafted onto any root stock), and they produce extremely complex and elegant wines.”
Tastes like: “A rich, lush wine that manages to still retain its clean, mineral-driven palate. Aromas of jasmine and juicy white peaches waft from the glass, and despite the somewhat dense mouthfeel, this wine never feels heavy and the fresh acidity results in a nice lift to the palate while gorgeous tropical fruit notes are accented by Acacia-wood aging.”
Courtney can be found at the shop most days, pouring wine behind the bar or trying to convert another beer drinker into the wine fold. She has a truly unhealthy (but healthy, really) obsession with wines from Santa Barbara.
Jamil C Williams, general manager, Silverlake Wine in Silverlake
Jamil’s pick (left): The Ride Series 2013 “Helmet” White Blend, Paso Robles, $15
The grapes: “A blend of Chardonnay and Viognier.”
The story: “Together with Edgar Torres of Bodega de Edgar in Paso Robles, California, this 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Viognier is the first of many ‘in association with’ wines that are being developed with growers and winemakers with whom Silverlake Wine has longstanding relationships. The ‘in association with’ concept is a collaborative effort to make unique, high-quality wines that are accessible to all. The label art is by Brent Wick.”
Tastes like: “The wine has a firm grip on its fresh acidity and equally voluptuous body. With elegant aromatics and boasting equatorial fruit, this wine turns your tongue into a slip and slide. Only 150 cases were produced.”
Jamil’s pick (right): Harrington Wines 2012 Muscat Canelli, Fratelli Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, $24
The grape: “100 percent Muscat Canelli.”
The story: “Renowned winemaker and artist Bryan Harrington makes his wine in a random warehouse just south of the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, tucked behind a gritty metal shop. The winery shares a wall with one of the San Francisco Opera’s rehearsal spaces, which in some way has to be good for the wine. Not only is Bryan a really sweet dude, he makes very compelling wines with techniques that allow the grapes to have a voice of their own.”
Tastes like: “This wine is no cliché, far from it. Fresh, shiny and clean. Eloquent orchard fruits and citrus challenged by neon acidity that keeps the whole thing behaved. Very dry with a memorable finish. The game-changer: minimal cases produced.”
Jamil is at the shop in Silverlake most days and is down to have a conversation with you about these wines and whatever else peaks your interest, though he’s partial to the less talk and just sip this approach.
Cameron Markham, general manager, Farmshop at the Brentwood Country Mart
Cameron’s pick (left): Habit 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, McGinley Vineyard, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara, $41
The grape: “100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.”
The story: “Habit prides themselves on working with wineries in the Central Coast that are sustainable, organic, and biodynamic. Even as a child, garagistes winemaker Jeff Fischer had a strong appreciation for wine. In 2007, after countless adventures throughout California, he landed in Happy Canyon with the idea to recreate the great wines of Bordeaux in Santa Barbara. I’ve known him for years and he’s a wonderful person, he’s even a character on American Dad!”
Tastes like: “Citrus notes dominate the nose, with lime and lemon and hints of grapefruit, accompanied by notes of herbs, grass, and floral aromas. Unlike traditional California Sauvignon Blancs, which in my opinion, can become dull and tiresome after a glass or two, Habit’s SB is bright, clean, and refreshing.”
Cameron’s pick (right): Liquid Farm 2012 “Golden Slope” Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, $66
The grapes: “100 percent Chardonnay.”
The story: “Nikki and Jeff [Nelson], founders of Liquid Farm, have always had a taste for Old World wines. Their approach is to create vibrant and inspired wines (which is a good way to describe their personalities), and that’s always a great thing for us at Farmshop when we can give some love and support to friends and family. This wine pays homage to the great white Burgundies of the Cote d’Or in France.”
Tastes like: “Notes of lemon curd, ripe apple, and stone fruits fill the glass. It bridges the Old World and New World by being fun yet refined at the same time. Even our sommelier here at Farmshop, Zack Kusch, has been caught taking bottles home. He thinks it has ‘the power to bring mostly-red-wine drinkers back into the lesser traveled California Chardonnay path,’ by showing that California possesses the ability to make a lower-alcohol and balanced Chardonnay.”
Cameron never leaves Farmshop, unless he’s at Farmshop Marin up north, so stop in and say hello and he or one of the sommeliers on staff will be happy to tell you stories about some of their amazing California winemaker friends they have on the wall.