PICK of the RACK: Sea Smoke Cellars | “Ten” | Pinot Noir | Sta. Rita Hills AVA | Santa Barbara County | California | 2011 | $82 | 93 pts

Sea Smoke 2011Aromas: ripe boysenberry; orange peel; hints of lavender
Character: dry; medium-bodied; fruit-driven; elegant and energetic; moderate tannins; vivid acids; vanilla-tinged oak
Flavors: red- and blackberry compote; savory herbs; clove; hints of rhubarb & mineral
Food Pairing:  ripe, creamy & medium sharp cheeses; salmon with Champagne sauce; lamb chops with chutney; fruit tart.

Sea Smoke is among the most revered producers of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County — indeed, in the entire United States.  Established in 1999, the winery’s estate vineyards are nestled in the Santa Rita Hills just seven miles from the Pacific Ocean, facing south along the Santa Ynez River Canyon.  The canyon funnels cool marine fog (“sea smoke”) inland across the vineyards during the evening and early morning hours, providing natural air conditioning ideal for Pinot Noir viticulture.  Ten clones of the variety are planted throughout the estate — the 10 from which this wine was made and for which it is named — on sloping hillside vineyards rooted in shallow clay soils.

Sea Smoke’s 2011 Ten is a gorgeous expression of all that, bursting with aromas suggesting ripe boysenberry, orange peel, and lavender followed by flavors that bring to mind red- and blackberry compote infused with savory herbs, clove, and rhubarb, with a clean mineral edge burnished by nuances of vanilla-tinged oak.  (The wine was barrel-aged for 16 months in French oak — 65% new.)  This Ten is at once elegant and energetic — with amply extracted fruit that is fleshy and smooth on the palate balanced by vivid acids that keep it fresh and focused.  An overall stunning example of Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.

We highly recommend Sea Smoke’s 2011 Ten, but if you wish to try it there is a hurdle you must be aware of.  Sea Smoke wines — which include the Ten and two other Pinot Noir bottlings, a Chardonnay, and a sparkling Blanc de Noirs — are produced in limited quantities, are in high demand, and very difficult to come by.  The wines are available exclusively through the winery’s customer allocation system they call “The List;” and yes, there is a waiting list just to get on “The List.”  For more information about Sea Smoke, its wines, and an application to be placed on “The List,” visit them virtually at www.seasmoke.com.

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