Forget everything you know about a Central California Coast tasting room, like the scent of ocean air wafting across the vineyards or the sun bathing you as you waltz out, that memory of Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay or Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir imprinted on your palate. In the heart of Santa Barbara (pop. 90,000, and a haven for Hollywood celebs) and two blocks from the Pacific Ocean is the newly created Funk Zone where boutique wineries are wedged between art galleries and seafood shacks. Only two (Pali Wine Company and Au Bon Climat) sell their wine in Wisconsin, so it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re anywhere in the region.
Last month I took my palate to these tasting rooms in the Funk Zone.
Winery: Kunin Wines
There are two flights poured in the tasting room, which is tucked into an olive-green bungalow with red trim. Ask for the Syrah Geek Tasting ($12) for an overview of three Kunin Wines Syrahs (vintages 2001, 2005 and 2006).
Winery: Oreana Winery
Behind an overhead garage door lies surfer-themed art on the walls, the winery’s signature “Project Happiness” smiley-face wine (sold at Trader Joe’s stores) and a slew of wine-themed products for sale (even grapeseed body lotion).
The vibe here is edgy and artsy, with printmaker-designed labels and a vintage trophy collection as eye candy. A tasting of five wines is a bargain at $10.
On Friday nights the winery rolls out a quirky pairing: its wines with chicken waffles. It meshes well with the tasting room’s retro-mod feel (think geometric-patterned décor in popsicle hues and a chandelier too).
Throughout the month of October, the city of Santa Barbara is hosting a series of close to 100 culinary and wine events (called epicure.sb), so now is the time to ponder your vacation to the American Riviera.
WINE EVENT OF THE WEEK
Walker’s Point is turning into a hot bed of culinary activity, with an artisan creamery (Clock Shadow Creamery), a funky fusion eatery (The Noble, where the daily “Hunters” special is geared towards carnivores and shrimp ‘n grits is an ode to Southern fare) and an elegant farm-to-table restaurant (Braise) among the most recent introductions. A trio of wine dinners at INdustri Café this fall continues the vibe. A six-course dinner for two with thoughtfully paired ONEHOPE wines is $180. (Haven’t heard of ONEHOPE? Neither had I until recently. The deal with this 5-year-old winery is that half of all profits go to partner charities.) Featured on the menu are mouth-watering dishes (seriously, my mouth is watering as I write this!) like tempura Granny Smith apple with lavender salt and braised Strauss free-raised veal short rib with a side of creamed leeks. The Sunday-night dinners are Oct. 21, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4 beginning at 7 p.m. (a social hour with a cash bar kicks off at 6 p.m.). To reserve a seat at the table call INdustri Café at 414-224-7777.
WINE DEAL OF THE WEEK
When you see a quality wine for well under $10, something makes you want to grab it, tuck it under your arm and head towards the cashier. This week, Waterford Wine Company unleashed a heck of a deal. And all you have to do is press a few buttons to obtain it (no need to rush out to the store). Finca del Castillo Tempranillo is a Spanish stunner on sale for $5.99 a bottle, normally $9.99. To give this wine a try call up Waterford Wine Company at 414-289-9463 or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Sushi can be a tricky pairing. You’ve got the saltiness in the seafood, vinegar in the rice and even more saltiness in the soy-sauce accompaniment. Don’t get me started on the wasabi. While at Izumi’s last week for sushi I took a chance on a glass of Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand), figuring the high levels of acidity, as well as its youthful, fresh tropical-fruit notes would pair well. I was right. When picking out a wine to sip with sushi, you can go with quite a few options but a zesty wine like Sauvignon Blanc, especially if it’s from New Zealand, is among the best.