Alma Rosa Chardonnay 2017, Sta. Rita Hills
Cost: $37-39
I t’s good to go wine exploring periodically. Most wine drinkers get stuck in the rut of Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and the Willamette Valley.
That’s a pretty good rut to be stuck in because those areas produce a lot of great wine. But there is great wine in many other regions, and it is fun to seek them out. You never know when you are going to find your new favorite wine.
The Santa Rita Hills region in Santa Barbara County isn’t exactly unknown, but it doesn’t often come up in conversations about great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And that’s a shame because their wines don’t take a back seat to anyone.
The Alma Rosa Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hills is an outstanding wine. A pale yellow in the glass, the wine’s charms begin with aromas of melon, fresh apple and pear. On the palate I picked up complex flavors that included peach, pear, apple and subtle vanilla notes. The smooth finish adds citrus and spice with balancing acid notes.
The grapes come from estate and purchased fruit along the southern boundary of the Santa Rita Hills appellation, harvested at night to preserve the fresh fruit characteristics. They were fermented in stainless steel at elevated temperatures for mouthfeel and citrus aromatics.
The wine then spent 10 months on the lees in used French oak. It was bottled after a light fining for clarity and texture with isinglass and skim milk.
Alma Rosa also has a very nice Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills. It sells for about $45. It is a bright garnet in the glass with inviting aromas of dark fruits, black cherry, herbs and cedar.
The wine is balanced, with core flavors of black cherry with hints of orange peel. On the finish you get a nice burst of raspberry. This is a perfect Pinot Noir for sipping before, during or after dinner.
These grapes also were picked at night from vineyards throughout the appellation and 95% destemmed, leaving 5% whole cluster for fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The wine was aged for 14 months in 33% new French oak. It was racked once and bottled after a light filtration.
Alma Rosa is celebrating these days because winery founder Richard Sanford has been named 2020 Vintner of the Year by the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance.
On August 11 at 8:15 pm EDT, wine author, expert and critic Matt Kettman will lead a live online tribute and tasting featuring conversations with Richard and several surprise guests who will pay tribute to Richard’s lifetime dedication to the Sta. Rita Hills. It will be a Facebook Live event that you can join through this link:
You can join the wine tasting by going to the Alma Rosa website, clicking on “wines,” then on “wine collections.” Then select the Lifetime Achievement pack, which includes the 2018 La Encantada Blanc and the 2018 El Jabali Pinot Noir.
Commonly referred to as the “Godfather of Central Coast Pinot Noir,” Sanford planted the first Pinot Noir vineyard on the Central Coast in 1971, and has lived and worked in the Sta. Rita Hills, a region he helped create, for nearly five decades.  
The Alma Rosa website also has a link to a YouTube video of a wine tasting with winemaker Samra Morris.
Winery: The winery was founded in 2005 by Richard Sanford, but now the winery is owned by Bob and Barb Zorich, who purchased it in 2014.
Alma Rosa Winery is dedicated to making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines that express the terroir of its unique appellation, the Sta. Rita Hills. Alma Rosa’s wines are layered, vibrant and balanced, reflecting the cool climate impact of the Pacific Ocean breezes which funnel through the unique east-west transverse mountain range of the region.
Most of the Alma Rosa wines are made in small batches of less than 400 cases. The winery and its gorgeous tasting room are located about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara. While specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the winery also offers excellent Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Grenache Blanc.
Santa Barbara County’s Sta. Rita Hills AVA is one of the most geologically active regions in the world of wine. The story of this appellation began several million years ago, when the Pacific plate began to spread, breaking off pieces of the continent to form the Sea of Cortez, and carrying them north along the West Coast to form a unique transverse mountain range, where the valleys open east-west and end at the sea.
Some four million years later, Sanford was drawn to the region for its complex soils and cool ocean breezes. In 1971 he planted the region’s first vineyard–Sanford & Benedict–and went on to plant many more before establishing Alma Rosa Winery in 2005.
Today the Sta. Rita Hills is making a name for itself as one of the world’s most exciting regions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sanford continues as winery ambassador, and the Zorichs have brought on top viticulture and winemaking talent, including winemaker Samra Morris, consulting winemaker Tony Biagi, viticulturist Mike Anderson, and veteran general manager Debra Eagle.
Goes with: We had this wonderful wine with chicken stir fry, which is becoming a real favorite for us this summer. It is a healthy meal that’s easy to cook and doesn’t heat the kitchen up.
This silky Chardonnay paired perfectly with the flavorful stir fry. The dish includes chicken, celery, carrots, green and red bell peppers, onions and peanuts cooked in a wok with a tangy sauce of chicken broth, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cayenne, red pepper flakes, sugar, corn starch and sherry. You could add just about any vegetable you want to suit your tastes.
The stir fry has just a hint of hot spice, but it did not interfere with the crisp, smooth tastes of the wine.
This Chardonnay also would pair well with all kinds of chicken or shrimp dishes, cream sauces or medium weight cheeses such as gouda, Monterrey Jack or Swiss.
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