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Wine of the Week: 2011 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Vogelzang Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, CA

The Santa Barbara area is known best for its pinot noir (thanks “Sideways”) and Dragonette Cellars is no exception. The formerly Lompoc based winery with one of the more handsome Los Olivos tasting rooms you’ll find frequently hits the headlines for its pinot noir.

Dragonette’s 2011 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir was indeed a stellar representation of the differences between Central Coast pinot noir compared to Oregon and the Sonoma Coast. Down south, you’ll find much more in the way of dramatic and sharp tannins, stone fruits, spice, and dried herbs, compared to the plush structure and berry mixed with earth palate elements of the Pacific Northwest.

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Even better is the unique 2011 “Black Label” Pinot Noir from a quartet of Santa Rita Hills vineyards. The very cool growing season for this vintage yielded a much lighter, almost blush colored wine that not surprisingly had many more of the berry notes and tenderness of an Oregon version.

Except driving through the rolling golden hills of California, you know you’re not in the Willamette Valley.Brothers John and Steve Dragonette started the winery with good friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis in a Hermosa Beach garage after John met Brandon while working at one of Los Angeles’ leading wine stores, Wally’s Wine & Spirits.  Sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and syrah were the focus then for the winery, still when the Lompoc operations began in 2008, and remain so now as Dragonette moves into its new digs in nearby Buellton. Not sure how Dragonette wines pair with split pea soup…

Dragonette Cellars also helps make the wine for another young Central Coast star, the entirely rosé and chardonnay winery Liquid Farm.

Like Liquid Farm, Dragonette makes a superb rosé, using 75% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, and 5% syrah for a refreshing rendition with no shortage of structure or velvety kiwi and raspberry character. Get it now for that next summer party, it’s one of the best you’ll find from California.

The heftier reds soar as well, whether it’s the smoky 2010 MJM or 2010 Seven. The MJM is a syrah based red blend (named after the men’s three wives, though it’s far from a feminin wine) full of rich tannins, and hints of barbeque and dried apricot, clocking in at a “gentle” 15.2% ABV.

The decidedly lighter 2010 Seven evoking a classic Languedoc red with dense layers of marjoram and maple, and who would be a perfect companion to grilled lamb chops. Lots of cabernet franc seems to stick its nose out. Grill those lamb chops in two summers though since the Seven needs to age and open up.

Dragonette Cellars

Dragonette Cellars

How rarely has it been said that the powerhouse wine in the lineup is actually the…Sauvignon Blanc? Indeed, the single Vogelzang Vineyard from Happy Canyon, east of Los Olivos, must have the secret growing magic with the often underwhelming, bland grape. Not so here. This is a gold standard of exciting California sauvignon blanc with shocking depth. The nose hits immediately with the usual tropical fruit softly blending in vanilla bean.

It’s the body that amazes. You’ll find it every bit as strong and elegant as a top tier chardonnay. Lots of kumquat, candied orange, and a host of basil shines through. I just tasted a lot of lemongrass and eucalyptus, but that might also be the koala bear in me. The finish is even slightly sweet with a dollop of honeycomb, instead of the usual bitter send-off.

The fuller body possibly can be attributed to the five months of extended aging and occaional bâtonnage shifting, after the customary 11 months in the barrels on lees. Dragonette used 80% French oak barrels and 20% stainless steel barrels for the aging period.

At only 140 cases produced, it’s time to hurry up and find a bottle now. Then drink now. Aging won’t help a wine at its absolute peak.

Keep talking about pinot noir around the Central Coast. “Sideways” was so a decade ago. If the region’s sauvignon blanc starts following Dragonette’s lead, you know I’ll be having Central Coast sauvignon blanc all summer long.

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