Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Day in Santa Barbara County: Dierberg and Star Lane

Dierberg and Star Lane are two labels run by the same people. Both are focused on producing a more restrained style of wine from Santa Barbara County. Dierberg focuses on Burgundy varietals and Star Lane on the Bordeauxs (not all that common in Santa Barbara). I spent an hour or so tasting at their new tasting room just outside of Buelton.

Up first I tried the 2006 Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, which had a nose with a touch of mineral, but big citrusy New Zealand style fruit. The palate was a little poopy and filled with fresh cut citrus and grass. A good sipper. Very Good to Very Good+ $20.

The 2005 Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley had a full bodied and enticing nose of mostly roasted hazlenuts. It reminded me somewhat of Ridge's Santa Cruz Mountain Chard. The palate was nutty again, but also added caramel, apple, licorice and a good dose of acid. A very tasty partial malo-lactic chard at a fair price. Very Good+. $32.

Moving into reds, I was quite impressed with the 2006 Dierberg Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, which had a soft red fruits nose and an earthy and peppery palate, with a touch of savory herbs. A nice pinot, but I did prefer those from Alma Rosa. Very Good+. $42.

However, when I turned to the Star Lane offerings I was very surprised to find extremely Bordeaux style reds that still had solid ripeness to them. These are not what anyone would expect from California Bordeaux varietal wines and I think there is tremendous promise here to produce some pretty fantastic bargains so long as big media doesn't come in and jack up the prices. Fortunately, given the minerally and vegetal cut to these wines, that seems unlikely.

The 2006 Star Lane Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley is grown where all the Star Lane wines are: way out in a wamer portion of the easterly Santa Ynez Valley. Because the valley is oriented on a North-South axis, the vines are protected from the sea breazes that make the Santa Maria Valley so cool and ideal for Pinot. The nose had soft red fruits, mint and a distinct meatyness. The palate was big, but rough and only moderately sweet. Lots of red berries and earth. A nice tannic grip leads the mid-palate into a well structured finish. Very Good+. $36.

Less interesting, perhaps because so many around this area are making better examples, was the 2006 Dierberg Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, with its nose of meat, chocolate and stems. The palate is very large and meaty, with black berry and plum skins. This is still green and needs a little age. Very Good. $34.

The final wine - a 2005 Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley was the most interesting of the bunch. I got very leafy overtones on the otherwise classic nose of mint, chocolate and cassis. This, however, is very herbal on the palate, with tomato vine, thyme, sage, etc. This is very driven by the earth and herb components rather than the fruit and reminds me very much of Bordeaux. Nonetheless, there is a solid black berry fruit component sliding through the middle of this well structured wine. Very Good+. $50.

Dierberg and Star Lane are producing solid wines across the board, and if you are looking for something with a bit more of a French edge but with a California pedigree, it is worth checking out the Star Lane merlot and Cab Sauv. Additionally, all of these wines are available in BC, albeit for higher prices. Another solid producer from Santa Barbara County.

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