Wine Review – 2002 Palmina Barbera, Santa Barbara, CA

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My fascination with aged wines continues with the 2002 Palmina Barbera.  Well, I wouldn’t reference “aged” in a traditional “collector” sort of way where you wait ten years or so to open a bottle.  I’m talking about waiting a couple of years after release or purchase of the wine.  I wish I had a chance to try this on release, which probably would have been in 2003 or 2004 at the latest.  It was really interesting trying to reverse-extrapolate (is that even a word?), how this might have tasted when released.  It sure was tasty and still tasted as if had been bottled recently.

The dark ruby color was still vibrant and the first sip delivered tangy flavors of sour cherries that were making me pucker in a SweeTARTS candy sort of way.  A good sign that the wine was still going to be fresh and have a lot of life left in it.  As the wine opened up, the darker fruit flavors started to fill in as well as some spice box and tobacco leaf flavors that sometimes develops in a red wine with some age.  It went surprisingly well with our falafel sandwich, chicken souvlaki in yogurt sauce and tangy greek caviar appetizer.  It also held up to our green salad dressed with some of the most tangy and zesty dressings I’ve ever had.

Ironically you don’t find a lot of Italian varietals in California, since so many of the early families to plant vineyards in California, were Italian immigrants.  Outside of sangiovese, and zinfandel which has its Italian/primitivo roots (and Czechoslovakian as well), you won’t see a lot of other Italian varietals being bottled.  In Piedmont, barbera is often thought of as a filler; a wine the Piedmontese drink while biding time for their glorious barolos and barbarescos to age.  It’s a red grape that often produces simple wines with a tangy, zesty and refreshing mouth feel.  Most esteemed Barolo and Barbaresco producers though, also do make more serious and complex and cellar-worthy versions of barbera.  The Palmina is a nice blend of the two styles.  It went well with our Mediterranean fare and it stood up well to the test of time.

Palmina Winery is owned by husband and wife team Steve and Chrystal Clifton.  They carry no formal education and background in wine making.  In fact Steve’s background is as a musician and Chrystal’s I believe is in art.  Reading stories like theirs are great reminders to me and should be to anyone aspiring to get into the wine business that anything is possible.  Career changes are pretty commonplace in this business.

The winery focuses on producing a host of Italian varietals from arneis to nebbiolo and even to ancient varietal like refosco.  They are captivated not only by the food and wine of Italy, but the way of life emphasizing family, friends and togetherness.  A quote from their website accurately sums up their wine making style:

“They are not trying to emulate the Italian versions of those grapes, but rather interpret the styles to the growing conditions and vineyard sites of the very unique characteristics of Santa Barbara County.  The wines are Italian by tradition and modern by design and all are designed to be an extension of the plate.”

I met Steve Clifton for a brief moment at a huge supplier trade show on Oahu a few years back and he couldn’t be a nicer guy.  These trade shows are exhausting and can take a toll on suppliers and wineries alike.  The sheer amount of work and energy needed to pour wine into hundreds of eager goblets can test you, so it was nice to see that he was cool as a cuke and appreciated every person’s visit to his table.

Palmina wines available for purchase on their website, the internet or your local neighborhood fine wine shop.


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