The name Melville—along with others such as Sanford, Clendenen, Brewer, Clifton, Brown, and Longoria—is the reason Santa Barbara County was put on the modern wine map. These are some of the local visionaries responsible for the greatest Burgundy-inspired wines out of this sprawled region off the central coast of California, which is to say some of the greatest wines in California, period, and—though the mainstream wine press will hardly ever say so, some of the greatest wines in the world. That’s just fine with us who live close by, because we would be disappointed if Santa Barbara ever changed identity and turned into a mass-producing winemaking region instead of maintaining the boutique allure it currently possesses.
The MELVILLE Estate Pinot Noir – Verna’s is a go-to $25 Pinot. I haven’t yet discovered a Bourgogne that can compete with a Santa Barbara at this price point. And not too many from Sonoma or Russian River either. What makes this 2012 stand out? Start with the Pantone-perfect ruby red color and its very fragrant nose, like walking through a strawberry patch, perhaps with camellias and purple orchids. On the palate, it surprises you with its power, intensity and focus of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry and cranberry), then a taste of red licorice and finishing off with ground pepper. This starts fruity and light but ends robust. It’s just begging for a gourmet burger, medium-rare, with melted Gruyere, caramelized onions and aioli on a brioche bun. So great a pairing because of the wine’s charming acidity, underlying sweetness and persistence. Sophisticated but casual. That’s California in a nutshell, and what Santa Barbara does best. –J.M.