Santa Barbara County is not particularly known for being a place for Rhone Rangers. The Central Coast wine region of California is dominated by Paso Robles, and the North Coast has Sonoma and a few mountain regions of Napa. What is a Rhone Ranger? An American winery that rides on a lone horse across the Great West that chooses to make esoteric wines and wine blends styled like those they make in the Rhone River Valley of France. Tell most people you’re having a GSM, and they’re, like, huh? Applause goes to a tiny winery in Santa Barbara, WORKMAN AYER, that makes a tiny batch of a Rhone blend—80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre for the 2013 vintage bottling—called “De Facto”. A Rhone red wine blend is always going to be fruit-driven, and this one is most definitely flavorful—it’s a panoply of black, red and blue berry notes, along with other delightful flavors of raspberry syrup, cinnamon and brined meat—but it’s the texture that sells the wine. Cool and balanced, like Simone Biles on the balance beam, at 14.5% alcohol there’s muscular strength on display but the wine never feels heavy or belabored, always graceful; it’s concentrated but with wings to fly in the air. Add in the prominence of attractive grace-notes of blueberry and violets in the wine, and we’re sold. A significant step up from the 2012 vintage, and this should be a harbinger of greater things to come from the Rhone Rangers of Santa Barbara County. –J.M.
Great Wine: Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc