by Fred McMillin
for June 25, 1997
Where the Rhones Roam
Prologue: "Zaca Mesa wines have been winning medals since the first vintage in 1975."
The Rest of the Story: Those early medals came from well-known noble grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then Zaca Mesa ("Zaca" is a Chumash Indian word meaning "land of peace and quiet") has added Rhone varietals to its arsenal. E.g., they produced the area's first Syrah in 1983. Has the effort been successful? Well, the tenth vintage, the 1993 was selected as one of the "Top 100 Wines of the Year" by the Wine Spectator. Also, last year the '93 was served with rack of lamb at a White House State Dinner honoring the President of France, Jacques Chirac.
The Syrah success led to the planting of five other Rhone varietals, most of which are present in Zaca Mesa's newest wine, a dry pink called "Z Gris." The best pink I've ever tasted was in the Rhone Valley, a Tavel, made from a number of similar varietals. Given Zaca Mesa's success with the Rhone's Syrah, it's not suprising that this Rhone pink looks like another winner.
1996 Z Gris, Santa Barbara County
Postscript: Quick! What is the important geographic feature present in Santa Barbara County but not in any other California wine district? Give up? Only in that area do the mountain ranges run west to east, rather than north to south. This provides an uninterrupted west to east flow of cool marine air to the vineyards, which they like.
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