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Cal-Ital, Take Two

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Palmina's Italian Variety Whites

On sort of an extended trip at the moment, one leg of which took me down to the Santa Rita Hills, currently the source of some of CA's best Pinots and Syrahs, and, as it turns out, unquestionably CA's best Malvasia Bianca.  Admittedly a bit of a harder sell, but winemaking passion doesn't always take heed of market forces.

Anyway, what this particular blog entry comes out of is a tasting I had the other day with Steve Clifton of Palmina (and Brewer-Clifton) at his winery, which is located in the Lompoc wine ghetto. The ghetto is one of the more concentrated zones of California garagiste winemaking I've run across, a mini-industrial park of small warehouse spaces packed with thirty-odd bonded wineries, among them Stolpman, Piedrasassi, Holus Bolus, Palmina, Longoria, Sea Smoke, DiBruno...the list goes on. Strangely impressive, given the non-scenic-ness of it all.

Palmina specializes in Italian varietals. Not only that, but part of Clifton's focus is the white varieties of northern Italy. Not many California wineries are willing to devote much effort to producing Traminer, Arneis or the aforementioned Malvasia Bianca; would that they were. These are all appealing, bright, focused whites (Palmina makes reds, too, but I'm mostly bowled over by the whites), ideal with food, well worth hunting down. My two favorites were the following, but don't overlook Palmina's Pinot Grigios, which are a good way of reacquainting yourself with the fact that this often dreary grape actually can make impressive wine.

2006 Palmina Tocai ($28) This had classic lightly bitter tree fruit notes in the aroma, great acidity, citrus zest and light peach flavors and a fine, minerally end. Spot-on varietal character for Tocai, I thought. I would've mistaken it for a good Northern Italian Tocai, tasted blind.

2006 Malvasia Bianca ($24)
Fermented in 10-year-old very neutral barrels, as Clifton put it—he recycles barrels from Brewer Clifton after all the oak character is completely gone. Pretty blood orange scent and flavor with a bit of lime, and a tongue-awakening, almost prickly texture.


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