Everyone knows Napa Valley makes great Cabernet Sauvignon. But now exciting cabs are arriving from the “other” California, like Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon region and Lake County’s obsidian-strewn hills. Here, a guide to the state's lesser-known wine regions.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara made its name with Pinot Noir, but don’t ignore this Central Coast region’s structured Cabernets. The best tend to come from two new appellations, Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon, in the warmer inland parts of the county.
2012 Firestone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($22)
Santa Barbara’s first estate winery is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, where cool nights give Cabernet ideal focus. This entry-level wine is a good example of the regional style.
2012 The Valley Project Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet ($35)
At winemaker Seth Kunin’s The Valley Project tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk District, visitors can sample wines from every appellation in the county, including this tangy Cabernet.
2010 Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon ($46)
Happy Canyon, the sub-region of Santa Barbara county that produced this palate-gripping red, was known as a source for good moonshine during Prohibition (hence the name); today it’s known as the source for most of the top Cabernets in the Santa Barbara region.
2012 Grassini Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($65)
Grassini’s Happy Canyon winery is remotely situated, but the winery also has a Santa Barbara tasting room, where this complex, full-bodied Cabernet is poured.
2010 Westerly Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
Another Happy Canyon producer, the Westerly property was originally a 3,900-acre horse ranch. Today it produces a range of impressive reds, among them this chewy, black currant-rich Cabernet.