My last trip to Santa Barbara was an eye-opening experience. First, I reunited with the best burger in America at In and Out. Thank God there are no East Coast outlets or my health and weight would be in serious jeopardy. When it comes to wine, traveling from the coast to Happy Canyon reinforced my belief that America’s best Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah are being grown on the windswept hills of Santa Barbara County. All along those travels, at almost every serious vineyard we walked, we were led by Rueben Solorzano, better known in the circles of SBC best wineries, as the Grape Whisperer.
Rueben has managed to construct a viticultural empire over the last decade, working some the best sites in SBC. He knows those peaks, hillsides and exposures like the back of his giant hand and his M.O. is the same everywhere…..organic farming, little to no irrigation and low yields. One glance at Parker’s recent reviews of SBC wines and just about every 95 point+ wine came from vines worked by the Grape Whisperer. Ask any of those winemakers about the success of their wines and their first, second and third answers will all be about the man working the vineyard…so, when Ruben and Pete Stolpman came up with an idea to produce one wine every year that reflected some or all of the vineyard sites that Ruben was working, I was all in. Any chef knows, the end product can only be as good as the raw ingredients. From what I have tasted, pretty much anything involving Ruben has a massive headstart on the way to greatness.
In 2018 Rueben and Pete hit paydirt, producing a flashy, juicy BBQ red that critic Antonio Galloni calls “..simply irresistable” He followed that up with a 92 point score which pretty much guarantees the wine will disappear quickly. As it should, because the wine is stunning. The 2018 Para Maria de los Tecolotes Red Wine (affectionately named after Ruben’s wife and partner, Maria) is a Syrah-based blend that is near black in color, with a great nose of dark fruit and olive tapenade. But despite its color, this is not over blown and chunky, this is fine wine, an elegant, refined version of Syrah that’s right up anyone’s alley that drinks Burgundy or Pinot. Drink with just about anything but particularly good with anything off the grill, lentil dishes and if you really want to be reminded of SBC’s finest…..just a good juicy burger.
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92 Points (Editors’ Choice) Wine Enthusiast
It’s hard to find a better wine for the price than this blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Petite Verdot. Blistered black-plum, charcoal and fresh boysenberry aromas kick off the nose, while the palate blends black pepper, boysenberry and smoke. It is a versatile table wine, as apt for tacos and barbecue as it is for prime rib and roast lamb.
92 Points, Antonio Galloni – Vinous
The 2018 Para Maria de los Tecolotes is another gorgeous wine in this range from Stolpman. Syrah and Petit Verdot work together beautifully here. Hints of lavender, licorice and spice meld into a core of inky dark fruit in a mid-weight, fruity red that offers tons of near and medium-term appeal. The 2018 is simply irresistible.