The Wines of Santa Barbara

Discovering the potential of Santa Barbara in just three days!


I only tasted the Verdad Rose in the Qupe Los Olivos tasting room but it is worth including here seeing as (a) I tasted it and (b) it comes from the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard, which supplies Qupe with additional excellent raw materials, and (c) Louisa Sawyer Lindquist and Bob Lindquist share more than a tasting room.

Qupe was one of my earliest introductions to Santa Barbara Syrah, with their 1990 Bien Nacido Vineyard. It was a bit of a game changer back in the day, at least for me, but as so often happens the pioneers of a region tend to receive less attention as that region devops. Sometimes it’s because the wineries get lazy and the wine’s quality is not maintained but more often than not the wine media, ever in search of a story, simply moves on. I mean how many years in a row do you want to hear about the same pioneer?

I do remember being somewhat underwhelmed with some Qupe wines in the mid 1990s as the winery underwent some growing pains, but the selection of wines I tasted on this visit, which were focused in the value range of under $35, displayed a lovely diversity of expression that certainly helps to promote and showcase the diversity of terroir Qupe draws from. It’s a broad range of wines and as one might expect there were highs and lows but the 2012 Qupe Viognier Sawyer Lindquist and the 2010 Qupe Syrah Alisos Vineyard were as convincing as anything I tried on this trip.

2012 Verdad Rose of Grenache $18


Very fruity nose with strawberries and cherries, bright acids and a little bit bit sweet on the palate with lots of lively strawberry fruit, long bright finish, very refreshing with a sweetness to the fruit, zesty. 87pts

2012  Qupe Bien Nacido Cuvée $20

67% viognier, 33% Chardonnay

Big floral nose, spicy polleny , mandarin orange, and just a hint of dusty gravel with a promise of polyphenols on the palate, A little bit of sweetness adds some roundness and reinforces the slIghtly oily texture here, a bit chewy on the midpalate with rich  floral and honeycomb flavors and nice minerality emerging on the finish along with a lingering note of bitterness and hints of smoked almond. 88pts

2012 Qupe Viognier Sawyer Lindquist  $35


Toasty oats and heathery on the nose with fine lime and kumquat notes topped with honeysuckle and mineral notes. Rather light and fresh on entry with a nice  bit of richness to the midpalate which shows a lovely hint of grippy astringency along with  apricot and honey/lime flavors that turn a bit more minerally and more citrusy on the long finish. This really shows nice poise and focus, in a slightly slightly smaller scale than one typically finds with Viognier. 91pts

2011 Qupe Maxtap Cuvée $25

64% syrah, 18% Grenache, 15% tempranillo, 3% mourvedre


Lightly aromatic, with a bit of cracked pepper and lingonberry over astringent red fruit on the nose with a bit of strawberry ice cream and a hint of mint as a top note. A bit loosely knit and fruit forward in a round yet transparent style that shows lots of wild berry, gamy fruit with a hint of dark plum and  hoisin on the backend. The finish is a bit short and a touch sweet fruity though with some refreshing acids and some dull little tannins that are both ultimately over-run by the sweet fruit. Simple and a bit fruit bomby. 84pts

2010 Qupe Maxtap Cuvée $25

72% syrah, 14% Grenache, 13% tempranillo, 1% mourvedre

Smoky,  earthy, and sort of ashy aromas top roast meaty fruits. Opening with some bright acids this has a nice lively feel and lacks some of the sweet candied fruit of the 2011. There’s a nice gamy edge to the harder, drier blackberry fruit candy on the palate with fairly nice cut and mineral notes on the tobacco laced finish that shows nice tangy syrah fruit with fine grained dry tannins. 87pts

2010 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvée $25


47% syrah, 29% mourvedre, 24% Grenache

Rather herb driven and meaty with grilled beef aromas topped by gentle floral notes, cracked pepper, and wild strawberry fruit on the nose.  Smooth and fairly polished In a medium bodied easy to drink style, the Maxtap is a bit rustic in comparison. There’s a big core of juicy red fruit very strawberry toned then backed up with flashes of almost bitter black fruit. With good length on the finish this is very easy to drink with some subtle complexity and a lovely core of wild cherry fruit on the midpalate that segues into something a bit more chocolaty on the moderately long finish. 88pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Edna Valley $35



A bit ashy and rich with cool climate smoky, bacon and black olivey aromatics on the nose with lots of dried herb nuance over jammy plum and blueberry fruit. Round on the palate yet a touch thin up front turning aromatic and a bit fleshy in the mouth with lots of blueberry, boysenberry and clear lingonberry fruit that shows a hint of white pepper, finishing with a bit of sticky weight and some nice roof of the mouth tannins, this is nicely structured and decidedly varietal. 89pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Bien Nacido $25


Lovely nose, faintly animal, olive, gamy, leathery, and spicy with hints of green peppercorn on the nose.  Somewhat light and elegant up front then picking up a faint edge of sweetness with just a hint of ashiness. This has a lovely texture with fine grained tannins, poppy seed accents to the slightly gamy bright red raspberry and loganberry fruit,and a very clean and fresh finish with small angular tannins. This is a lovely bistro styled syrah, it's just a little short at this point, but offers a superb blend of drinkability, variety character and subtle complexity in this style. 88pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Purisima Mountain $35


Dark oily spice aromas on the nose with some light smoky undertones and fine black fruit that shows some blueberry tones all come together nicely if a bit mysteriously. Showing nice tension on entry this delivers rather precise if rather ripe red and black fruit flavors with a nice salty tone and a clay mineral element on the palate. The dark fruit builds on the moderately long finish which shows a hint of caramel and vanilla sweetness. This is earthy and somewhat muscular but the finish leaves just a little to be desired. 89pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Alisos Vineyard $35


Gorgeous nose is narrow and focused with some dried meat, spiced cherries, raw beef, fine herbal notes that recall bitter greens with an underlying wood sweetness, and a hint of black olive. Polished yet transparent with a fair amount of powdery tannins and solid acidity supporting nicely red fruit flavors on the midpalate and really nice mineral base notes. The finish is pretty short, but this has everything in balance to improve, peppery tones grace the finish, young but with promise. 91pts

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  • Snooth User: LisaTillis
    221025 13

    Greg - If you did not sample the wines of winemakers, Joey and Jennifer Tensley, then you need to make a return trip. They are making some really exceptional Syrahs from the Colson Canyon Vineyards and Thompson Vineyards. Tensley wines are consistently rated at 93 points or more and have become our go to favorite. Absolutely outstanding! - Lisa Tillis, North Carolina

    Sep 19, 2013 at 1:21 PM

  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 196

    Ditto for Jaffurs.....

    Sep 19, 2013 at 3:18 PM

  • Snooth User: johnmmoore
    170772 15

    Glad to see the Rhones being showcased. I cut my teeth on Rhones in Santa Barbara county. Tensley and Jaffurs were early favorites of mine for sure. Jaffurs does a whole lineup of Syrahs, and my first experience with cool climate Syrah was a Jaffurs Ampelos Syrah (Ampelos is a Pinot producer in Santa Rita Hills that also grows Syrah and other Rhones). The lesson I learned there was to look for Syrahs grown where Pinots are grown, and it's paid off. Evans Ranch, the premium label from Gainey Vineyards in Santa Ynez, produces all their wines out of Santa Rita - two Chards, two Pinots, and two Syrahs - I love them all. And Melville produces some nice Syrahs as well - their Vernas is not only cheap but very tasty (not from Santa Rita but close by). Really too many good Rhones in the region to mention. It's wine heaven, and anyone searching for wines that will inspire simply must visit. Having Santa Barbara and the beaches just over the hill is simply a bonus.

    One note - I've learned that where the grapes are from is paramount. Yes, technique and style are important, but knowing where the fruit is from goes a long way to predicting what a wine will taste like. I eschew notes of strawberry, tar, etc and cut right to the chase - where are the grapes from? AVA is important, and vineyard if you know the region. I know a Tondre Pinot when I taste it - same goes for a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay. And for a cool climate Rhone lover, location is key. It's literally teaching someone to fish rather than giving them the fish. Santa Barbara county is a terrific place to hunt down some amazing cool climate Rhones.

    Sep 19, 2013 at 5:26 PM

  • After reading this I can't wait to get back out there to taste at Stopman and Martian Ranch! Zaca Mesa and Qupe are already favorites. I look forward to your Pinot wrap up and hope it will include Longoria, Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce! And have you tried the amazing Sav Blancs out of Santa Ynez?

    Sep 19, 2013 at 11:08 PM

  • Snooth User: eastwoods
    982332 1

    Interesting reading, but most of these are out of my $$$ range, with the exception of Zaca Mesa Chardonnay (it's at the top of my price point). Make note to self to try it.

    Sep 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM

  • Lisa is right Tensley is fantastic the colson canyon is amazing and so is their Grenache. Also Blair Fox down the street is amazing too. Loved their Grenache blanc

    Sep 20, 2013 at 1:54 PM

  • Snooth User: searchub
    1370139 20

    What about those who don't live in Santa Barbara. Maybe I need give a visit!

    Sep 23, 2013 at 11:01 AM

  • Greg, thanks for the update, definitely some interesting wines to explore. FYI, Stolpman winemaker Sashi Moorman is also doing great things at Sandhi Vineyards with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

    Sep 25, 2013 at 8:50 AM

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