You can take the grape out of Italy but you can’t take Italy out of the grape.
The chiasmus flowed through my mind when Eric Van Drunen and Michael Christian poured me the first of their latest releases from the Los Pilares winery in San Diego, California last week.
The wonderful Los Pilares skin-contact Falanghina from their 2020 harvest — one of their best to date, they said — had all the hallmarks of great Falanghina: freshness, good acidity, and classic notes of citrus and minerality. On-the-skins fermentation gave the wine a creamy texture that made me crave for some grilled fish tacos (mahi mahi, if you don’t mind). But the thing that really impressed me was how clean and focused this wine was.
The fruit for this wine, like all their labels, comes from San Diego-county grown grapes, including vines on tribal lands. It was barely 13 years ago when people would still sneer when the seemingly oxymoronic expression “San Diego wine” was uttered. Eric and Michael seem to have put that old chestnut into the roaster for once and for all, as the metaphorizing goes.
The other wine that had my tongue on its toes was this excellent Assyrtiko-Mission-Barbera co-ferment.
Los Pilares grower Coleman Cooney has been experimenting with new grape varieties for years now and this is definitely one of his best efforts imho.
The Mission, a California native that has been deservedly getting more and more attention in recent years (thank you, Bryan Harrington), seemed to give this wine the “lift” that young sommeliers look for these days. But it was the Santorini grape that imparted the rich saltiness in this wine. Eric and Michael served it cellar temperature: it was one of the moreish wines that you just can’t put down. Vibrant fruit, nice acidity, and best of all, fresh and extremely clean on the nose.
Both wines were 1,000 percent winners on my palate and in my book (sorry for the mixed metaphorizing).
It seem like only yesterday (the now prehistoric 2016 to be exact) that snootiness was still required when discussing the wines produced in “America’s finest city.”
Does anyone remember wine professional Allison Levine writing about a Los Pilares wine for the Napa Valley Register?
“I was told it was from San Diego,” she reported. “Yes, you heard me correctly — San Diego, the beach city at the bottom of California.”
In all fairness to Allison (and beach/bottom alliteration aside), she liked the wine, even though she relegated it to the dust bin of “natural wine,” always a non-starter for the Napa set. But her note still oozes with the disdain that northern Californian natives feel for their southern counterparts (sorry for the Google alert, Allison!).
I grew up in that “beach city at the bottom of California” and it was great to be back and taste some of my county’s most recent viticultural efforts. As the allegorizing goes, BOTTOMS UP!
Informative — and clever and well-written — column! Thanks.
David, I would love to get to try those wines with you! Some day! Thanks for the kind note.
wonderful! we sure were lucky with this vintage. you reminded me of an old joke. see facebook comment. so nice to see you in san diego. more soon!!!!!
Super fun to reconnect and great to taste the new releases. Really wonderful. See you back in SD soon.
Jeremy,Very interesting that there is again interest in San Diego winegrowing. In the 70s, I consulted for the newest San Diego winery on the road to the Wild life Park. It was called San Pasqual, but they wanted to make classical grape varieties, SB and the like. When the two major stockholders died or lost interest, it sort of dwindled away. But there were at that time, three other wineries in place there, as you may know. But the grapes you write about are probably what we should have planted in the first place, but they didn’t exist in California at the time. Hope you are all well.Darrell
Darrell, I remember hearing you talk about Aglianico as one the grapes that might perform well in California. That was back at the grape growers conference in Sacramento in 2007. I was surprised and then delighted to learn that Michael and his team had planted Falanghina. By the way, I need to share some of my work on Barbera in California with you. I know you’ll have a lot of insights about that. I hope to come see you in May. Valete magister optime!
Jeremy – got that Google alert :) I was a fan of Los Pilares when I first tasted the wines and used the term “natural” only once in my story (as I am not a fan of that term but that is how the owner had described it – so I should have put it in quotes). Anyway, as I don’t live in Napa but write for the Napa Valley Register, I love sharing wines and wineries from other regions and hope Napa people enjoy hearing about wines outside their bubble.
Also, here is the link to the story I wrote – as it didn’t seem to link in your story. If I wrote the story today, “natural” would not be in my vocabulary. https://pleasethepalate.com/natural-wine-from-san-diego-los-pilares-leads-the-way/
Thanks for sharing this. I’ll add it to the post. Thanks! :)
Allison, I so agree. Los Pilares was the wine that got us ALL to start paying attention to SD in the first place. I remember your article from the time and thinking, wow, this is starting to get into the wine mainstream. Let’s share a glass when I get to your part of the state. I would love that. Thanks for being here.