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Wine Tasting in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone
updated: Jun 15, 2013, 12:00 PM

By Marc Liberts

Even though I've lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years, I think the only times I've been in the Santa Barbara ‘Funk Zone' was to go to the old Big Dogs outlet to buy cheap shirts and shorts. I'm guessing that the Funk Zone is that squarish area of land bordered by State Street on the west, E. Cabrillo Blvd. on the south, Garden Street on the east, and E. Montecito Street on the north.

Being around the wine scene, I had heard that there were lots of wineries opening up in the ‘Funk Zone' so last weekend my friends from Los Angeles and I decided to head down there and try a few.

The good news is that the ‘Funk Zone' is actually pretty cool. I had imagined something not very nice, but it turns out that the area is in good shape, the tasting rooms are all cool and new, and there are some other cool things to see and check out down there. We went on a Sunday, and it was nice to have the Santa Barbara art walk happening down on Cabrillo just a few short blocks away. We were down there on a Sunday at about 11:00AM and there was tons of parking to be had, and it wasn't crowded at all.

We started by parking near Pali Wines and trying their new tasting room. I have enjoyed Pali Wines for a number of years now, and I was happy to see that they have opened a really nice tasting room in the Funk Zone. They are located at 116. E. Yanonali Street in Santa Barbara. Their phone number is 805- 560-PALI, and their website it www.paliwineco.com. They were offering two menus from which to taste, so we decided to try both.

The first menu was the Pali Wine Menu which started with the 2011 "Charm Acres" Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast. I rated it 87 points. The next wine on the menu was the 2010 "Riviera" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. I rated it 89 points and I thought is was a very nice Sonoma Pinot for $21 and I would recommend it as a nice every-day wine. Next up was the 2011 "Bluffs" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Another very nice wine I rated 88 points and would also recommend as an every-day Pinot for only $22.50. Next was the 2010 Rancho la Vina Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills. I liked this single vineyard designated wine very much and rated it 92 points. Finally, we tried the 2008 "Temescal" Grenache/Mourvedre, Monterey County. It had some nice caramel notes, but I think that these grapes may need more sun and heat, and I found the wine somewhat thin. I rated it 87 points. Overall, everything we tried from this menu was very good or better.

The second menu was the Tower15 Winery wines, beginning with the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles. I liked its acidity and rated it 88 points. Next was the 2011 Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles. I was hoping to like this one, but I thought it was too thin and rated it 84 points. Next was the 2011 "Sunset" Rose, Paso Robles. I thought this wine was also a bit thin but still pretty and refreshing with an 87 point rating. Next was the 2009 "The Swell" Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Verdot, Paso Robles. I was hoping for better, but the bell pepper shines through first and too much for me. A decent wine overall I rated 87 points. Last was the 2009 The Industrial Zinfandel, Sonoma County which I found to be plush, nicely structured, decently complex, and very enjoyable. I rated it 90 points and wish it cost less than $40. This menu was not as good as the Pali Wine menu. I think Pali Pinot Noirs are the wines to seek out here, and I recommend you opt for the menu with the Pinots.

We next walked about 7 minutes down Anacapa Street and found Municipal Winemakers. Municipal has a very cool tasting room in the heart of the funk zone, and Tracy served us. Tracy was cool, knowledgeable and fun and we were lucky to have her serve our wine flight. We started with the 2012 Bright White which is a Riesling that is mostly dry. I really liked it, rated it 89 points and bought a bottle! Tracy also shared with us a wine that wasn't on the list because my wife likes sweet wine. Tracy brought out the 2012 Sweetness Riesling which I rated 86 points because I thought the wine lacked the acid needed to balance the sugar. Next we had the 2012 Blanche Chenin Blanc. I was hoping I would like it because I like French Chenin Blanc but my hopes were dashed when I tasted it. This wine is a bit all over the place and has a hard time expressing what it is. I rated it 82 points. Next was the 2011 ‘The Kook' Zinfandel. I thought it was OK and rated it 85 points. Next was the 2011 Dark Red which is a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon & 53% Syrah. Surprisingly, the Cabernet shines through here, with the Syrah giving it some good backbone. I liked it and rated it 89 points. A nice red wine to take home for $28. Last we tried the 2010 Fox Family Grenache. I thought it was a bit thin overall and rated it 87 points. Tracy was awesome and the tasting room is extremely hip and cool. The wines are good and this is a really fun place to do some tasting and try some interesting wines.

I wanted to head uptown and check out Grassini Family Vineyards and Au Bon Climat. My feet were hurting so we walked down to Stearns Wharf and caught the State Street electric tram. The tram is a cool way to see State Street and only costs 50 cents per person! After a short ride up State Street, we got off at East De La Guerra Street, walked past Santa Barbara City hall, and then headed up Anacapa Street a half block until we reached Au Bon Climat.

Au Bon Climat is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and I was looking forward to trying both as I haven't had their wines in a while. Their tasting room is very cool and Maddie was very helpful and fun as she guided us through our flights of wines. They have two flights of wines on their menu, so again we tried both. I started with the Reserve flight which began with the 2009 Clendenen Family Vineyards "Pip". This is a pretty and polite Pinot that I rated 88 points. Next was the 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. I like the herbal notes in this wine and rated it 88 points. Next was the 2009 ICI/La-Bas "Oregon" Pinot. I thought it was too thin and light rated it 84. Next was the 2008 Barham Mendelsohn Pinot Noir. I thought this wine had some interesting layers but was a bit too light and rated it 87 points. Last was the 2010 Au Bon Climat "Isabelle" which I thought was pretty and polite but light. I rated it 86 points. All the Pinot Noir wines in this flight would probably pair nicely with food.

The second flight we tried here was the Classic Flight. This flight starts with the 2012 Mondeuse Rose which I thought was plump and fun and rated it 87 points. Next was the 2011 Pinot Gris / Pinot Blanc. I liked the acid and clean flavors in this wine and rated it 88 points. After that was the 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay. I found it to be rich and compelling and rated it 89 points. After that was the 2009 Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir which I found plush and nice, and rated it 90 points. Next was the 2000 Vita Nova Reservatum, a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. This wine is interesting but a bit too old in my opinion. I rated it 84 points. Last was the 2005 Il Podere Dell ‘Olivos Teroldego. Teroldego is a grape I'm not familiar with. I thought the wine was interesting but not compelling and I rated it 86 points. Overall, our experience at Au Bon Climat was very good, with the Pinot Noirs and the Chardonnay shining through as expected.

Last, we headed down the alley and found the Grassini Family Vineyards Tasting Room. We were greeted by Katrina who guided us through our tasting. The tasting room is small, and the wine is definitely the center of attention. We started with the 2011 "Happy Canyon" Sauvignon Blanc which was one of my favorite wines of the day! Crisp and clean with bright acidity and hearty grassy notes on the nose I rated this 92 points. Next was their 2010 "Equipo" Sauvignon Blanc which I found much more quiet and subdued, and rated it 85 points. Katrina then shared with us a 2009 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc which was more oak driven and strong. I rated that 87 points and liked it. Next was the first red the 2010 "Articondo" Bordeaux Blend. I thought it had nice balance and texture and I rated it 89 points. My friends loved it and bought a bottle. Last was the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I found this wine to have very nice grip and presence on the palate and I liked it. I rated it 90 points. Overall, we had very good wines and very good hospitality at the Grassini Family Vineyards Tasting Room.

One of my guests wanted to try Casa Blanca Restaurant so we left Grassini and walked down State Street until we reached 330 State Street and found Casa Blanca. I hadn't been there yet and was pleased to find that they did a really nice job decorating the restaurant. The overall feel is bright and airy, and I was encouraged. Our server was very professional and extremely well versed in the menu. We tried a number of different menu items, and I decided to try one of the specials called "Cazuela" which is a stew served with tortillas. Everyone really enjoyed the food they ordered, and I am happy to recommend Casa Blanca Restaurant as a really nice place to get some really good authentic Mexican fare.

I'm thinking about heading up to Paso Robles in the next few weeks. Anyone have any secret wineries that they recommend or would like me to visit?

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 420884P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-06-15 12:24 PM

Superbly restored vintage railcars deliver travelers from Los Angeles to S.B. to the Funk Zone once or twice a month for six hours of sightseeing, touring and tasting. Call Terry at 805-680-0397 for details.


 COMMENT 420885P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-06-15 12:31 PM

Love love love the Funk Zone! Thanks for the great write-up.


 COMMENT 420887P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-06-15 12:36 PM

I miss the old Funk Zone. And since I don't drink and drive, I don't visit the area much anymore.


 COMMENT 421005P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-06-15 08:55 PM

Before you go - stop by the S B Visitor Center in the stone building at the corner of Garden and State sts. They will give you a free map about the size of a desk blotter. It has numerous coupons - five or six of them discount the price of wine tastings down near Cabrillo and downtown.


 SPAGNOLA agree helpful negative off topic

2013-06-16 06:27 PM

Great post, Mark, as always. We traveled to Paso and stayed west on Vineyard Drive - visited Turley, Denner and Halter Ranch. All three are terrific.


 COMMENT 421365 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-06-17 09:09 AM

A few of my Paso Robles favoriets: Linne Colado, Tablas Creek, and Brian Benson.


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