This is a brilliant and delicious charmer of a wine: classy and smooth and full of bright red and bramble fruit, it is a wake-up call to point us to great wines that don't come from Europe.
This is real epicurean wine and is extremely versatile too; from grills to seafood, Indian to cordon bleu, you'll get masses of quality and complexity with every glassful. Its freshness is retained in the first five years or so, when it then starts to develop into more complex flavours of forest floor, dried fruits and more perfume than you'd find in Duty Free.
Jim Clendenen founded Au Bon Climat in 1982 as a way of respecting the cool Pacific climate, the marine soils and the east-west running hills and mountain ranges that gave the vineyards "a good place"or, a "Bon Climat". The choice of the French phrase came because if the obsession with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which Jim had identified as being perfect tools to show the quality of the land. And of course, forty years later, the proof is in the amazing puddings. As they say themselves, though fashions come and go in much of the other Californian wineries and regions, Au Bon Climat has been able to stay its course, because its course was set at such a high level to start with. Nuance, site-specificity, traditional styles and sustainable respect... these are ideals, not passing fashions.
The wines they make are excellent but never flashy. They don't go for high alcohol levels, but harvest grapes when they are balanced to create wines that will age gracefully and for a long time. I've been lucky enough to try one of their whites at 23 years old, full of freshness and complexity. They are exceptionally successful and it is mad and very sad that Jim died in 2021 leaving a wonderful legacy, but also a massive hole. It's a challenge to maintain a drive like his, but one to which the team and family will rise, I am sure.
This wine is now even more popular than it was when I first had it in the early 2000s, largely because of the impact of the film Sideways. Based around the wineries of Santa Barbara, it championed the notion of Old World wine styles being made in the New World of California and held special respect and deference to Pinot Noir. This then led to the best wineries in Santa Barbara being inundated with demand for their wines (anything would do!) and of course, ABC were not in any rush to change their methods. In fact, their story was almost the perfect foil for the film and its message of tradition, nuance and longevity.
Region: Santa Barbara
Grape(s): Pinot Noir
Style: Svelte, Structured, Silky, Round, Medium Bodied, Elegant, Complex, Balanced
Best food matches: Steak, Soft Cheeses, Red Meats, Mature Cheeses, Lamb, Hard Cheeses, Charcuterie