Rare California Wines

Discover the Pioneering Spirit of Rare California Wines


Todd Phillips

By Todd Phillips, Wine Director at Azul at Mandarin Oriental, Miami

In a recent visit to a local wine shop in search of something new and interesting, I kept coming across wines from Santa Barbara. I’ve always enjoyed their Pinot Noirs from Santa Rita, but on this trip I discovered an unusual beast.  I couldn’t resist straying off the beaten path and in turn discovered two incredible wines.

Quest for intriguing wines
During this quest I discovered the wines of Sans Liege, where winemaker Kurt Schalchiln has transformed my opinions of “high octane” labels. I stumbled upon their 100 percent Grenache, “En Gedi,” from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard. Weighing in at 15.9 percent abv (alcohol by volume), I turned away thinking it was too boisterous, like a brute with no balance or intellect.  After a moment of reflection, I decided to embrace the challenge and later found this wine exudes a distinct elegance, which is enveloped by its undoubted strength – Audrey Hepburn meets Mike Tyson.  Rich with baked fruit and hinting at herbaceousness, this wine is robust and dark. Its almost sweet fruit is underlined by a searing pencil lead-like minerality. Big, bold and opulent, it floats like a butterfly…and you know the rest.

Wines off the beaten path
I decided to continue my trek down the road less traveled and that’s when I discovered The Scholium Project Sauvignon Blanc.  Although Sauvignon Blancs are quite common, this variation is worthy of note. If you want to discover wines that are off the beaten path, you will find this one is the result of getting rid of the path all together.  It is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc and that is the only thing common about this wine.  They ferment in wood and also with lots of skin contact. Both of these techniques on Sauvignon Blanc are rare to say the least. This results in a warm hue that is slightly candied orange and a nose reminiscent of fresh yuzu and orange blossoms baking in the afternoon sun.  What stunned me most was the texture – waxy and in the most alluring way possible, making it a perfect lesson in perceiving texture. The Scholium Project’s philosophy is very hands off; nothing added or taken away.

wine-storyBoth wines are very low production, unique and high quality, and most importantly their pioneering spirit is the very embodiment of what California has always been about. Cheers!

Rare California Wines