I’ve known about Palmina’s wines for a while, but this was the first time I tasted them. The verdict for me is abundantly clear: these wines are fascinating and delicious.
Based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, Palmina has a singular and precise vision: to make site-specific California interpretations of some classic Northern Italian grapes. But these aren’t your burly, heavily-oaked Cal-Itals. Palmina’s wines share a characteristic elegance, refreshing acidity, and moderate alcohol content. These wines are made with native yeast fermentation and they’re aged in old oak barrels.
Steve Clifton kicked off Palmina in 1995. He started off only making red wines from sites around Santa Barbara County. He expanded to make a few whites, including a Pinot Grigio that may give people dismissive about this grape some cause to reconsider. I cannot remember a $20 California white wine I’ve gotten that excited about in a long time. For the floral, tropical-loving white wine drinker, the Malvasia Bianca is a must-try. Considering these wines all fall into the $20-$40 range, the amount of quality for the price is very impressive.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2015 Palmina Pinot Grigio - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Pale lemon color. Gorgeous aromatics: orange, lemon, nettle, white flowers, a wonderful saline component — an impressive and complex display. Medium-light-bodied and the acidity is laser-like precise. A clean and zesty wine but plenty of flavor and a slightly creamy texture on the palate. Lemon curd, tangerine, honeydew and key lime fruit, all of it pure and vibrant, topped in floral, saline, mineral and spiced tea notes. This ain’t your auntie’s Pinot Grigio. Holy moly this is good! Fermented in stainless steel, 12.5% alcohol, this is a great by-the-case purchase for summer. (91 points)
2014 Palmina Malvasia Bianca Larner Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon
Medium yellow color. Wow, this is such a floral/tropical medley on the nose: lychee, pineapple, kiwi, green table grapes, honeysuckle, wow — I feel like you could dab this on your neck like perfume and smell amazing for a few hours. Medium-bodied on the palate, the zesty acidity balanced out nicely against the plush tropical fruits. I get guava, pineapple, lychee and mango, but it’s drizzled with lime and ginger and topped with flowers, flowers and flowers, and some mountain stream minerals. I’m usually less a fan of this much tropical and floral intensity, but this is also a nervy, refreshing and profoundly easy-drinking wine. Delicious. A light 12% alcohol, this is aged 12 months in old French oak. One of the best non-Italian examples of this grape I’ve tasted. (89 points)
2013 Palmina Barbera Walker Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley, Los Olivos District
Deep ruby color. Smells saucy and ripe with juicy cherries and plums along with sweet violets and basil as well. Medium-plus-bodied with dusty tannins and a tart and refreshing acidic presence. I love the sweet plums and cherries, the fruit is so ripe and juicy but crunchy. Elements of sweet clove, spicy pepper and sweet basil, the flavors are woven together so well. Very fresh and balanced, but I think this will unfold nicely with near-term cellaring. 14% alcohol, this wine spends 24 months in neutral French oak. (88 points)
2013 Palmina Dolcetto - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Deep ruby color. Lovely sweet red and black cherry fruit on the nose along with cola, sweet herbs and cedar. Medium-bodied with smooth tannins and some moderate acidity. The red and black berry fruit is tart and crunchy but plenty ripe, and the fruit is doused in cola, vanilla, sweet black pepper glaze. Juicy but tart, fun but straight up delicious. (86 points)
2009 Palmina Nebbiolo - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Bright ruby color. I love these aromas: black and red cherries, sour plums, along with some charcoal, smoke, chewing tobacco and balsamic notes – lovely complexity that opens up a lot with air. A real bright sense of acidity keeps this wine lip-smacking, but the tannins provide a sturdy structure, although they’re fined down around the edges and show no signs of harshness. Tart red plums and berries, the fruit is absolutely delicious, but the non-fruit flavors are firing: pipe tobacco, white pepper, roses, mossy soil. Really complex stuff here, and the flavors shift and evolve with air. I’ve only tasted a few really compelling American Nebbiolos, and this is one of them. Aged 42 months in French oak. (91 points)