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Tasting Notes

January 20, 1994|DAN BERGER

In some respects, Firestone Vineyard blazed a trail, but it was other wineries that paved it.

Today, Santa Barbara County is rated probably the third-best growing region in California (after Napa and Sonoma counties), and while wines from Firestone are excellent values, many of the best wines are from tiny producers such as Au Bon Climat, Babcock and Qupe.

Part of the reason is that Firestone, unlike others in the area, hasn't specialized in one or two grape varieties, preferring instead to make a broad range of wines. With Firestone's 85,000 cases of wine, winemaker Alison Green's attentions are divided among various Chardonnays, Rieslings, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and one of the better roses in the world.

Here are tasting notes from a few of Firestone's current releases:

1993 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon ($6)--Fresh, lively aroma of maraschino cherries and pomegranate juice; soft and fruity, with very appealing crisp notes of citrus. A nearly dry wine that has a soft finish, making it excellent with highly seasoned foods, or as an aperitif. One of the best roses on the market.

1992 Chardonnay "Barrel Fermented" ($12.50)--Smoke and toast combine with buttery, oaky notes in a wine reminiscent of some French Burgundies. But the fruit seems so subdued it's more technique than grapes. Attractive for those who like heavy, rich styles of Chardonnay.

1992 Chardonnay "North Valley Ranch" ($10)--Nicely crafted wine of more fruit than the previous wine, but with none of the complexity. An attractive lighter-styled wine that is a bit overpriced for what's there.

1992 Johannisberg Riesling $7.50--Faintly Germanic in style, the aroma here is honeysuckle and pears, with a hint of typical petroleum in the background. Just off-dry, it will match with spiced foods and with delicate main courses. Good value.

1992 Gewurztraminer ($9)--The 1992 vintage wasn't as successful a vintage for this variety in Santa Barbara County as 1991, so this wine contains fruit purchased from Mendocino County. The wine is, therefore, not as harmonious and classic as was Firestone's great 1991, but it is still fragrantly spicy and very attractive. Almost totally dry, the wine is excellent with fowl and any dish prepared with Asian spices.

1991 Merlot ($12)--Generous and loaded with cedar, cherry fruit, and nuances of tarragon and tea. An elegant, pleasing wine that offers richness without the tannic bite of many other Merlots.

1990 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)--Herbal, green tea and dill aroma is typically varietal, but the wine has a bit less fruit than I prefer. A nicely made, fairly tasty wine in a style more earthy than I like.

1990 Cabernet Sauvignon "Vintage Reserve" ($20)--More depth and concentration than the previous wine, and with a bit more oak, but the herbal notes are a bit strong for consumption now. Needs three to five years to blend the flavors. A bit steep in price for the lean flavors.

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