My first experience with Matt Dees’s gift for winemaking came during a tasting of The Hilt’s beautiful pinot noirs and chardonnays crafted from the fruit of grapes grown in the vineyards of Santa Barbara County. If you read my review, you know that I was taken by the depth and breadth of his creations. So I had high hopes for the wines of The Paring, the second of three boutique labels for which he produces fine nectars. (The third is JONATA.)
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Founded in 2006, The Paring is like the cool older sister to The Hilt, which came about two years later. (JONATA was born in 1998.) It gets its name for the versatile knife used in kitchens the world over, and its wines are designed to be a good complement to cuisine. Made with fruit from vineyard blocks that are either too young or don’t fit into the vintage style of JONATA and The Hilt, they feel a little less serious than those produced by their sister brands. (The grapes are sourced from The Hilt and JONATA estates as well as other partner vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley.)
“We try to find blocks that express themselves in a more approachable wine,” says Dees. “Ideally, The Paring wines are meant to be popped and poured. They don’t require extra decanting, and they are beautiful out of the gates.”
They are by no means an afterthought; they are produced to the same high standards of JONATA and The Hilt, using minimal intervention to let the fruit best express its terroir. “We spend all year listening to the vines, the soil, the life of the property,” Dees says. “When the fruit arrives in the winery at 4AM … we smooth sharp edges, but ultimately base our wine on the voice of the vineyard.” The result? The uniquely fresh, clean flavor that characterizes Santa Barbara wines, with a side of playful, easy-drinking fun.
Take the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc ($25). Made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes, the wine was barrel-aged in 1/3 new and 1/3 neutral French oak and 1/3 stainless steel for 10 months. I was immediately struck by its full body and depth; it has the well-rounded mouthfeel of a chardonnay but in a sauvignon blanc form. On the palate, it is tart and clean, and reminiscent of a just-cut lawn. Grassy notes are layered with the taste of lemon and stone fruits. I paired this wine with a spicy-as-hell green curry, and the drink beautifully balanced out the zippy flavors of the food.
The 2018 Syrah ($25), from the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, opens with a tantalizing nose of coffee beans, cocoa powder, and black pepper. It is bold and layered to taste, but with a gentle, silky structure and flavors of blackberry blended with more savory elements, like leather and smoke. It’s aged in French oak, 35 percent new and 65 percent neutral, for 22 months, and its expression is classic Santa Barbara syrah—which without fail makes me crave grilled tri tip and barbecued everything on a warm summer night.
The 2017 Red ($25) is my favorite of the bunch. It’s a delightful, juicy Bordeaux-style blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet Franc, 20 percent merlot and 10 percent petit verdot, aged in French oak, 55 percent new and 45 percent neutral, for 22 months. There’s pep in this wine, and I love the various layers—cola on the nose, followed by a savory-sweet rush of flavors. A bit of strawberry, black currant, allspice, and cinnamon, as well as tobacco and chocolate, come together in each taste. The tannins aren’t overpowering and give structure to this selection. The red is surprisingly light enough to enjoy even without food and plays well with a cheese board—hard or semi-hard fromage, Turkish figs, candied walnuts—and lazy summer afternoons.