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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Spotlight on Palmina Wines

On a recent trip down to Santa Barbara, Trey and I stopped to visit Palmina, a small producer of Italian varietal wines. Located in an unassuming Lompoc warehouse complex affectionately called the “wine ghetto” (at once the most critical and least glamorous wine-making settings in Santa Barbara), Palmina is making truly spectacular things happen. The husband-and-wife team of Steve and Chrystal Clifton (yes, from Brewer-Clifton fame) are absolutely fantastic winemakers, besides being incredibly friendly and down-to-earth people. Their contagious passion for Italy and its soul-stirring wine and food inspires anyone who sets foot in their facility. A great visit, made better by both wonderful people and extraordinary wines. A few of their best, perfect for holiday dinner season: 2004 Palmina “Sisquoc Vineyard” Santa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ($14.99) is aromatically electrifying and astonishing in its pedigree. A rare breed of domestic premium Sauvignon Blanc, and probably my favorite one this year. In fact, it was so good I couldn’t wait until KL carried it; I bought some bottles at the winery to take home! 2004 Palmina “Botasea” Rosato ($16.99) is a clear winner in the rosé category. A 50/50 blend of sangiovese and barbera, bone dry on the palate, with a fresh strength that shows best at the dinner table. Try it with roasted cornish hen with acorn squash. That rocks! 2004 Palmina “Zotovich Vineyards” Dolcetto ($19.99) A surprisingly structured wine with earthy, subtle charm, this one took off with the cheese and sausage in the Clifton’s tasting room. Definitely a welcome dinner companion at my home anytime! 2004 Palmina Barbera ($24.99) This one is perfect for Thanksgiving!! A superbly made Barbera, showing true hallmarks of the variety with an abundance of bright, plummy fruit and tremendous lively acidity. Unquestionably delicious and versatile by any standard, it will dance well with all the dishes of the coming holiday season. Enjoy! —Martin Reyes

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