One Winemaker, Three Labels: Sanger Family of Wines Offers Impressive Variety
I love chatting alcohol with Brett Escalera – as in the alcohol content in wine. Many seasoned sippers, after all, make judgment calls on wine based on the percentage marked on the label, with their predilection for lower alcohol based on the assumption that a wine with less booze will be a better match for food.
Wines with alcohol in the 11%-13% range are all the rage in Europe – making everyday drinking an easier commitment. The trend saw a surge in popularity in the early 2000s here in California, with lighter styles garnering major acclaim.
“Yeah, I remember getting a little bit of grief,” quips Escalera, whose stamp has always leaned toward richer, more muscular wines that consistently break the 13% threshold.
“I will admit, though,” he continues, as we sip through several of his wines at the end of a sunny Solvang afternoon, “I have reeled it in a bit.”
Call it an evolution of style. The volume on nuance and elegance has been turned up. But that said, Escalera is happily “unapologetic” about the alcohol content in his wines, which generally hover in the 14%-15% range. He insists that there’s way more at play in a bottle of high-end wine than the booze.
“Alcohol is not a static number,” he tells me. “It’s part of the milieu that’s part of that wine, and one of so many other factors. What really matters is: whatever I do, it’s never at the expense of balance.”
Indeed, as we move from wine to wine, I realize that balance does prevail, and the proof is in the texture. The wines we’re drinking – a trio of labels under the Sanger Family of Wines umbrella – are brimming with harmony. The flavors and acids and tannins – and the alcohol – are in sync. And they are all delicious.
Escalera is a Carpinteria native who learned about wine from his grandfathers, both of whom were avid home winemakers. He studied enology at Fresno State and has a resumé that features some of Santa Barbara County’s best labels: Santa Barbara Winery, Byron Winery and, for his longest stint, Fess Parker Winery, where he gained widespread industry acclaim.
Escalera established the very popular Consilience label in 1999, to focus on Rhone wines like Syrah, as well as Burgundians like pinot. In 2007, he established the Tre Anelli label, allowing him to dabble in Spanish and Italian varieties, before partnering with Bill and Jan Sanger in 2013.
Today, the Sanger portfolio includes both brands, along with a third – Marianello, focused on Italian-inspired blends – named for Mr. Sanger’s Italian grandparents, Maria and Nello.
The triad of labels allows Escalera a platform for creativity: vintage to vintage, he can experiment with different yeast strains, variations in his barrel program and a wide range of blends. What remains the same, though, aside from that pursuit for balance, are his fruit sources.
The Sanger project has two proprietary vineyards: the 40-acre Santa Ynez Valley estate is mainly grapes, but also features 1700 olive trees and the seven-acre plot in the Sta. Rita Hills is all pinot noir. Fruit from some of the county’s top sites – Estelle, La Presa, Star Lane and Tierra Alta – are also part of the mix during each harvest.
Here are five standouts from my tasting with Escalera last week. They’re all between 14% and 15% alcohol (because that’s what they’re supposed to be).
• 2018 Consilience Roussanne ($36): “It lends itself to being made the way you’d make chardonnay,” Escalera tells me of the white Rhone grape, Roussanne. In fact, this wine is bright, yet delightfully creamy, with notes of peach and flowers. It’s a great match for grilled shrimp.
• 2018 Tre Anelli Tempranillo ($49): There’s a dusty elegance about this wine, its earthy essence enhanced by notes of dark berries and a spicy flare. The perfect accompaniment to your next BBQ steak dinner.
• 2018 Marianello Estelle Bianco ($42): Subtly supple, this fleshy white blend delivers a mouthful of tropical fruit and exits with a zing. It’s 75% sauvignon blanc that’s blended with vermentino, grenache blanc, arneis and viognier. Exotic Asian dishes will thank you.
• 2018 Marianello Sangiovese ($65): This limited-edition bottling features a black-and-white photograph of the labels’ namesakes. It is an homage to what would have been, in 2020, the year this wine was bottled — Mario and Nella’s 100th wedding anniversary. Ripe yet graceful, with rounded tannins and plum flavors.
• 2018 Consilience Petite Sirah ($55): There’s brawn in this wine, with the occasional bluster, but its refinement wins out, with the powerful flavors of blackberries and dark cherries ruling the day. This one craves medium-rare proteins and suggestive conversation. Get a case.
The Sanger tasting room is managed by Escalera’s fiancée, Lisa Lynch. It’s a cozy, elegant, and sleek spot along Mission Drive in downtown Solvang, with a lovely shaded outdoor patio that hosts live music several days a week. You can choose from a pair of wine tasting flights ($15 or free for wine club members), while sampling the Sangers’ proprietary olive oil is complimentary. •MJ
Sanger Family of Wines, 1584 Mission Drive, Solvang.