Pinot Pioneer 

Known for Pinot Noir, winemaker Rick Longoria is more diverse.

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It wasn't until I sat down and chatted recently with Rick Longoria—founder and winemaker of California's Longoria Wines—that I discovered he has ties to Utah (In fact, full disclosure, City Weekly staff writer Colby Frazier is his son-in-law. Small world).

We were enjoying a glass of wine—Chablis was Longoria's preference—at the Copper Kitchen prior to a tasting of his wines at the Caputo's Market in Holladay. During the tasting, guests were treated to five of Longoria's wines, ranging from Pinot Grigio and Albariño to a small-batch, hard-to-find Tempranillo. The wines were paired with distinctive cheeses and meats from Caputo's, including an herb-rind Jean d'Alos Tome de Bordeaux, sweet and nutty Starnachas, incredible salami from Salumeria Biellese called Finocchiona, and lamb "ham" from Frody Volgger's Salt & Smoke Meats.

Although he's probably best known as a master Pinot Noir maker, Rick Longoria doesn't like to be boxed in as just a Pinot guy. "I make 14 different wines," he noted, while reflecting on the diversity of Santa Barbara County, Calif., which allows him so many wine varietal options. The terms "artisan" and "craft" are overused, but, in the case of Longoria's wines, they really do apply. Handcrafted in small quantities of 50 to 700 cases, Longoria wines qualify for our state's small winery exemption, so they aren't marked up as high as wines from larger producers. Longoria was surprised to find that his wines sell for less here than they do at his Los Olivos tasting room.

Whether he likes the tag or not, Rick Longoria was a Pinot pioneer; he's been making world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay since 1982. According to Libation Inc. owner Francis Fecteau, "Rick is the reason Miles [Paul Giamatti] in the film Sideways says 'I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!' " proclaiming his preference for Pinot Noir.

Indeed, Longoria Pinot Noir is worth seeking out. At Caputo's, we got to taste two of them, beginning with "Lovely Rita" Pinot Noir 2013 from the Santa Rita Hills ($24.99). Whereas Longoria used more of the Pinot Noir Pommard clone in past vintages, he says this year's vintage is a balance of four clones: Dijons 115 and 667, Mount Eden and Pommard. If that means nothing to you, don't fret; just enjoy this intense, rich wine alongside equally rich foods—osso buco comes to mind. I'm looking forward to trying it again in a few years when it's had the chance to soften up.

If it's elegance you're looking for, open a bottle of Longoria Pinot Noir 2012, Sta. Rita Hills, Fe Ciega Vineyard ($44.99). Light tannins and high acidity make for a silky textured Pinot, and although this wine will continue to improve with age, it's absolutely beautiful to drink now, after being decanted for an hour or so. It's a no-brainer for salmon, duck and mushroom dishes.

If you don't like Pinot Grigio because it's all too often flimsy and pedestrian, you haven't tasted Longoria Pinot Grigio 2014, Santa Barbara County ($14.99). When asked why he calls it "Pinot Grigio" rather than "Pinot Gris" (both are made from the same grape), Longoria says that the Santa Barbara climate is well-suited to producing unoaked Pinot Grigio in the style of northern Italy, rather than in the Alsatian style of Pinot Gris. This also raised the question of why so many Oregon winemakers call theirs Pinot Gris when, in fact, Oregon's climate is closer to that of Italy than that of France.

Anyway, that's wine-geek stuff. All you need to know is that this is a bright, lip-smacking Pinot Grigio, and it will elevate a meal of shellfish to new heights.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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