Eric Railsback, one of the founders of Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant in Santa Barbara, left that project recently to join Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos as wine director. As such, he’s a sommelier who still works the floor, four days a week.
He’s also involved in making wine with his college buddy Justin Willett of Tyler Winery in Lompoc. Under the Lieu Dit label, the two are making wines inspired by France’s Loire Valley. That means whites made from Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Sauvignon Blanc.
“Cabernet Franc is our main red, styled after Chinon,” says Railsback, referring to the well-known Cabernet Franc appellation in the Loire Valley. “And then we make Cot (the name for Malbec in the Loire) and a little Pinot Rosé and Pinot Noir. All from Santa Barbara.”
Sommeliers get to taste a lot of wines in the course of even one week. Mattei’s Tavern already had an extensive wine list, and has just added just under three thousand older Burgundies and Rhones that are ready to drink now.
Right now, as spring heads toward summer, Railsback has been drinking lighter reds. “A really good summer wine that I’ve had lately is a Barbera from Piedmont in northwest Italy,” he says. “The producer is Cascina Fontana, a very small property based in Barolo, which just came into the country two years ago.” He describes the 2012 Barbera d’Alba as “super soft and juicy with a lot of nice fruit. The tannins and acidity are well-integrated, so it’s not a tiring red to drink when it’s warm.”
He likes to serve it at cellar temperature, about 55 degrees, which means slightly chilled. It is a great accompaniment to grilled poultry and even fattier fish like grilled salmon. “Whole roasted chicken goes really well with it, too,” adds Railsback. “And we serve a lot of that at Mattei’s Tavern.”
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