Perfect Pairings

Perfect Pairings
By Andrew Gates
Some wines draw you in with their backstory. Others capture you with their sheer deliciousness. Ryan Deovlet’s (say Dev-let) wines are firmly in the second camp. I wasn’t looking for them, but what I found in the glass was so compelling that I simply had to work with them. That’s not to say Ryan doesn’t have a backstory worth telling, because he absolutely does. He has one of the most unique backgrounds in the wine world: a former semi-pro baseball infielder, inspired by growing coffee on Kona Island, set off to work in organic vineyards in Australia as a means to find himself. Fittingly, he took four books with him: On the Road, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Poems of Rumi, and The Prophet. Not your stereotypical jock here. Then, inspired by reading of the travails of Josh Jensen growing Pinot Noir in California, he made his way into working with such wine luminaries as Stephen Dooley, David Ramey and Paul Hobbs. By 2008, he set out on his own after talking Richard Sanford (of Sanford & Benedict Vineyard fame) into selling him enough grapes to make 100 cases of wine. No mean feat.

But, truthfully, it’s Ryan’s absence from the wine in the glass that is so apparent. His light touch as a winemaker yields a wine that transparently speaks of variety and place. Case in point, his 2019 Zotovich Vineyard Pinot Noir ($58). Zotovich Vineyard is located on the north side of the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, CA, roughly eight miles from the ocean. It sits at roughly 350 feet of elevation. The vineyard is known for being composed primarily of Arnold loamy sand and for being one of the most wind swept in the American Viticultural Area. Wines from this site are distinctly aromatic with an almost salty, saline mineral core. Deovlet’s winemaking techniques, or lack thereof, bring all of this to the fore. He harvests early—this is also one of his first sites picked—and keeps 30% of the grape clusters intact to add structure and spice. His fermentations take place spontaneously and the wine ages for 15 months in oak, only 25% of which is new. His choice of oak is also unique. The barrels are made by billon from oak from forests in the Jura mountains in France. He bottles the wine unfined and unfiltered. Production is miniscule—around 150 cases.

It takes courage to do nothing, to not interfere. Ryan’s courage pays off. The nose bursts with wild berry fruit, licorice, violet, mint and spice and the palate delivers flavors that transcend its medium body, a silky texture and a spicy orange peel inflected finish that lasts.

To pair, I’d suggest taking a page out of Helen Rosner’s book and roast a duck. Her brilliant New Yorker article, When in Doubt, Roast a Duck, makes a convincing and poetic argument that a roast duck is the ultimate dinner party meal. You’ll find the rich meat brings the fruit and spice of the wine to the front, creating the hoisin sauce you didn’t know you needed. The wine’s acidity sweeps away all of that luxurious fat. My only other recommendations are to scatter some small potatoes about as the bird roasts and try not to rush things along, as I did.

Other recommendations: 2021 Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($44), 2021 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($27).
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