The Paring: Wines with an Edge

The Paring has a backstory that includes winemaker Matt Dees and two of Santa Barbara County’s acclaimed wineries, JONATA and The Hilt. Through common ownership there is a connection to Napa’s cult wine, Screaming Eagle. Impressive connections. But when we receive wines as tasting samples for review we taste them without learning more about them than what is on the label. We try to be as objective as possible when evaluating every wine. Once we’ve tasted them we go looking for details about the winemaker, vineyard sites and how the wines are made.

That common thread of ownership among these wineries is Stan Kroenke. Screaming Eagle’s history dates back to 1986 with the purchase of a Napa vineyard site by Jean Phillips. She hired winemaker Heidi Barrett and together their first release was from the 1992 vintage. Cult-wine status followed shortly after their wine received 99 points from Robert Parker. Ownership transferred to Charles Banks and Stan Kroenke in 2006 and eventually to Stan Kroenke alone in 2009.

During this time, Stan Kroenke’s attention moved to Santa Barbara as well. JONATA is located in Ballard Canyon on 586 acres. Syrah, Sangiovese and Bordeaux varieties are planted over the 84-acre vineyard. Matt Dees has been the winemaker from the first vintage in 2004.

 At The Hilt, vineyard sites cover hillsides with a variety of aspects and elevations only 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Matt Dees crafts estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from this complex Sta. Rita Hills site.

The Paring wines are described by the winery as a chip off the old block of JONATA and The Hilt based on vineyard sourcing. Though the vineyards may be younger or exhibit unique expressions, Matt Dees crafts wines made with precision – the precision of a paring knife. Get it?

What this boils down to is a collection of prime vineyard sites from which to choose in crafting wines that retail for $25 rather than $2500 and up for Screaming Eagle, $60 to $175 for JONATA or The Hilt wines for $44 to $70 (prices from an online search at

2017 The Paring Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County photo
2017 The Paring Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County

2017 The Paring Chardonnay, Santa Barbara Countymedium yellow in the glass with generous aromas of citrus, melon and hints of toast. Flavors of ripe melon, citrus and pineapple float in a medium body with juicy acidity and a very long finish. 13% abv. SRP $25

This Chardonnay is extremely complex and flavorful. It’s well balanced with a hint of toast, plenty of fruit flavors and bright acidity. If you’re an anything-but-Chardonnay drinker, consider giving this Chardonnay a try – you will become a Chardonnay lover instead.

2017 The Paring Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County photo
2017 The Paring Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County

2017 The Paring Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara Countytranslucent ruby in the glass with earthy, berry bramble and raspberry aromas. Fruit flavors lead with cherry, raspberry and blackberry with a brambly, earthy component, nice acidity and smooth tannins. The body is barely medium. 13.4% abv. SRP $25

Elegant is the best description for this balanced, enjoyable Pinot Noir. It’s easy sipping on its own and is made to pair with food. Sip it while preparing your meal and then take it to the dinner table.

2016 The Paring Red Wine, California photo
2016 The Paring Red Wine, California

2016 The Paring Red Wine, Californiadense ruby in the glass with complex aromas of earth, plums and cedar. Generous flavors of red and dark fruit combine with cedar, mixed spices and dusty earth. Tannins are drying and well integrated with the flavors. The finish is fairly long. 14.5% abv. SRP $25

Pair this delicious and complex Bordeaux blend with pizza, pasta or burgers. It’s really tasty and so food friendly. 

After tasting The Paring wines, I wonder if they might not be gateway wines to JONATA and The Hilt (I’ve been curious about JONATA in particular over the years because of the Ballard Canyon site.) If The Paring wines are the little brother wines to JONATA and The Hilt, how good must those wines be? Hmm. On the other hand, The Paring wines are pretty darn delicious and the price is hard to argue with.


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