"Every so often there is a certain barrel that grabs your soul."
– Adam Lazarre
Every once and again I get what I call jokingly call a winecrush. It's usually on someone fairly young and accomplished who has an amazing passion for wine. For a while, my reigning winecrush was on Johannes Leitz, an enterprising and charismatic German winemaker that I met in 2007.
That winecrush was superceded by a quick winecrush on Doug Cook, WSET diploma holder and creator of academic wine search engine, Able Grape. Okay, maybe a geek-winecrush there. I met him at the Wine Bloggers Conference and he introduced me to the first Cab Franc I fell in love with (French, of course), and he brought an amazing selection of wine with him to the conference. I think even the guys had winecrushes on Doug.
I'm apparently fickle, because Doug has been pushed down my winecrush list by Adam Lazarre. Adam is the winemaker for Hahn Estates and the incoming winemaker for Villa San Juliette. You've probably heard of the former but not of the latter? Well, Villa San Juliette is the brainchild – and originally the reality tv show – of Nigel Lythgoe (So You Think You Can Dance) and Ken Warwick (America's Got Talent). The reality show, Corkscrewed, didn't do so hot, although you can view the entire first (possibly only?) season on Hulu. Villa San Juliette hired Adam in September 2008, so (according to the San Juliette web site) he's in transition between wineries at the moment.
But he was in our town – at the Party Source – to talk about Hahn wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH). The Santa Lucia Highlands are located in Monterey County, California. The location, situated in the western mountain range above the Salinas River Valley, is home to about 2000 acres of grapes. The vineyards, 200-1200 feet in elevation, are home to cool weather grapes such as syrah, malbec, and my personal favorite, pinot noir.
Adam has sort of a rock star look to him. Or maybe more like a surfer. I think it was the beaded necklace or the fashionably unkempt blonde hair. He also has a fondness for good bourbon, which I can fully appreciate. I mentioned talking to him to an industry friend of mine and she asked me, "Was he drunk from too much bourbon yet?" He's friendly and high-energy, to say the least, and deservedly passionate about his wines.
The conversation arose at some point as to how Sideways made loving pinot noir so trendy it's almost uncool now. But Sideways or not, pinot noir will always be my favorite grape. Hahn's SLH pinots are pretty impressive. While Hahn does have a nice selection of inexpensive wines on the market, overall the ones we tasted are not recession wines. The tasting started with a Pinot Gris and included 8 wines in total, all of which you can read about after the jump.
Prices listed are per The Party Source.
Hahn SLH Pinot Gris 2007, $17.99
Kevin and I both really enjoyed this wine. This is surprising only in that we're not usually big Pinot Gris/Grigio fans. Obivously we hadn't had the right wines. Kevin found that the nose was buttery and beachy. There was a full mouth feel with a bit of peppery spices, and then a light nuttiness on the finish. I thought the whole thing was crisp but filling. It was creamier, from the malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation), and had a slight nose of nectarines.
Hahn SLH Chardonnay 2006, $19.99
Those who read this blog a lot will note there are rarely Chardonnays on here. Oh, an occasional white burgundy, but a California Chardonnay is a rare appearance. Something happened to California Chardonnays (I don't know if I should blame Kendall-Jackson or Mondavi), and winemakers noted that big sellers had an oak tree growing in them complemented by a Paula Deen portion of butter. It's not my thing. No trees in my Chard please. Anyway, this particular Chardonnay, despite the oak, is rather well-balanced. They at least kept away Paula and her cups of butter. I got a lot of oak – but also a lot of pineapple – on the nose. The wine had a full mouthfeel and I imagine it would work quite well, even for me, with a yummy cream sauce. I'd be open to it, at least. Now, Kevin liked it better than I did, not having the aversion to oak I've developed. He thought the nose had some lemon meringue on it, and that the flavors were complex and layered. He even found some cinnamon in there. And that's why you get two of us reviewing the wines. It's all a matter of, um, taste.
Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 2006, $24.99
Ah, pinot. I love a good pinot noir. According to Lazarre, making the wine is easy – it's growing the grapes that's hard. I think a good pinot noir can be sexy, of all things, and Lazarre's pinots get sexier by the bottle. This one is a blend of four different vineyards. I found the nose to be smoky, with a lot of recessed fruit that was begging to be let out. The taste had a lot of black cherry in it, sort of velvety. I bet this wine would open up even more, given the chance. In my head there was a black cherry in a short skirt, strutting into a smoky bar.
Lucienne Pinot Noir 2006, Doctor's Vineyard – SLH, 2006, $35.99: This is the higher end pinot noir, sourced from a single vineyard (Doctor's Vineyard) in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This wine is the source of the "grabs your soul" quote from the beginning of this post. I think Lazarre has a bit of beatnik poet in him. That passion really shows in this wine. I took my cartoon image a step further in this description, writing in my notes that this wine is a "black cherry sauntering into a smoky bar, wearing a short skirt and high heels, and announcing, "Hello boys!" Yeah, it's that kind of wine. I bought a bottle.
Bonus Wine #2: Lazarre Pinot Noir, Sierra Madre, est retail $45: Ah, my favorite of the bunch. This is Adam Lazarre's own label, and its one of those limited production type of wines. Every year I purchase about three bottles of a limited production pinot noir and I've already placed my order for three of these. I'll be getting the last of the batch, as they're about all gone. I think they mentioned 4.5 cases in inventory, but they sold several at a wine dinner the night before. Kevin noted that Lazarre mentioned that in making this wine, he takes three barrels and dumps one. It may seem like a waste, but it leads to a high-definition, sexy pinot. Take my black cherry in a bar analogy, take it somewhere inappropriate for this blog, and that's this wine. Like I said, I ordered three bottles instantly. Love at first sip.
Hahn Cabernet Franc 2006, Central Coast, $15.99: Just as I'm not a fan of Chardonnay, I've also had few Cabernet Francs that I haven't found to be green and over-peppery. This particular Cab Franc, however, wasn't as scary as many that I've had. In fact, it's only 89% Cab Franc, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec making up minuscule parts of the rest. Maybe that's why I didn't mind it as much. This wasn't done in my preferred French style, but it did have a huge lush mid-palate. It also had a pleasant finish. Kevin found this one to be sweeter than the average Cab Franc, with less pepper and a little talcum powder on the nose.
Hahn SLH Syrah 2006, $22.99: The Syrah was different, and after all those wonderful pinots, just didn't quite strike my fancy. I think it suffered by its placement in the flight, but where else could it have gone? I'm sensitive to anything over 14% (really, over 12%) AbV, and this one clocks in at 14.5%, which is fairly typical for a Syrah. It was nice and jammy, with some minerality, and tasted delicious with the Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold cheese we had on our plates.
Bonus Wine #2: Pianetta Winery Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, est retail $30: This isn't available locally – yet. It sounded like Party Source was working quite rapidly on changing that. Pianetta is a winery around the corner, so to speak, from Hahn, so they're friends. They picked up the winemaker's daughter in Columbus and brought her to The Party Source so that we could all try it. This was 100% Petite Sirah. The nose was rather chocolatey. The taste was HUGE fruit and acid. Apparently Pianetta specializes in wines that are big in flavor and big in quality, but this wine was almost too big and heavy for me.
As a final note, we had several cheeses on our plates. The best cheese – it was almost sinfully good – was the Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona. From Wisconsin, this 100% goat cheese is rubbed with cocoa and is a wonderful combination of two of my favorite things. Yum.
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