Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tasting Wines with Paul Hobbs

For years I have written and talked to you all about the incredible wines made by Paul Hobbs. Last night I had the chance to meet him and taste wines with him at an event hosted by theMorrell wine shop in Manhattan. We tasted 8 wines that consisted of 4 grape varietals from 3 separate regions and 2 countries. So, that would be Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Russian River Valley, Mendoza - Argentina, and the Napa Valley. I took some thorough notes, but was also doing a lot of listening, more than usual, and of course plenty of tasting. When you have a man such as Paul in your presence, you are hearing the story of a successful person who was able to channel his passion at a young age and successfully carry it through as his life's passion and work - you can’t help but to listen. His stories varied from his youth and his initial inspiration (Dad's, get some Chateau D'Yquem), funny stories from the road and how his wine philosophy developed and resulted in the wines that he makes today.

So, here is the list of delicious wines and a few notes I was able to jot down.

Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2007, Russian River Valley
- Great Chardonnay, wonderful nose of orange blossom that was creamy and a little toasty. The palate was lemon, minerality, and some judicious oak - just enough that it integrated well with the fruit and acidity.

Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley
- This was tasting great too, the 2007 vintage is supposed to be exceptional so keep an eye out for your favorite producers in 2007 for Cabernet as well as Pinot. Lots of cherries and strawberries in the nose. The palate was the same plus some earthy notes. Silky tannins and fresh acidity finished off this great Pinot Noir.

Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Lindsay Estate 2006, Russian River Valley
- This wine was not tasting that well, or at least the bottle that I had it from was not. It was not flawed, but likely suffering from bottle shock or shyness because of its youth. I have had past vintages of this wine and it is exceptional.

Vina Cobos Malbec Bramare Lujan de Cuyo 2006, Mendoza
- Exceptional Malbec! Dark black center and red edges. Typical for PH Malbec, but you notice it so much more after the Pinot as you immediately see the color amp up a few notches. Rich aromas jump from the glass of black cherry, cola and spiciness from the oak, some secondary aromas came around after some time in the earthy richness. The palate was superb. Rich and full bodied black cherry, blackberry, some earthy minerality framing the rich fruit with the ripe tannins. the Bramare Lujan de Cuyo is on a very short list of Malbec I will be purchasing this year. I had a few bottles of the 2005 and those were exceptional as well.

Vina Cobos Cabernet Sauvignon Bramare Lujan de Cuyo 2006, Mendoza
- A great wine, but maybe a tad less complex than the Malbec. We talked about the differences of Cabernet from Napa and Argentina and Paul did say overall they are not getting consistent complexity that you get from a Cabernet made in the Napa Valley. I don’t think Paul meant the same exact flavors and aroma notes as Napa, but more to the fact that there are just not as many typical and specific aromas and flavors due to the fact it is from Mendoza. The “terroir” may not be shining through as specifically as Cabernet may in other regions like Napa. The good thing is that the wines are tasty and well made, but they may not be expressing their true terroir at this time. Its not surprising that this may take some time to come around as Malbec is the primary focus in Argentina. But, Cabernet is on the whole doing pretty well in the shadow of the Malbec grape.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley
- Immediately you smell the pencil shavings Paul mentioned as a signature note from Oakville (not sure which vineyard, but would assume Tokalon as this wine is made up of most of the single vineyard wines he makes - later research confirmed Tokalon is in this blend, along with Hyde and Stagecoach Vineyard grapes). Great typicity as you get black fruits, a tiny hint of green pepper, the pencil shavings (yes, that is a good thing and for a wine geek something you remember to help you pick out in blind tastings), and some spicy oak. The palate is black fruits as well, a bit of that green pepper in a good Cabernet Franc kind of way. Tannin and acidity are in line for the vintage. I always get a few of the "Napa" bottlings each year and will get a few of these as well later this year.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard 2005, Napa Valley - Exceptional. Immediately you notice the structure and complexity. Wines from the Stagecoach Vineyard are typically what I call bony wines. By that I mean they have big tannins, lots of depth and a solid structural core. Very dark in color, the nose was brooding black fruits like currants and blackberry, lots of hazelnut aromas too (thank you to the tasting note attached that revealed that hazelnut note I could not figure out). The palate was rich and complex showing primary blackberry and currants mixed in with the hazelnut from the oak treatment. Secondary flavors of spice and earthy herbal notes like sage were finished off by solid, ripe tannins and acidity.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard 2001, Napa Valley - I have had this wine quite a few times as I bought a case when this came out. If I were to use one word "supple" would be the word to describe this in comparison to the 2005 we just tasted. The 2001 wine seems to be doing well and has many more years ahead of itself. Still very dark, the center was black with dark ruby red edges. The nose was more subtle, but just as complex as the 2005. Similar fruit aromas, but they were a tad softer with additional chocolate and herbal aromas. The palate revealed supple black currants and mocha covered bing cherry. I recalled supple tannins and intact acidity on the finish.

So, overall, this was an incredible experience to meet who I think is a modern day hero for me. Yes, the wines were great but I think we all knew they would be. Dan Marino and Don Mattingly were my childhood heroes, Paul is my adult hero, and not just a wine hero. His success and passion are things that I think we all search for in life and can look to as an inspiration.

Pronunciation: \i-‘pi-fə-nē\
3 a (1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b: a revealing scene or moment

Webster’s dictionary defines the word Epiphany in 3 ways. I deem the third definition to be what happened twice to me in my life in regards to why I am so passionate about wine. My first wine epiphany was my first taste of a Stag's Leap 1998 Fay Cabernet Sauvignon. It struck me as something so new and unbelievable that there were so many nuances in the aroma and flavor of a wine. Up until about a year before that event I had little real experience tasting wines beyond the garden variety KJ's (Kendall Jackson) and Mondavi's. I had once had an exceptional white burgundy but did not know it till years later (Puligny Montrachet, unknown producer). I remember it being good, but it was just wine to me at that time that did not taste tasted like wine. That was my benchmark, something that did not taste bad!

So as the story goes, I moved to San Francisco for a 2 year stint with a past employer. I decided that Napa was so close I'd be crazy to not go somewhat frequently and acquaint myself with the "good life" that Napa represented and at the same time get to know my wines better. I tried many of the mainline wineries, after all I was kind of new at this and what did I know. Mondavi, Cakebread, Sterling, to name a few had the same single characteristic that the white burgundy had - they tasted like wine. But I felt like I was missing something. I kept asking myself "what is all the hype about" and "why do people read tasting notes and take them so fastidiously"? I just didn't get it. So, after telling my father about my wine adventures, he told me about an article from the New York Times and told me about this winery called Stag's leap Wine Cellars. He said it was supposed to be a good winery with this story about beating the French in a wine tasting, blah, blah, blah. I did not hear much after that and in fact I barely remember the conversation to this day beyond the words Stag's Leap and good. So, one day with some friends we decided to drop by Stag's Leap Wine Cellars to try out some wines. We had the Napa wines first. Again, the wines were good, but nothing else. Then, we saw the "Estate" tasting section where they were pouring a flight of the Estate wines which were quite pricey. I think a tasting of these 4 wines was $20 at the time (spring 2001). Needless to say I had my doubts and was convinced it was a marketing scheme and "Reserve" or "Estate" was just something that justified and deemed the wine worthy of a higher price. What happened was like a giant light bulb going off in my head and it started with their Arcadia Chardonnay! Aromas of apples and pears jumped from the glass. It tasted of granny smith apples and lemons, and had this nice rich taste and finish to it. To this day the Arcadia Chardonnay was and is a favorite Chardonnay of mine. Next up was the first pricey red, a wine called "Fay". I needed a real sensory experience, the Arcadia was a great start! The Fay delivered and thensome! Aromas of rich red fruits and sage, yes I still remember to this day sage stuck out in that wine. The tannins were silky and smooth, supposedly very typical and what the Stag's Leap region is know for because of the high amount of volcanic geological materials in the soils. What a day! I will always remember that day as an awakening for me. This was just in time to sample lots of the 1999 wines which I am just starting to drink now!

My second wine epiphany just so happened to be back here on the east coast. I was in-between apartments after my move back from San Francisco at the time and living with my parents for a few months. It's not as big and exciting as the SLWC event, but much more powerful in a subtle way. I also got to drink the whole bottle!

Most of my friends were out of town, my parents were out of town, and I was not headed to a ski house I had joined that year so I had nothing to do on a Saturday night all by myself. So, since I enjoy cooking, I decided I would make myself a nice dinner at home and open a nice bottle of wine to have with it. I was in the mood for a steak, maybe a rib eye or filet mignon. After the gym I headed to the grocery store to pick up my bounty. When I got home I pulled a Paul Hobbs 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from the small, but growing collection I was accumulating. A friend of mine from back on the west coast had told me to check out the Hobbs wines so I figured that night would be a good night to check it out. I decided to open it immediately to judge for myself if it needed to be decanted or was ready to go. I had time to decant because as I mentioned I was at the gym previously and did require a shower. I also had the prep and cooking time too if necessary to allow the wine a head start. Well, suffice to say a head start was not exactly necessary.

Immediately I knew I had something special in that bottle. The wine's perfume jumped from the bottle and the glass. The sheer dark color of the wine seemed to be glowing it was so vibrant! The first taste was unforgettable! Cherries, mocha, black currants...the amazing complexity that allowed for so many layers of flavors and aromas was moving. I hurried up to shower and get back to this wine. I still recall being able to taste the wine's finish on my palate in the shower a few minutes later. I was blown away! I still have the remnants of that bottle of wine back home in my parents' garage, along with a few other fallen soldiers (empty bottles) I like to keep after consuming.

Paul, beyond your wines being so exceptional, I thank you for being such a special part of my wine experiences. You are an inspiration to all. You followed your dreams and never sacrificed your beliefs by adhering to your philosophy and principles on making wine and living life.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Italian Chianti Values
- $20 and under

The other night I had a Chianti Classico (CC for short) made by Brancaia. Brancaia is known more for there IGT wines, i.e. "Super Tuscans" which blend indigenous grape varietals with noble Bordeaux grapes like Merlot and Cabernet. The "Il Blu" is their most popular and well regarded wine and runs about $50 or so. The Chianti is excellent and can cost more than your typical Chianti Classico, but if you see it and its priced well, definitely pick some up!

Chianti is not a wine that will change your life in most cases. There are excellent producers that make mind blowing Chianti, but they rarely break the $50 price point. And that says a lot! The best Chianti Classico Riservas don’t typically break $50. In many more wine regions the best examples of any wine command $100 at least and in many places like Burgundy and Bordeaux they are many 100’s of dollars! Does Chianti not get that respect? No, it’s just not that kind of wine. Most are meant to have with a simple pasta and tomato sauce dishes, pizza, lasagna, etc. The better ones are great wines that can age 15 years and provide great drinking pleasure. Chianti Classico is for the most part an uncomplicated wine!

The 2004 vintage in Italy was very good and even better is the 2006 which is the current release in stores for the Chianti Classico wines. For Riserva bottlings you may need to wait another 6 months to a year as they are aged in barrel longer than regular CC and thus held back about an extra year on average.

Tasting Notes, 2004 Brancaia "Chianti Classico"

Color: Dark red and lighter red rim

Nose: Typical terroir, you can smell the earth and acidity, typical of a Chianti. Red berry and cherry fruit aromas mix in some subtle flowers

Palate: Sour cherry and earthy minerality dominate the palate with tight tannins and good grip from the acidity.

I highly recommend the Brancaia be consumed with food. Come to think of it, most Italian wines are high in acidity and are almost always better with food (again the uncomplicated factor). To be fair and not generalize Italian wine Brunello and Barolo immediately come to mind as wines that are from Italy that do not fall into this food necessary category.

So, on to the Chianti Classico I recommendations!

Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico $16-18 - Our favorite go to Chianti, excellent PQ* ratio for any wine. A solid wine start to finish! I have recommended this wine multiple times to many friends and it has yet to disappoint! *PQ = Price to Quality ratio

Rocca Delle Macie Chianti Classico $12-15 - Best priced CC out there made in a classic style

Casa Emma Chianti Classico $15 - Solid, very typical and well done!

Castello Di Meleto Chianti Classico $15 - Best priced CC out there made in a modern style, 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot

Brancaia Chianti Classico $15-22 - Not widely available or known so prices are all over the map! Buy it at under $20 if you can!

Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico $16-19 – We drank lots of this in Belize on vacation. Very reliable and pleasing, Antinori is a reputable and VERY large producer therefore very widely available.

Castello Di Farnetella Chianti Colli Senesi $10 - Bargain Chianti anyone?

Selvapiana Chianti Rufina $15 - If not from the Rufina region of Chianti this would easily be $25

Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva $19-22 – Found under $20 this would be a great wine to have with the regular CC from Macie (see above) to compare and contrast…is it really better because it’s a Riserva?

I have not had these three in a while, but they have certainly gained more fans in the last few years of the "critic kind" and have gone up closer to $20 instead of $15, but they are classic examples for CC. If none of the above wines are available these are great alternatives when available for under $20!

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico $16-19
Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva $18-20
Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva $18-22


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2009 Chiant Value Wine Label Panel

Sunday, January 04, 2009

"Holiday Wines"

This Christmas season was a remarkable time with friends and family and is still going as we will not formally celebrate with my parents until next Sunday to weather and other timing issues. However, so far it been a spectacular time for great wine! The wines we had in 2008 for Christmas were surprising, impressive, and superb! They ranged in age from 6 years to 17 years old.

2001 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "Artemis" Cabernet Sauvignon

This was one of the last few bottles of this wine that I have left and right now it is singing! I may finish them off by the end of this year based on how good this wine was. I have to say that it was probably hitting its peak! My notes:

Another classic styled Napa Cabernet - I thoroughly enjoyed this as an alternative to the big ripe jammy Cabernet style that has been in vogue that last few years.

Color: Dark red center with ruby red edges

Nose: Classic cassis, bing cherry and sage aromas

Palate: More of the cassis and cherry, herbal sage and earthy tannins! Silky smooth finish!

1992 Joseph Phelps "Insignia"

Drawn from John's collection in the cellar, this wine was in fine shape. Dark, fragrant, and supple palate flavors from 16 years of age, this was a delicious wine.

Color: Dark center, purple-red edges

Nose: Fragrances of black berry and dark chocolate, a slight trace of old cedar and fall leaves. The aromas jump form the glass.

Palate: Elegant blackberry and black currants, dark fruits, supple tannins and acidity finish it off. This wine is still concentrated, for being 16 years old. In its early youth I feel this wine would have been very similar to the 2002 Pride Mountain Cabernet (tasting notes further below).
1992 Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Cabernet Sauvignon

The surprise of the weekend! On the second night of our stay John had said he opened a bottle of this a few months back and it was pretty good. If you are not familiar with Woodbridge, it’s a value priced line of wines made by the old Mondavi Corporation that was consumed by Constellation Brands. Depending on when this was bottled (my guess is 14-15 years ago) anyone who would have thought this wine would perform so well this many years later would be quite surprised. It had great Cabernet character of cherry, some bell pepper, and earthy aged notes. The tannins were silky smooth and the wine delivered great pleasure to all who had some.

1991 Joseph Phelps "Mistral" Rhone blend

This was also a great surprise and beat expectations handily. One would think a Rhone varietal wine from California before it was popular to make and thus not practiced very often would not last the test of time. This one did just that with rich and complete flavors.

Color: Red center and brick at the edges

Nose: Red fruits, red liquorice, some supple white pepper

Palate: Rich and surprising, full red fruit flavors of raspberries and crushed cherry, some leather and smoke. The tannins are almost gone, but the remaining acids freshen it all up at the end.

2002 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Big and rich, this was the most powerful wine all weekend. Rich and bombastic, this wine was still booming at 6 years old.

Color: Opaque, black center with red edges

Nose: Rich crushed blackberry and currant, spice and oak are hanging out noticeably in the background.

Palate: Full throttle black cherry, blackberry and pepper. Rich oak and chocolate flavors finish off with big mountain fruit tannins and enough acidity to keep you coming back a lot!

2006 Mollydooker "Goosebumps" Sparkling Shiraz
I will finish the tasting notes with the first of my wines we had on Christmas Eve. The fizz was quite nice as it was very subtle, just enough so you notice it.

Color: Black center, dark red edges

Nose: Oak, big ripe red fruits, some spicy cedar notes

Palate: Big black raspberry, blueberries and spicy cracked pepper. Very ripe!
Who says that a Napa Valley wine made with the right care and attention can not age!?!

-Tom and Tucker

We took home our new family addition last weekend and Tucker has been a great bundle of joy to our home. He is 13 weeks old and now 14 pounds already! My blogging has been delayed from the Holiday festivities and caring for a baby boy Wheaton Terrier. Though today I plan to get more blogs in as I have been keeping good tasting notes!

My Favorites