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.


1 comment:

  1. Tom this is your best blog yet! I can't believe I never even asked how you got into wine. Great stories and glad you got to meet Paul.


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