Good timing is often the handmaiden of success. That certainly applies to the family founders of Hahn Family Wines, the largest growers in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands.
Purchasing what were horse and cattle ranches in Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County for $3,000 per acre in 1979 was superlative timing -- the vineyard land now sells for $70,000 per acre. Another good piece of timing was the decision in the early 1990s to expensively rip out perfectly healthy but underperforming Bordeaux varietals to plant more appropriate, cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay.
Today, pinot noir dominates the Santa Lucia Highland AVA. Pinot noir thrives in cool winds from Monterey Bay and warm sunshine from the elevated vineyards, above the fog in the Salinas Valley.
We recently met with Philip Hahn, chairman of Hahn Family Wines, who explained how his father, Nicki, was instrumental in the creation of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in 1991 as a sub AVA. Santa Lucia Highlands is situated about an hour southeast of Carmel and Monterey. About 50 growers – including Talbott, Caymus, and Pisoni -- grow mostly chardonnay and pinot noir in this AVA.
We were impressed with the price-value ratio of Hahn’s wines, especially its entry-level pinot gris, pinot noir, and grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend. Philip commented that their low cost of acquiring vineyard land is certainly a factor in their consumer-friendly pricing.
The 2016 Hahn Pinot Gris Monterey ($15) is a ripe and rich version of this grape with delicious pear flavors and nose. The 2015 Hahn Pinot Noir Monterey County ($15) was beautifully expressive with cherry and berry scents and flavors, in a well-balanced package that drinks above its price point. Hahn’s 2015 GSM blend ($15) was a pure delight with strawberry and cherry flavors that exploded in the mouth.
Hahn commented that “this is a food wine," although we believe this wine can easily be enjoyed by itself, or as an accompaniment to food.
A step up in quality and price is the 2015 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands ($30). Crafted from all estate grapes, this is a complex and pleasing pinot noir that expresses a spicy cinnamon nose and perky not overly ripe cherry fruit and a hint of earth in the finish. This is a lot of pinot noir for the price.
Hahn owns the Smith & Hook label producing warm climate red table wines from Bordeaux varietals. We especially liked the 2013 Smith & Hook Proprietary Red Blend ($25). The blend of mostly merlot and malbec along with a dash of petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon was a gutsy red wine that would feel very comfortable next to a grilled medium rare rib-eye steak. Ample ripe cherry and cassis fruit are balanced with a good dose of soft tannins for palate cleansing with rich fatty foods. Delicious!
With grilling season on us, there is no better time to drink petite sirah with grilled food.
"Petite" is an oxymoron. It is by far the inkiest colored red wines in existence and it is one of the most dense. It's forward, juicy, and often ripe character makes it an ideal match to meats and ketchup-based sauces that you may put on ribs and burgers.
Specialty winemakers such as Kent Rosenblum and Abe Schroener are waxing their genius on this often-overlooked grape. Not surprisingly, they have taken petite sirah to new levels.
Here are a few we really like:
Michael David Petite Petit 2015 ($18). Using grapes from the hot Lodi appellation, this blend of petite sirah and petit verdot is big. Blueberry flavors with a dash of black pepper. The name is a combination of the talented Michael and David Phillips, who also make some incredible zinfandels.
Michael David Earthquake Petite Sirah 2014 ($26). Made entirely of petite sirah, this inky monster has violet aromas and wild huckleberry flavors, sage and a hint of sweet vanillin oak.
Rock Wall Le Mur de Roche 2012 ($60). Kent Rosemblum sold his winery in 2008, but then bankrolled Rock Wall for his winemaking daughter, Shauna. This single-vineyard petite sirah has a lot of power and density. You could cut this with a knife and lay it on toast in the morning. Inky, it has lush blackberry liqueur flavors with a dose of tea, vanilla and citrus. Delicious now but begging for age.
Rock Hall Jack's Petite Sirah 2014 ($35). Raspberry aromas with plum, pepper and tobacco flavors. Lush, long finish.
Tenbrink Vineyards and Winery Petite Sirah 2015 ($50). First, you're struck by the beautifully simple label of this unusual wine, then by the complexity inside. Winemaker Abe Schoener, who has maintained his cult status with outlier wines, joins Steve Tenbrink to use grapes from the Suisun Valley near Fairfield, CA. to make a very complex and bold petite sirah.
Dom Diogo Vinho Verde Rosé 2106 ($15). Made from the indigenous Portuguese padeiro- A bit of frizzante introduces this wine along with strawberry flavors and a very smooth delivery.
Hyatt Merlot Rattlesnake Hills Washington 2012 ($15). Classic, well-made merlot with bright cherry flavors accented with a nice dose of oak that is well integrated. Not terribly complicated but a pleasure to drink by itself or with bold meat dishes.