Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photos by the producer.

California White Grapes

California Wines

I do have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of most California wines.

Through the years, I have tasted numerous bottles from that state and (with a nod to W. C. Fields) “all things considered, I’d rather taste wines from Philadelphia”!

The first California wines I had, were from the PX store in Izmir in the 1960s, while I was serving in the NATO forces. The store had some quality French wines, including such bottles as Château Margaux and Château Laffite but they were very pricey; the Californians – mostly bottles from Ernst & Julio Gallo such as Thunderbird – were much inferior, but much more affordable. So, that was my introduction to California grapes, since at my soldier’s salary I could not afford to drink the better stuff.

In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, there were the Californian “garagiste” wine makers, who – even though there were in the market outstanding wines from such stalwarts as Chateau Montelena or Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars or Clos du Val Winery (wineries known from the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris) -- insisted in producing god-awful wines in their garages and trying to pass them as high quality vintages with lots of PR releases.

Then came the late ‘90s/early 2000s. Many of the California wine makers were producing heavy, highly tannic, highly oaked red wines to get high marks from a particular wine publication run by a very influential individual with a terrible, as far as I’m concerned, palate.

Since then, I believe that the California wine quality has been going mostly up! Especially, since Chilean, French, Italian and Spanish winemakers bought vineyards in California’s wine country and started making wines in the style they do in their countries.  

Hahn Vintner's Lunch Fish

Having said all that, at a recent tasting in New York City with the Hahn Family Winery, I tasted some very good – in my opinion – red and white wines. The tasting took place during a vintner’s lunch, which I believe is the perfect way to taste a new wine.

The wines, 8 altogether, were from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Central Coast.

There were 2 whites (both Chardonnay wines), 4 Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend.

Hahn SLH Chardonnay

Hahn SLH Pinot Noir

Top of my list were the 2017 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir and the 2017 Lucienne Pinot Noir, a multi-clone blend from the Doctor’s Vineyard.

Both were robust, with a nose of cherry, multi-layered, with hints of earthy mushrooms, tobacco and vanilla; they were atypical varietal wines tasting as good as wines produced in some of the better world vineyards. As tasted, I considered them a bit on the young side, and would love to have them again, properly cellared a few years down the line, after they shed the exuberance of youth. Currently, I would rate them at 90/100 points but with a bit more cellaring they could probably rate at 92 to 93.

Hahn SLH Orchestral

A wine that I liked but I considered overpriced was the 2016 Hahn SLH Orchestral Pinot Noir. It had an extra year to age in cellar and had softer tannins than the two wines mentioned above, but my feeling was that it might not have as long a life as the others. Currently, I would rate it at 92/100 points, but it might not go any higher.

The Chardonnays were nice, citrusy with stone fruit, tropical fruit and vanilla on the nose; young and a bit flowery. I would rate both at 89 points, but that’s my own prejudice as I prefer South American Sauvignon Blancs or a dry Falanghina from Italy or even blends of Spanish Macabeo (Viura) and Parellada.

To your health!




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