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Tasting notes from California

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on California.


Paul Hobbs Paul Hobbs (right) was overseas when I visited his discreet winery, vineyard and very visitor centre behind an unmarked gate off Sonoma's Gravenstein Highway. So after a few words with Winemaking Director Megan Baccitich, I was left in the capable hands of Marketing Manager Tara Sharp for my tour and tasting. I had met and interviewed Paul previously in 2008 when I'd learned about his humble origins and much of his winemaking philosophy.

Tara told me how Paul had set his wine business up 22 years ago, at first owning no vineyards, but part of the early group of Californian winemakers along with Rochioli, Dehlinger and a few others who wanted to make the single vineyard wines. From the outset vineyard-designated Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon where the focus.

Through "slow, careful building of business," Paul Hobbs is now a major player. This Sonoma estate was his first purchase 15 years ago, where he planted vineyards followed a few years later by building the winery, which was much expanded again six or seven years ago. Tara explained "The focus recently has been on vineyards, purchasing more and more vineyard land, including his first Napa property recently." The winery, vineyard around us and visitor facility are all extraordinarily neat and meticulous, which I assume must reflect the man himself? "Oh yes," says Tara, "Paul buys fruit from the famous To Kalon vineyard in Napa (the source of fruit for a number of Napa's most revered wines) but insists on the choice block where he absolutely micro-manages the farming process. He's been there since he was at Opus One and Mondavi, and the pruning and all aspects of management are under his control."

It's a strap line, but Tara quotes that Paul Hobbs believes in "Exceptional farming and minimal winemaking," and says there is massive attention on the vineyards. Production of their 'appellation series' wines runs to around 3,000-5,000 cases, but many of the single vineyard wines will be made in quantities of just a few hundred cases. In this tasting the wines came from the two really cool vintages of 2010 and 2011. "Paul and Megan really liked what these vintages gave," says Tara, "so now we're in a programme with Scott (Director of Vineyards Scott Zapotocky) to try to capture some of that character even in hotter years."

the wines

UK importer of Paul Hobbs is Alliance Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Paul Hobbs, Crossbarn Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2012, California
This label all from bought-in fruit. In screwcap for all wines but the Cabernet in this range. Very bright, fruit forward, lively stuff, with a direct apple and orange juiciness, with direct and fresh flavours, and just a touch of spice and oatmeal creaminess. 90/100. $25 locally.

Paul Hobbs, Russian River Chardonnay 2010, California
From eleven different vineyards in Russian River, this has some buttery toast, a more straightforward classic Californian Chardonnay buttery and tropical fruit appeal, but still elegant and fresh. Deliciously creamy stuff. Lots of sweet fruit, edged with the tropical and with a hazelnut richness and dryness, the toast and the burnishing effect of the oak adding crowd-pleasing approachability, but in an oh so sophisticated style. 90-91/100. $35 locally

Paul Hobbs, Edward James Estate Chardonnay 2010, California
From the property on which Paul lives, this is the first release, made from Wente and Bato clones. Lovely creamy nose, with oatmeal and creamy apple fruit, but lovely sense of salty minerality in the background, quite Puligny-like. The palate has beautiful minerality, with touches of coffee and delightful lime and lemon fruit that punches through. Decisive stuff, delicious saline finish and very long. Not in UK yet, but hopefully in a year or two. 93/100. $75 locally

Paul Hobbs, Crossbarn Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2011, California
Bright, creamy, cherry and even strawberry/raspberry fruit, a touch of sundae fruitiness, but that creamy and lightly earthy character beneath. The palate is leaner than the Paul Hobbs, a juiciness and firmness, but really nicely made and finishes with excellent balance. 89/100. $25.

Paul Hobbs, Russian River Pinot Noir 2011, California
Deep, quite solid colour. Beautifully deep cherry and mocha-scented nose, with a delicious berry fruited directness, but also pleasing gravelly and gamey nuances adding complexity. On the palate this has really nice, sweet and focused fruit, with a liquorice intensity to the profile: powerful and taut rather than a softer, more open style, but not without charm. Delicious softening edges of oak and some warm, herbal and vegetal nuances along with plenty of taut acidity. 90-91/100. $45 locally.

Paul Hobbs, Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, California
From Carneros in the Napa Valley. One of the very first vineyards in the Paul Hobbs series. No Pinot fruit available at that time from Sonoma, but Paul did persuade someone to plant in an ex apple orchard the next year. Still quite dark and intense. Meatier, fleshier profile, more earthy than the Russian River for sure, with a meat stock richness. The palate has lots of full, sweet fruit. Bramble and a hint of chocolate and plum, nice grip and firmness, undoubtedly a powerful style, but there is a touch of something floral and that kirsch/cherry freshness to the acidity right in the finish that adds a little light and shade. 92/100. $85 locally.

Paul Hobbs, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, California
Mainly from the Beckstoffer Dr Crane vineyards, but Stagecoach and other famous vineyards in the blend (along with 6% Cabernet Franc in this vintage). Beautiful black fruit nose, plenty of depth of creamy cassis and there's a meatiness here, a touch of game and meat stock, a touch of something a little herbal/vegetal in the background. The palate has lots of flesh, lots of meaty, broad and powerful juiciness, that squirt of plum and damson-skin roughening tannin and acidity just giving grip and keeping the interest up into the finish. 92/100. $90 locally.

Viña Cobos, Bramare Malbec Marchiori Vineyard 2009, Argentina
And a quick tasting of this 100% Malbec from Paul Hobbs' estate in Mendoza. A touch of floral character, lots of full, ripe black fruit, a touch of game, but the little floral notes are open and inviting. The palate has beautiful fruit sweetness, the silky, violet-infused kirsch and cassis floods the palate, and supple tannins and creaminess and excellent acidity gives this massive crowd-pleasing style, but delicious supple richness. 92/100. $95 locally.

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