Mead On Wine

© 1996 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. H No. 26

Hahn for Value

by Jerry D. Mead

In the Santa Lucia Highlands, on the west side of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, are the vineyards of Smith & Hook and Hahn Estate. Both brands are owned by the Hahn Family, with Smith & Hook noted for big, gutsy, highly extracted wines with premium prices.

The Hahn Estate wines are always more immediately accessible and drinkable and priced in the value range.

Hahn 1994 "Monterey" Chardonnay ($10) Big, ripe, vanilla, tropical fruit (mango?) style, with noticeable oak and fruit that offers an almost sweetish impression.

The finish, though, is dry. Good wine; good value. Rating: 85/88.

Hahn 1994 "Santa Lucia" Merlot ($11) Bordeaux-lean, almost to the point of austerity, which is very unusual in a moderately priced California Merlot. A combination of cherry and berry flavors. Pleasantly tart. Rating: 87/89

Hahn 1993 "Santa Lucia" Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) Ripe black cherry and cassis flavors, in drinkable style with round approachable tannins. "Best Buy." Rating: 86/90

Hahn Estate wines have broad national distribution, but are not the kind you'll find in every retail shop. For nearest outlet: Hahn Estate, P.O. Drawer C, Soledad, CA 93960 (408) 678-2132.


Hahn 1994 "Santa Lucia" Cabernet Franc ($10) This exciting wine is more than a "Best Buy," it's a steal.

Cabernet Franc is the Bordeaux cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a sometimes more complex aroma than either. Like Merlot, it's user-friendly without a lot of aging. Earthy, dusty, blackberry aromas and flavors, on a lean claret-style structure. Pleasantly tart berry finish with complex after-flavors of earth, truffle and mushroom...all this in a wine that sells for $10, or considerably less at the discounters. Case purchases highly recommended, especially in the midst of the Merlot shortage we're in. Rating: 89/95


The results are in from the world's largest judging of California wines, the Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition. It is the largest for several reasons. It is highly regarded, to be sure, and it is the only judging in the world (that I know of) with no entry fees, and all the judges are winemakers or winery owners. Vintners feel better about having their wines evaluated by their peers than by some of the mixed-bag panels at other judgings.

OC was also the first judging to take price into consideration, alerting consumers to the best wines at whatever price point they might be comfortable with.

I can only list a few winners each week, but the official awards book listing more than 1000 winning wines of every type will be off the presses shortly. You can order yours now by sending $6 to: OC Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463. (Use the same phone to inquire about where to find any wines mentioned in today's column.)

My major criticism with OC is a steady decline in the number of gold medals over the past five years, at a time when California wines are the best they've ever been.

Total medal count was up by 200 this year, but golds declined another 18 percent.

The Pinot Noir category, for example, yielded zero golds in the $16.01 to $29 price range, and a single gold in the low price (up to $11) range, to Villa Mt. Eden 1994 "Cellar Select."

Two more winners in the popular $11.01 to $16 range to Rodney Strong 1994 "Russian River-River East" and Husch 1994 "Anderson Valley."

At the very premium price range, above $29.01, three nearly impossible to find wines won gold: Gary Farrell 1994 "Russian River-Allen Vineyard" (actually one of 10 4-Star Golds...a special honor to wines receiving a unanimous gold vote); Gary Farrell 1994 "Russian River-Rochioli" ; and Cosentino 1994 "Russian River."

A single gold for Pinot Blanc, and it came from the top price range of from $12.01 and up and went to Benziger Imagery 1994 "Sonoma Mountain-Skinner Vineyard."

Not one gold awarded to the Petite Sirah category in any price range.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, OC placed a special emphasis on real red Zinfandel, and ended up with more than 300 entries. They managed to find some golds in every price range, but the percentage of top winners is still very small.

Six golds were awarded in the up to $9 price range, so all you bargain hunters better move fast: Rosenblum "Vintner's Cuvee XII"; Mondavi Woodbridge 1994 "California"; Madrona 1993 "El Dorado County"; Madrona 1994 "El Dorado County; Ravenswood 1994 "Vintner's Blend" and Round Hill 1993 "Napa Valley."

At the moderate price level of $9.01 to $13 there was one 4-Star Gold to Milliaire 1993 "Sierra Foothills- Ghiradelli Vineyard." Add to that five gold medals: J. Fritz 1994 "Dry Creek-Old Vines"; Summit Lake 1992 "Howell Mountain"; Konrad 1992 "Mendocino-Organic"; Lolonis 1994 "Mendocino-Organic" and Lang 1993 "El Dorado-Twin Rivers Vineyard."

The price category between $13.01 and $18 seemed to offer the richest bounty...three 4-Star Golds and five golds.

The 4-Stars are: Gary Farrell 1994 "Russian River-Collins Vineyard"; Rodney Strong 1993 "Northern Sonoma-Old Vines" and Wellington 1994 "Sonoma Valley-Casa Santinamaria." Note that the Rodney Strong was named "Best California Zinfandel" in a taste-off of all the gold medalists.

The golds were: Beaulieu 1994 "Napa-Signet Series"; Greenwood Ridge 1994 "Sonoma-Scherrer Vineyard"; Quivira 1994 "Dry Creek"; Benziger 1994 "Sonoma" and Navarro 1994 "Mendocino."

And from the premium price range of $18.01 and up: 4-Star Gold to Gnarly Vine 1993 "Sonoma Valley- Monte Rosso". Golds to: Rombauer 1994 "Napa"; Rosenblum 1994 "Mt. Veeder-Brandlin Ranch" and 1993 Mount Veeder "Napa."

There was one miserly gold for the popular White Zinfandel class to: Shenandoah 1995 "Amador County" in the $5.01 to $6.50 price range.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.


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Latest Update: September 20, 1996