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Any wine from Monterey County feels like a statement on a mood. The wines have fog and wind in their bones, whether they taste bright and fresh or dark and brooding. Such is the case for the bottles coming out of Hahn Family Wines, which has been producing wines in the Santa Lucia Highlands since 1980. Nicky Hahn began with Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon, then realized the region, with its coastal mountains, windy weather—and fog, natch—is a much better fit for cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Today, Hahn Family Farms cultivates 890 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes (along with a smattering of others), grown throughout the varied Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, and the SLH AVAs, with four estate vineyards in the SLH (650 acres) and two in Arroyo Seco (450 acres). Making these six plots particularly unique is that they’re certified under the Sustainability in Practice program. (Hahn Family Wines was among the first in the region to have all its estate vineyards earn this designation, which requires growers and producers to continually improve and implement farming practices that conserve and preserve the land and its people.) The fully solar-powered operation has also put into place techniques such as irrigating vines only when needed and composting pomace—creating a cycle that serves to benefit the wines.
Consistency and expression of the fruit are hallmarks of the brand, even while working with various winemakers across its labels. Among them is Paul Clifton, who leads the SLH (and Lucienne) iterations with a hyper-focus on the vineyards. He’s able to predict which lots will perform best in any given vintage (quite the skill). He and his team handpick most SLH blocks, and he tastes barrel lots throughout the aging process: While Lucienne lots are typically known at harvest, SLH is much more of a barrel selection. (Clifton chooses barrels based on how he believes the oak compliments the aromas and flavors of the SLH.)
And that’s exactly what makes the 2019 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir ($30) such a beauty. The wine is made from grapes sourced from the four SLH vineyards—Lone Oak, Doctor’s, Smith, and Hook—which are characterized by the windy mountain climate and morning fog that gives way to slow ripening during the day and afternoon sun to strengthen the flavors. It was aged for 14 months in 35 percent new French oak.
Earthy aromas—leather, smoke, wet dirt—create a lovely backbone for the crushed, juicy dark fruits that appear on the palate, including bruised plums and bursts of overripe blackberries. The tannins are not overpowering and help to temper some of the acidity, leading to a wine that’s well-balanced and layered. Each sip feels mysterious, particularly a couple hours after being opened: Sometimes there’s more fruit, and other times savory elements, like vanilla, appear. In fact, the SLH feels mature despite its youth. It’s a wine to mull over—to pair with different artisan chocolates or cheeses and see how it transforms. And because it’s that time of year, it would make a statement on any holiday table, too.