Wed 5 Sep 2012
Hope you’re not sick of reading about cabernet sauvignon, because I have lots more examples to write about, though I’ll keep it within reasonable proportions.
For this seventh edition of “Pairs of Great Wines,” we turn to Hawk & Horse Vineyard, established in Lake County — that’s the county above, that is, north of, Napa County — in 1999 by Mitch and Tracy Hawkins (pictured at right) on the El Roble Grande Ranch that Tracy Hawkins’ stepfather David Boies bought in 1982. The three are partners in the enterprise. The Hawkins planted vines in 2001. The vineyard is operated on biodynamic principles; a small herd of Scottish Highlander cattle is kept on the property to provide the all-important manure. The estate produces only two wines, a cabernet sauvignon and the Latigo cabernet dessert wine. Tracy Hawkins acts as executive winemaker, while consulting winemaker is Dr. Richard Peterson, one of those personages to whom the label “legendary” is inevitably attached.
Peterson grew up on a farm in Iowa, making his first wine at home in 1948. He began his career in California in 1958, going to work for E.& J. Gallo in new product development and research. He was picked by Andre Tchelistcheff to be winemaster at Beaulieu Vineyards, where he served from 1968 to 1973, going on to The Monterey Vineyards and then Atlas Peak. He headed a group of investors that acquired Folie à Deux in 1995, selling to Trinchero Family Estates in 2005. Peterson now is proprietor of Richard Grant Wines (his first and middle names) where he makes small amounts of sparkling wine from a unique pinot noir clone that he brought back from England. His daughters are the well-known winemaker and consultant Heidi Peterson Barrett and chef and entrepreneur Holly Peterson. Peterson’s quest for innovation led him along every high and low path in the vinous arsenal, from making the finest cabernet wines and pioneering sangiovese to concocting the formula for Hearty Burgundy and inventing the wine cooler for Monterey Vineyard. Each task he takes on is a problem to be solved; few imaginations can be, like his, both visionary and pragmatic.
These wines were samples for review.
The Hawk & Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County, includes 2 percent merlot midst all that cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new, 50 percent two-year-old barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple almost to the rim, where it shades to a violet-magenta hue. The bouquet rates a “Wow!” as my first note; this pungent and potent amalgam of mint and iodine, iron and graphite, spiced and macerated black and red currants, mulberries and blueberries embodies the decisive cabernet paradox of delivering a sense of warm spice and cool minerals simultaneously, all underlain by a dusty, slightly brambly and mossy earthy element. Though solid and firm of structure, this is no truculent powerhouse of a cabernet sauvignon; rather it’s smooth and supple, almost lithe and sinewy, with dense, chewy dusty tannins that lend texture and depth to the ripe black and blue fruit flavors and vibrant acidity that offers essential liveliness and verve. You sense the oak more prominently through the finish, which is packed with granitic minerality, woody spice and hints of fruitcake and bitter chocolate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,150 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
The previous vintage produced something different. The Hawk & Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Red Hills, Lake County, is 100 percent cabernet and received the same oak treatment as the 2008, or I suppose I should say that the 2008 received the same oak treatment as the ’07; the alcohol content, 14.1 percent, is also the same, so the point is the consistency. (Of course producers are granted leeway by federal regulations in stating the degrees of alcohol in a wine.) By different, I mean that the ’07 displays more rigorous structure than its cousin from 2008, yet equal vitality. The bouquet is all smoke and cedar and thyme, cloves and allspice and walnut shell, elements that gradually unfold to reveal intense and concentrated yet seductively ripe notes of black currants, black cherries and plums, so the balance is between slightly austere, woody, spicy qualities and luscious fruit; adding dimension (to the texture as well as depth to the bouquet) is a reservoir of graphite and loam. Yeah, that’s quite a performance. The wine is full-bodied, mouth-filling, seamlessly layered, though emphasizing, still, the framing and foundation of slightly leathery, tarry tannins, polished oak, resonant acidity and a resolute granite and shale lithic quality. Production was 430 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.