Monday, March 1, 2010

Heavyweight v. Welterweight - is Hahn Meritage too good to be true?

Tonight I was basking in the glow of some serious legal bidness and decided to open up a nice wine that I expected a lot from: a 2006 Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah from Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley ($60).

I remain a big fan of this winery and former winemaker Clay Brock, a very down to earth fellow with great taste. (Brock is now making some very nice wines at Wild Horse, beginning with the 2008 vintage). The '06 Black Bear Syrah is a great Syrah. The only problem is that it's burdened with excessive new oak.

The class of the fruit is apparent, but the aromas and flavors - ranging from olive to bacon to toast, vanilla and mocha - emphasize the lavish new oak (21 months in new French oak) over the quality and terroir of the fruit.

You'd think that with new French oak barrels selling for over 1K a tub, that people would be using less new barrels. These days, most people are, but I guess Zaca Mesa didn't get the memo.

It IS a decadent wine. As an alternative to dinner out and theater tickets, a nice bottle of vino at home and a netflixed indie flick can offer some value, even with a $60 wine, but I really believe this wine can be better than it is with a bit less new oak. It could be cheaper, too. (Rating: 90)

Next bottle? I grab the '07 Hahn Meritage Central Coast Red Table Wine ($16). This is a different sort of wine altogether - a blend of Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. It's a different animal, but not one that I love any more or any less.

I know this wine has been as high as ($18) in the past, and is constantly raking in gold and double-gold medals. It always impresses me as over-delivering.

This vintage is no exception. Originally engineered by Barry Gnekow and Adam Lazarre and now made by Lazarre and Paul Clifton, it continues to be a superb wine guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, it has brambly blackberry, licorice and black currant aromas and flavors of tar, cassis, vanilla, mint, bay leaf and black pepper with solid structure and nicely-polished tannins.

The worst criticism that you could level at it is that it seems too good to be true.

Whatever blending or manipulation might have gone into it, the wine delivers on every level. It's delicious tonight, should age nicely for five or ten years, and shows immaculate balance. If you haven't tried this wine, you really owe it to yourself. It's been one of the best values in red wine over the past decade. It continues to impress me. (Rating: 92)

I'll give this round to Hahn's Meritage, though I think with a little more judicious use of new oak, Zaca Mesa's Syrahs have remarkable potential.

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