WHAT is such a joy about talking to Californian winemaker Paul Hobbs is his ability to discuss non-geeky aspects of wine science. In a single chat, he can tell you why Mendoza has bigger hailstones than other regions and what makes pinot noir paler than other wines when its grapes have similar pigmentation.
Although Hobbs originally set out to be a doctor, he was diverted into wine and quickly became part of the Robert Mondavi Opus One team. Then, in 1989, he recognised the potential of Argentina and became a founding father of the country’s impressive Vina Cobos company. Both sides of the equator, his wines reflect their particular terroir – something that first caught his imagination when he identified it in apples from different orchards in upstate New York, where he was raised.
None of Hobbs’s wines are cheap but that is to be expected with bottles that stand comparison with top-level burgundies or come from hugely expensive areas like Napa Valley. Contact Alliance Wine (01505 506060) for your nearest stockist.
California can do rich chardonnay particularly well but, in 2011 Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (£24.99), named after the barn in which Hobbs played as a child, the emphasis is on freshness. Bright lemon fruit comes to the fore while red apple and peach provide complexity, but its smoothness and touches of butter preserve some essentially Californian fingerprints.
Two extra years of maturation and a more traditional approach lie behind the success of 2009 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River (£39.99). Here, barrel fermentation and indigenous yeast give greater elegance and introduce tropical fruit influences such as mango and orange. Those are complemented by apple and lemon acidity and topped off with a rounded vanilla and butterscotch finish.
In the reds, there is a noticeable determination to keep tannin firmly under control. The 2011 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River (£44.99) develops ascending levels of acidity that are never inhibited by concluding tannin and allow the fuller raspberry and plum fruit to shine through. Along with a silky smooth texture, there are also perfumed hints of violets.
In Argentina, Hobbs was one of the first to recognise the potential of malbec, and the heights the variety can reach are demonstrated by 2009 Bramare Marchiori Vineyard Malbec (£58.99), from Vina Cobos. This is significantly lighter (and more raspberry-influenced) than you might expect, and brings together lively acidity, judiciously balanced tannin and a soft vanilla finish.
Back in California, the next port of call is Napa Valley. The 2010 Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (£34.99) has a delightful cassis nose and firm blackcurrant and plum fruit with elements of vanilla and mint.
The tannins are also deliberately soft in 2008 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (£62.99), but this is a more opulent wine. Flavours are more concentrated, the texture fuller and the volume turned up on the fruit-centred complexity – black cherry and mulberry as well as the trademark blackcurrant. A nice nutmeg finish completes the package.
That said, there is a real cabernet titan due in the UK this summer but it will attract a bigger price tag. The 2010 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Dr Crane Vineyard is stunning stuff, illustrating why Hobbs has won California’s Most Influential Winemaker award.
2011 Picpoul de Pinet Domaine de Morin Langaran Languedoc France, 12.5 per cent
This is an excellent example of this fresh, fruity grape that has leaped to stardom. Herbal, minty aromas give way to textured greengage and jaffa orange flavours with a savoury undercurrent. There is also a less dry ‘Etiquette Blanche’ version. £6.83, Linlithgow Wines
2009 Taste the Difference Aglianico del Vulture Basilicata Italy, 14 per cent
Aglianico is an unusual grape from Greece but is mainly grown these days in southern Italy. Here it produces a surprisingly soft, nicely balanced red with bramble and blackcurrant fruit and nice vanilla touches. £9.99, Sainsbury’s