Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Big and the Small of It

For a delightful day trip of wine tasting, consider driving east on Carmel Valley Road, G16.  You can’t be in a hurry because the road is narrow and curvy.  But you probably won’t want to be in a hurry anyway because the scenery is bucolic and lovely.  There are dramatic mountains, rolling golden hills, agricultural fields, plus a sea of vineyards.  And not much traffic. 
We had talked about doing this trip for a long time and we finally did it.  We packed a picnic lunch with the help of the Carmel Valley Market and headed out with our designated driver and navigator so we could relax into our tastings.  Our drive from the village to River Road took about an hour and a half.
Our first stop was Hahn Vineyards and Winery (formerly Smith and Hook) at 37700 Foothill Road, Soledad.  The tasting room, in a quaint yellow building, overlooks a sloping vine-covered hillside.  The building is handicap accessible and the servers are very friendly.

We were there on a weekend, and the wine bar was shoulder-to-shoulder.  We decided to split their two tasting menus, which meant we each could taste twelve of their wines.  (The respective costs of $10 and $15 were waived with the purchase of a bottle of wine.) These included a Pinot Gris, a Grenache and Grenache Blanc, several Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, a Malbec, a Merlot, and a Cabernet Franc.  Whew!  That’s a lot of wine.  Thank goodness for the tradition of sipping and for our picnic goodies.
LC liked their clean, lean 2009 Pinot Gris; their SLH Estate 2009 Chardonnay; and the complex taste and nice finish of the 2010 GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedret. MK liked the reasonably priced Hahn Winery Chardonnay SLH 2009 and the full bodied Pinot Noir SLH Doctor’s Vineyard 2009.
This is a big winery compared with many we have visited but has been family owned and operated since 1980.  Hahn produces over 550,000 cases of wine a year.  Check out their “family of wines” at 
Our next wine stop was at Pessagno Winery ( at 1645 River Road, Salinas.  Here we broke out our Satori Bella Vitano Merlot cheese and dark chocolate to go with the tastings.  Their 2009 Riesling had a fruity nose and was dry, crisp, and light, perfect for a warm day.   We also liked their Chardonnays, the 2008 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard one especially, which was tropical and creamy. 
We were anxious to try their Pinot Noirs.  Their 2008 Lucia Highlands Vineyard Pinot and their 2008 Idyll Times Vineyard Pinot both hit the mark.  We loved the rich, warm nose and the jammy taste of the first and the full lush mouth feel of the second.  Sunset Magazine called their Chardonnays and Pinots “full throttle.”  We agree. 
By this time, we were ready for a little of their Port and their ouro-filled chocolates. Ouro, meaning “gold” in Portuguese, is the name of one of the winery’s sweet dessert wines. These bon-bons were quite luscious.
Just then Steve Pessagno walked into the tasting room.  That’s one of the joys of smaller boutique wineries—often we can talk with the owner and/or winemaker.  What a warm, enthusiastic person, with an obvious excitement and passion for what he is doing.  It was a perfect way to end our tasting and our Santa Lucia Highlands wine adventure.
There are so many more wineries on River Road that we will definitely return to continue our research.  And we’ll keep you posted on what new wine treasures we discover.

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