Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley
Cost: $45-48
W hen you begin a new year, it’s always nice to start off on the right foot, with lofty goals and high expectations. With that in mind I thought I would review a wine that is about as close to perfect as you can get and still within reach.
When you start the year drinking a wine like the Paul Hobbs Chardonnay you get to see how great American wines can be.
There are many great, inexpensive wines, and I love to drink and write about them. But we all love the finer things in life, and sometimes you just have to treat yourselves and your loved ones.
A comfortable price point for many wine lovers is about $20 a bottle. You can drink hundreds of bottles of wine in the $15-25 price range and never run out of quality. But even before I started to write about wine I decided that I would splurge occasionally to see if it was worth it to spend a little more money.
It’s a great experiment and a great way to learn about wine. It’s even better if you can get a friend to open a bottle, or if you go to wine tastings to sample several wines.
With the Paul Hobbs Chardonnay the extra money is definitely worth it. This is a lush, rich, complex wine that really lights up your taste buds.
Paul Hobbs Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley.
Paul Hobbs Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley.
In the glass it’s a gorgeous pale yellow, with yummy aromas of tropical fruit and baked pears. If the smell doesn’t get you, the first sip tells you there is something special going on with this wine. It’s warm and buttery, with citrus dancing all over the place.
The old-style buttery oak flavor is nicely balanced by crisp acidity to keep the wine from becoming heavy and dull. Every sip is a bit different because there is so much complexity in the wine, and it continues to open and change in the glass. The creamy finish lingers a long time.
One of the factors adding to the complexity is the wine is a blend of several Chardonnay clones grown in different vineyards, all in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive in the Russian River Valley because of its cool climate, aided by morning fog that runs through the valley from the nearby Pacific Ocean.
The climate promotes long and mild growing seasons, which produce even ripening for the grapes. Balance and complexity are words you hear often with Russian River wines.
The grapes were hand picked, with whole berry clusters going right to pressing. After a cold soak the juice is barrel fermented with indigenous yeasts for 3-6 months. Malolactic fermentation occurs spontaneously in the barrels.
Then the blended wine is aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 45 percent new. The wine is aged sur lies, which means with the dead yeast cells and other particles of matter still in the barrel. Paul Hobbs uses an old-world technique called battonage, which is hand-stirring the wine in the barrels twice a week. This keeps the wine in contact with the lees and adds to the complexity of the wine.
When you see Paul Hobbs on the label, you know you are getting a great wine. Paul Hobbs wines can be difficult to find, more often turning up in restaurants than in wine shops, but they are available. Each vintage sells out from the winery fairly quickly.
Winery: Paul Hobbs grew up in Upstate New York, working the family farm. Later he helped his father turn apple, nut and peach orchards into vineyards.
That early experience helped him realize the importance of climate and weather on the character of fruit. His father had him taste apples of the same variety grown in orchards several miles apart. He could tell the difference in the fruit grown in the scattered orchards.
After graduating from the University of California-Davis, known for its wine program, he gained experience in the wine industry. He became known as someone who could identify exceptional vineyards. He was hired by Robert Mondavi for his expertise in oak aging and later joined the Opus One team before moving on to Simi Winery.
He founded Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991 in Sebastopol, and Vina Cobos in Argentina in 1999. Twice named Wine Personality of the Year by Robert Parker, Jr., he continues to be a leading consultant winemaker around the globe, from Armenia to Argentina to France. Forbes Magazine called him the Steve Jobs of the wine industry.
Paul Hobbs Imports was founded in 1994 and is a division of Paul Hobbs Wines. PHI was the first importer to successfully import Argentine Malbec to the United States. Focused on quality and innovation, PHI currently imports Felino, Bramare and Cobos wines from Hobbs’ own Argentine winery, Viña Cobos, as well as other Argentine wines of distinction including Pulenta Estate, Riglos, Finca 8, and Alto Limay, in addition to Viña Pérez Cruz from Chile and Stratus from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
In 2000 Paul Hobbs Winery started a second label to handle grapes that were good, but not quite up to the standard for his namesake wine. Called CrossBarn, it produces exceptional wine in the $25 range. CrossBarn produces Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sonoma.
It is aimed at younger wine drinkers who might not be able to afford the Paul Hobbs wines, but still want quality.
Hobbs believes in sustainable vineyard practices and creating the wine in the vineyard rather than in the winery.
“He’s brilliant,” director of winemaking Megan Baccitich said of her boss. “He has a knack in the vineyard. He’s always curious. Paul’s genius is finding new vineyards. We take on a new vineyard every year.”
The gorgeous winery in Sebastopol is open to visitors, but you must make an appointment. You also can make an appointment for their new “Small Bites” experience that pairs three dishes with six wines for $125.
Teri and Mary Jo pass around the shrimp pasta and angel hair.
Teri and Mary Jo pass around the shrimp pasta and angel hair.
Goes with: Paul Hobbs Chardonnay begs for special occasions, so Teri and I opened this when her sister Mary Jo and brother-in-law Russ came to visit before Christmas. We paired it with shrimp pasta.
The dish is hearty, with tomato sauce, parsley, basil and garlic served over angel hair pasta. It needs a full-bodied wine, and sometimes we even drink red with it.
The Hobbs Chardonnay was exquisite. It more than matched the tasty shrimp dish. Though Russ and I are partial to red wine, we both loved the complexity and smoothness of the Paul Hobbs Chardonnay.
I also had this wine with baked Alaskan Halibut with parsnip puree and saffron sauce as part of the small bites experience last summer. The pairing was spectacular.
This wine would pair well with all kinds of fish dishes, creamy chicken dishes and soft cheese.

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