A couple of months ago I was invited to a blind tasting of mostly Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernets and Cab blends that was being run by a market research company on behalf of a local winery. I had a suspicion who the client might be, but no idea what wines were being poured or the order.
The event was held in a lovely, historic house high in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The land was part of the original parcel bought by John and George Jarvis. There were six tasters in all from various backgrounds; some with winemaking connections (both professionally and amateur), others just enthusiasts.
The first six wines were all Cabernets. We were asked to evaluate them silently and score them out of 20, then discuss them as a group. (I don't normally assign scores to wines; I'd rather just try to rank them in order of preference.) The second flight covered blends; there were four Bordeaux/Meritage blends and two "Super Tuscan" Cabernet/Sangiovese blends. In the end it was remarkably difficult to decide between some of them, but a lot of fun.
It was subsequently confirmed that the tasting had been organised for La Honda Winery, to try out a few of their forthcoming releases. I think they should be very pleased by the results.
In the first flight, two of the six Cabernets were from La Honda and both were voted in the top three. All but one of the wines in the flight were from the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2006 La Honda Chalk Hill Cabernet from Sonoma came top. It was significantly darker than most of the others. The nose showed bright fruit; blackberry and blackcurrant, with hints of mint, menthol and eucalyptus. I got more of the same on the palate, with liquorice on the finish. A very nice wine.
In second place was the 2004 Martin Ranch Therese Vineyards Estate Cabernet. I've tried this a couple of times and have been impressed. It had a floral nose, with some orange peel and perhaps a hint of aldehyde. Plenty of tannin and spice - nutmeg and cinnamon - but not showing much fruit at this stage. Needs time.
The 2006 Lone Hawk Vineyard Cabernet came in third. This had a faint nose of cedar and raisins. On the palate there were dusty tannins and nice acidity. It too seemed tight; not showing much fruit, and had a medium length finish.
The second flight had four Meritage/Bordeaux blends (including a surprisingly weak showing by a local wine that I've tried before and have in my cellar. I'll reserve further comment on that until I've had chance to try it again).
Voting on this flight was very mixed; a wine that one person rated the highest would be rated the lowest by the next person. The overall winner turned out to be a 2004 Byington Alliage. I used to drink Alliage quite often when it was $15-$20 and made from Sonoma fruit; these days it carries the Paso Robles appellation and costs closer to $30. It had an oaky, floral nose with a little heat from the alcohol. The palate showed sweet cherry and plum fruit with vanilla and decent finish.
The final two wines compared an Italian Cabernet/Sangiovese blend with one from La Honda's own vineyard. It was an unusual comparison; the Italian was all smoke, earth, underbrush and stone with tannin and acidity; a complete contrast to every other wine of the night; perhaps for that reason only I gave it the edge, even though I'm not normally a fan of Italian wines. The La Honda on the other hand had bright redcurrant, blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, some oak and again plenty of acidity. This is a very young vineyard and it'll certainly be interesting to see how it goes on as the vines gain maturity.