27 February 2009

Hahn Estates Wines and Two New Ingredients

As long time readers know I don't often drink the same wine twice. But recently I got a craving for a Cab Franc, and I decided to revisit the 2006 Hahn Cabernet Franc. Only this time, I had an inside connection to Hahn Estates through fellow blogger Wine Diver Girl. I shot off an e-mail asking for any interesting trivia about the wine, something beyond the shelf talkers and data sheets.

I was amazed at the response.

From Winemaker Paul Clifton, explaining how the Cab Franc got popular because of the winery's delicious Meritage:

"I can’t remember specific vintage, but the wines were so good, we decided to bottle up Cab Franc on it’s own for the National Market. (Maybe it was the 02’ vintage). It turned out not to be a great seller. The problem- there wasn’t much demand. I believe it took more than 2 years to sell out of that vintage. So, we tried to kill it as far as offering anymore once we got through that vintage. Six months or so went by and all of a sudden we had folks, particularly on the east coast, asking where it went. The marketing team asked the winery to blend/bottle up a small amount to satisfy the die-hards, so we did. For whatever reason, it started taking off and it is now a mainline wine that we produce."

Assistant Winemaker Greg Freeman chimed in with, "Paul C. nailed it on the head with his info. He doesn’t mention the brilliant job he does with the subtleties of blending that take place in the crafting of this wine, the variations of micro-percentages of related varietals are often what make or break these wines." Greg mentioned that his sister was a huge fan of the Cabernet Franc, so next I heard from Georgeanne Freeman:

"The Hahn Cab Franc (CF) has the aroma and taste of cherries jubilee (with far less sugar than your mother would use), hints of almond and mocha. There's a bit of "dirt" but it's not heavy barnyard; more light & fluffy well composted mulch (think peat moss). It is NOT syrupy (thank you, Paul!)... I like the CF with marzipan (brings out the almond notes), chile rellenos, english trifle, buttery sea bass or steak au pauve."

The recommendation for chile rellenos stuck in my head, and I also happened to have a bag of sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes) in the fridge. I'd never eaten them before, and despite the resemblance to the iris bulbs my mother used to plant I was really curious. So I decided to make stuffed bell peppers with roasted sunchokes.

But before I go further into the food, what about the wine? I've long maintained that this wine is the perfect way to get to know Cabernet Franc, and after trying the grape on its own you can better appreciate it in Bordeaux or Meritage blends. It's very mild and smooth, with aromas of cherry, chocolate, and green tomato leaves. Flavors are somewhat vegetal with more cooked cherry notes and a touch of toast. Really well put together, and an absolute steal at $13.

I stuffed the peppers with lean ground beef, a little frozen mirepoix (perfect for these dishes), ricotta, mozzarella, various Italian herbs, and Muir Glen chopped tomatoes. The sunchokes were washed, scrubbed, steamed briefly, and then roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper along with the stuffed peppers. Many recipes recommend peeling sunchokes, but they have an uncooperative topology. Add to that my love of the deep flavor in peels and my hatred of peeling root vegetables, and you get the rustic side dish seen here. Sunchokes are like potatoes crossed with carrots; there's a peppery sweetness that's a lot of fun, and they're very filling for such small tubers.

The wine went along quite well, and my dining companions were pleased with the combination of flavors. Though I must admit the stuffed peppers needed a little tangy punch, ably provided by Heinz 57 sauce. (Sometimes you just have to kick it old school.)

Normally I serve a white wine first with a soup, salad, or seafood course, but this time I reversed matters. Red wine with the simple meal and white wine with dessert. My second new ingredient was quince, which I'd always heard of but never got around to eating. I'm now in love--it looks like a yellow apple, but has a much more interesting flavor. If you click on the picture of the quince you'll get a gigantic version, suitable for use as a desktop background. Out of the thousands of pictures I've taken, portraits of produce make me the most happy, and I love to share them.

I sliced up the quince and sautéed the pieces in butter with a dash of brandy. I toasted a few points of leftover white corn tortillas, sliced up a little chunk of goat cheese that was like Neufchâtel, and drizzled it all with honey. (In retrospect, I realize what I was really craving was a mess of New Mexican sopaipillas.) When I popped open the 2007 Hahn Chardonnay, I was pleasantly surprised with a caramel, buttered popcorn aroma. It's one of those wine scents I haven't encountered in a while, and it went well with the dessert. Nicely oaked with rich pear and caramel flavors.

This was not a fancy dinner party, and frankly the dishes are pretty rustic and basic when you get right down to it. But it was a pleasure to try two wines from the same winery with the simple meal, and the warm and informative responses from the winemaking team only enhanced the experience. Big thanks go out to the good folks at Hahn, and be sure to check out their Meritage as well.


fredric koeppel said...

I love quince; that dessert looks fabulous. Interesting: I'm going through the Hahn wines now, and except for the pinot noir, which I didn't care for, they're clean and well-made and tasty.

Anonymous said...

While I love the taste and texture of sunchokes, for me they produce absolutely astounding quantities of, er, gas. They certainly are filling, since my stomach immediately bloats up, it is even visible. And Beano or similar enzymes do not make the slightest difference.

Michelle said...

I have got to try that dessert - looks fantastic.

Samantha Dugan said...

Don't you just love hearing from the winemaker? This post is so timely, as last night I was hanging out, (and drinking with....I mean who am I kidding) a couple of winemakers, one from Alsace and one from Burgundy. Tasting through their wines with them in my ear really made a huge difference, just makes it more than a bottle of wine....always good to remember that.

I love sunchokes, you should try them mashed like potatoes, although that would require the dreaded peeling...really tasty though.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that all looks amazing! What do I have to do to get an invite? (I'll bring wine ;)

But seriously, this Hahn Cab Franc made me a CF lover (I work for Hahn Family Wines so I have the great fortune, and access, to taste a LOT of wines). It is a favorite at the winery as well. Thanks for the sweet review and amazing dinner pairing! Cheers.

Brad S. said...

I don't normally leave comments but this article really caught my eye. I am a restaurant owner in Norfolk Virginia and have been attempting to enlighten my patrons on the beauty of Cab Franc.

It does my heart good to see we are not alone. Great read, thank you.

Benito said...


Thanks for reading--I've got a soft spot for the complex, tiny grapes like Cabernet Franc.

Samantha & Anonymous,

I'll keep both of your sunchoke recommendations in mind... I don't see them as an everyday vegetable, but it's nice to have something different once in a while.


I look forward to your fuller reviews of the Hahn wines.


A simpler version of the dessert is another favorite of mine: just a chunk of goat cheese drizzled with honey and served with fresh pear slices. Really good and very simple.