The Santa Lucia Highlands can create some interesting wines — from almost meaty Pinot Noir, to downright angry Syrah. The Hahn SLH Chardonnay hails from higher elevation vineyards that reach, at top level, 1,200 feet and are planted atop sandy loam soils. Sitting neatly above the fog line and amongst the well-draining soil, the Chardonnay receives ample amount of sunlight and receive just enough water to force the vines to work. The result is good, fully ripened fruit bursting at the seams to become wine. But the expression in that wine, well, that depends on the winemaker…

About the Wine: The Hahn SLH 2015 Chardonnay is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from the Lone Oak and Smith vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands of California’s Monterey County AVA. Post-harvest, the grapes were pressed, skin-off, and went through 70% malolactic fermentation. “I keep some of the blending components ML negative,” says winemaker Paul Clifton, “in case I feel the need to back blend the diacetyl level down to a more balanced profile.  60-70% seems to be the sweet spot…for our fruit and appellation.” The wine went through secondary fermentation in small French oak barrels (33% new; 67% neutral) sur lies with battonage once every three weeks for one year while the Chardonnay aged. The final blend was created just before bottling. Learn more about Chardonnay winemaking.

14.5% ABV

Flavor Profile: Out of the bottle wafts a soft, opulent symphony of over-ripe yellow apple. In the glass, this Chardonnay does look like a golden-delicious apple, not overly concentrated, but a confident shade of mature champagne. You can’t not smell the Hahn SLH Chardonnay, even on the pour. Initial aromas are of a pot de creme, flaky pastry, vanilla bean, with a thin — but assertive — line of acidity throughout. Swirl, and the wine releases more of that apple-happy fruit scent, complete with it’s blossoms and nectar, as if hanging fully plump from the apple tree.

Engage your body with this wine. Close one nostril (for me the right, breathing with my left), and find that you can further engage with those floral aromatics. Close the other (for me, a reverse of the above), and find that the acidity mixes with those flowers and creates a sharp perfume-like quality.

On the palate, the Hahn SLH Chardonnay is full, round, cream-like with it’s texture. Flavors are reminiscent of toasted praline and creme, baked apples, and, if you’re paying attention (which you always should), grassy herbs come alive in the far reaches of the background. And this is no butter-bomb by any means: the acid plays a strong role crescendoing about 1/3 to mid-palate, finishing the tasting with a salivating sensation. The aftertaste is a culmination of this experience — close those lips (close those eyes), exhale only through the nose to find flavors of raw cashew and the almost spice-filled sensation of nutmeg, allspice, and other baking spices.

Food Pairing: I enjoyed the Hahn SLH Chardonnay with a watermelon-feta salad and seared salmon. Watermelon with this wine is a must. Even without looking at a tech sheet and before talking to the winemaker, I knew that these grapes engaged in some ML fermentation. The watermelon — maybe because of its subtle sweetness or its innate wateriness — highlighted that component, bringing forward this richer, buttermilk-like (cream-meets-sour) sensation on that palate. And what this did, was bring balance to the dish as a whole. The salad, which also contained a sharp feta and the funk of raw fennel, were completely subsided. The wine lended itself perfectly to the soft textures of the medium-rare salmon, and the meal, in its entirely, was a whole.

More Info: Click to learn more about Hahn Family Wines and the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

I received the Hahn 2015 SLH Chardonnay as a sample for review. (Cheers Ben!) Retail: $25. Don’t forget to read about the Hahn Wines 2015 SLH Pinot Noir on my series about Pinot Noir. For more information about Hahn Wines and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Hahn Wines website.

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