We’ve long been fans of the wines of Leo Hansen, who may be best known for his work with Chenin Blanc but who is equally adept with red varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. (Steen is his family's middle name as well as the South African word for Chenin Blanc.) Originally from Denmark, he developed an interest in food at a young age thanks to his work with his chef-father. He eventually chose a new path and became a sommelier, and his work gave him the opportunity to travel and visit wine regions. It was his time in California that made him decide to take a leap of faith and move to the state permanently. But he had also begun to notice the lack of food-friendly, energetic wines from the area.
As a sort of “outsider,” Leo had the opportunity to determine his own path into California winemaking, unlike someone born into it. Among the ideas he had in mind was that the grapes he worked with should convey a sense of place. He also values lower alcohol wines, working with native ferments, and mostly neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel drums—key ways to allow the wines to show terroir.
Leo has said that his desire to add a Cabernet Sauvignon to his lineup came after working with Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. After meeting the owner of Tin Cross Ranch, Leo was able to begin making his “Tin Cross” Cabernet in 2015. Located at 2,200 to 2,400 feet elevation in the Pine Mountain–Cloverdale Peak AVA, at the northern end of the Mayacamas mountain range, the organically farmed vines on the famed Tin Cross Ranch were planted in 1991. The appellation is tiny, with only 300 acres under vine (overlapping the northeastern corner of the Alexander Valley), and Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for the majority of plantings.
The soils are thin, rocky volcanic, the winds are intense, and although the sunshine is abundant, there are large daily temperature swings that help preserves acidity in the grapes and create elegance in the wines. The grapes are small, with an intensity of varietal flavor and concentration seldom found. Here, Leo can make Cabernet Sauvignon in a style that reflects the old world and new world alike.
The grapes for “Tin Cross” were hand harvested and sorted. After destemming, they were transferred into an open top fermenter, and indigenous yeasts were used for fermentation, with twice-daily manual punch-downs. After 18 days on the skins, the wine was drained and pressed using a basket press for gentle extraction. The wine was aged in 25% new French oak and 75% seasoned French and American oak barrels. The wine completed malolactic fermentation in barrel and was racked a total of three times during 20 months of maturation. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
There is so much to enjoy in Leo’s “Tin Cross,” with its mixture of black fruits, cedar, graphite, mocha, and anise on the nose and palate. Enjoy this now but save some for the cellar as well, as we’d expect this to age beautifully for the next five to ten years. Only 192 cases produced.
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