2019 Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend, Wagner Family of Wine

Conundrum is always a great option for your vino fix, a proprietary red blend that Notes has covered many times and in many ways over the years. This site has covered bottles going back nearly a decade, and be sure to cruise notes on the 2012, 2013 (there are several) and even the 2014, or others at your convenience. I am not sure how I missed a vintage in this vertical but looking to make up for that here.

2019 Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend, Wagner Family of Wine, Napa Valley, California, USA.
2019 Conundrum 10th Anniversary Red Blend, Wagner Family of Wine, Napa Valley, California, USA.

It’s a flavor bomb, a tooth-stainer of a red that has fans all over the world. As with previous vintages, the 2019 Conundrum is jammy and packs in the dark berry goodness. Sampling Conundrum for the first time or the 100th you’ll surely detect the dark cherry or plum notes, the leggy red tumbling full and inky into your glass. I have occasionally whiffed a little hint of vanilla in the mix, but this particular bottle had more of the fruit than the spice as defining characteristics. It had a few minutes to breathe but was essentially ready to enjoy right away without decanting, filtering, or similar preparation.

Yes the label is eye-catching, but less so than the Wagner name (Notes covers many of those, too) for most oenophiles. On the other hand, I’ve missed recent vintages of Conundrum so the silver did work as a marketing tool.

Polished off this 2019 tonight with a healthy tilapia (white wine, butter, garlic/caper goodness), broccoli, and apple sauce dinner. Trying to make good decisions early and often in 2022, and hoping your new year is off to a similar good start. Thanks for reading and best in the year ahead.

2019 Private Reserve Zinfandel, Buena Vista Winery

Time to ring in the new year, and no better way to celebrate the passing of 2021 than with a Buena Vista red. Here is the 2019 Private Reserve Zinfandel, a small production run of just 550 cases, and one bottle therefrom made its way into my fall shipment from the vineyard.

2019 Private Reserve Zinfandel, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma, California, USA.

Let’s take a moment and break down this “get,” shall we? The 2019 Private Reserve Zin is produced by one of the oldest vineyards in the US, located in Sonoma, California. It is less jammy, less sweet than other Zins you might sample. Those notes may be part of the wine; they may also be partially a result of my penchant for rushing a pour instead of letting a new bottle breathe for a spell. 

It shares a bit of strawberry on the nose, and it’s a bit spicy too, but has more of a cherry slant when you’re actually tasting the wine. The 2019 Private Reserve Zinfandel is full-bodied and rich on your palate. While I cannot speak authoritatively on this vintage, the Buena Vista Private Reserve Zins are usually hand-picked and fermented separately in open-top vats prior to pressing and aging in French, Hungarian (yes, Cara and Lauren!), and American oak barrels. I’ve also had the good fortune to sample the 2012 and 2015 Private Reserve Zin, and I’d encourage you to check out those notes—and drink the wine—at your convenience.

Special thanks to Loona for ensuring the fridge was stocked with our delicious New Year’s Eve supper. It was so thoughtful, and wonderful to see the little plates and ramekins labeled with your careful instructions! Here’s our interpretation of your prep: the holiday ham, the collared greens, the black-eyed peas with all the fixin’s, and even homemade apple sauce. The wine is just a capper on a great bit of ambiance curated for our celebration. 

Already 2022 feels lucky by comparison. Hoisting a glass to health, home, and loved ones near and far. Hoping your own celebrations take on special meaning, and best to us all in the year ahead. 

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cakebread Cellars

Broke out this 2017 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon to help celebrate the special occasion. Cakebread has built quite the cult following (big fan of their Chardonnay in particular in our house) over the past 50 years or so, and we’re so glad to open up a flagship red for Christmas.

It’s a big new world wine. Inky in the glass (we’re doing Cabernet stemware today) and plenty of legs, too. This guy rarely has the patience (or forethought) to let a bottle breathe adequately, but this one did have the better part of an hour to open up before splashing down into our dinner glasses. On the nose you experience dark cherry, maybe just a hint of vanilla or perhaps tobacco underpinning the fruit. The 2017 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon is well balanced on the palate, with a slightly tannic finish. This wine is full, to be sure, but avoids the jammy, tooth-stainer profile to which I often gravitate in weekend tastings. 

This particular Cakebread accompanied a really delicious cut of beef, a prime rib that had a great bark and a red, juicy center that was perfectly accented by homemade horseradish sauce. To know me is to know I enjoy salty steak and reds in equal measures, but the seasoning and the sauce were just great even without salt. Our Christmas table also included hasselback potatoes, Tuscan kale, popovers (yes, complete with Christmas tree butter, because those finishing touches matter!) and carmelized onion and mushrooms. The house smelled fragrant, a mash up of the beef, garlic, rosemary, and all those aromatics, and added to these heady scents soon was the smell of our dessert (jelly roll consisting of sponge cake and apricot).

Part of the fun with this wine was splitting it four ways, ensuring each of us had a chance to sample the 2017. It was great; the only negative as you might imagine is that we’d only had one on hand for the holiday. I regret it’s taken so long to take up the reviews here at Notes Of Note but encouraging you to stick with it—few good wines from the world over are sure to follow shortly.

In the meantime, season’s greetings to you and best in the year ahead. Thanks for reading!

The Ones That Got Away – Summer 2021

Life often gets in the way of a timely Notes review, and I look up and see several bottles that have passed by my table without getting their due review. I try to share a “quarterly update” of sorts…perhaps it is of no value whatsoever, but I take this step in part so you as visitors have better context for those wines I do ultimately review.

  • 2019 Karoly's Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma, California, USA.
  • 2012 Old Vine Grenache, Quo Ono, Campo de Borja, Spain.

Without any further preamble, let me share the July/August/September bottles that are described thusly:

  • 2019 Karoly’s Selection Petite Sirah, Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma, California, USA.
  • 2012 Old Vine Grenache, Quo Ono, Campo de Borja, Spain.
  • 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, The Dreaming Tree, Acampo, California, USA.
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Meander Wines, Napa, California, USA.
  • 2019 Austin Cabernet Sauvignon, Austin Hope Winery, Paso Robles, California, USA.
  • 2018 Highland Falls Red Wine, Estate of the Art, Middletown, California, USA.
  • 2015 Finca Rio Negro Red Wine, Vino de la Tierra de Castillo, Spain.
  • 2019 Conundrum Red Wine, Wagner Family Wines, Fairfield, California, USA.
  • 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Anderson Family Vineyards, Napa, California, USA.
  • 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Justin Vineyards & Winery, Paso Robles, California, USA.

Yes, I acknowledge that certain patterns and tendencies do emerge–both in this snapshot of Q3 2021 as well as throughout Notes. Any time you’re seeking a good gift, or you’re a winemaker looking for advocates, you know where to find me. -R

2018 No.8 Proprietary Red, Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards

The 2018 No. 8 Proprietary Red is smokin’ hot. Love this limited production wine (courtesy of Rutherford-based Verdon Estate Winery) and so very glad that my cellar has a few more of this well-crafted big red. 

2018 Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards No. 8 Proprietary Red, Napa, California, USA.
2018 Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards No. 8 Proprietary Red, Napa, California, USA.

Let’s start with the particulars. First, the fruit is produced in two small, rocky vineyard sites near Duckhorn and the Napa River. Those grapes—a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Malbec (30%), and Merlot (20%)—are then managed by winemaker Kevin Morrisey of Petrus, Etude, Stags Leap, and Ehlers fame. 

That pedigree makes for a stunning wine, one that tonight accompanied a pan-seared ribeye, perfectly seasoned with just salt and pepper. The meat paired well with the No. 8 Proprietary Red, handling its tannins and dark cherry notes nicely. This 2018 bottle has the cherry and pepper hints of the Cab, and the soft underbelly of the Merlot. 

“Reminiscent of a top Amarone, the blend is ethereal with divine balance, a gentle grip, a deep berry richness that carries through to the finish.”

—Verdon Estate

In the near term, Notes will have a follow-up to this first post on the 2018 Verdon Estate Blue Vineyards No. 8 Proprietary Red, and I hope you’ll check back again for further thoughts this amazing bottle engenders. In the meantime, enjoy your wine and your weekend. 

2019 Ser Passo Super Tuscan, Barbanera

This Italian red blend was a great surprise and packed with dark cherry notes. It’s the type of wine I enjoy finding: a mix of dark berry fruits, hint of spice, and unexpectedly affordable too.

2019 Ser Passo Super Tuscan, Barbanera, Toscana, Italy.
2019 Ser Passo Super Tuscan, Barbanera, Toscana, Italy.

The 2019 Ser Passo is obviously produced in Tuscany and was offered to me from WTSO.com; I am not sure what resonated for me in that promotion but pleased I snatched up a foursome of these bad boys. It’s made in the ripasso method, in which winemakers use the grape skins in a second fermentation step (mostly in Valpolicella) in hopes of infusing more complexity to the wine. 

The result is a rich, even red wine. I’m not saying color (which is also a deep, enticing red) but rather a velvety, smooth, and even mouthfeel. You’ll find yourself looking back at your glass between sips, working to identify the various aromas and tastes at play, and thinking about your next.

That’s what I’m doing too. On this occasion my notes have nothing to do with the accompanying food but rather keeping you focused on the wine itself. Without researching further, I’d suggest this is a Sangiovese/Cabernet blend at the minimum…maybe a Merlot or similar to offer a bit of the sweetness you’ll sample in the Ser Passo? Even in a young vintage there’s a fine, blended vibe to this wine…not artificial but well-founded in the (re?)fermentation or pressing processes.

I’m reminded of Amarone, and at a far different price point. Again, the 2019 Ser Passo is a fun Friday wine and suggesting you pick up a few yourself. Thanks as always for your readership and cheers.

2015 Prelude Francs, Chateau Marsau

Always intriguing when you’re drifting back to older vintages, those that are perhaps less available than selections more readily available on the shelves of your wine store. The 2015 Prelude grabbed my attention—partly because of its catchy label, and partly because it goes back a few years before the recent 2018s I’ve been sampling.

2015 Prelude Francs, Chateau Marsau, Cotes de Bordeaux, France.
2015 Prelude Francs, Chateau Marsau, Cotes de Bordeaux, France.

Unfortunately, this 2015 fell short of my expectations.  It’s Bordeaux profile should have lined up well with many recent bottles covered (with admiration, I might add) in Notes, but the Prelude was just underwhelming. It was very dry, even more tannic, and did not work either solo or with foodstuffs. The 2015 does have aspects of cherry and smoke—which are positives—but it’s just way harsher on the finish.

I don’t usually compare my thoughts to other reviewers, but did on this occasion to see what I missed. Others raved. One crazy guy called a “poor man’s Petrus” and, though I have yet to sample Petrus among these more than 500 tastings, I imagine it has a richer flavor profile by far than the Prelude. A less severe mouthfeel. 

“Coming from the youngest vines of the estate, it is also made of 100% Merlot”

Says the winemakers at Chateau Marsau

Maybe we chalk it up to an over-exuberance of youth? This reviewer is a Gen-Xer, so yes I understand that not everyone is a winner. Not every bottle gets a ribbon or a medal. The Prelude is okay, but only okay. My table has lots of favorites, and more repeat bottles than I have time to write about here…but this one needs no such repeat performance. Thanks for reading and enjoy your vino!

2017 Papillon, Orin Swift Cellars

Birthday celebrations for loved ones–yes, that’s how you do wine. Especially great wine, like the 2017 Papillon from Orin Swift Cellars (yes, you all know I’m a massive fan). We uncorked this bottle after a long work week, allowing it to decant and really open up before tearing into it.

2017 Papillon Red Wine, Orin Swift Cellars, St. Helena, California, USA.
2017 Papillon Red Wine, Orin Swift Cellars, St. Helena, California, USA.

I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy Papillon on several prior occasions, including a 2017 and through various tasting banks at my favorite wine store. This one was, in fact, a gift from Cara (the sibling to the 2017 referenced previously), so no better way to enjoy than in celebration of her trip around the sun. 

It’s a powerhouse wine, a big red in the Bordeaux style but with new world traits. The 2017 Papillon is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec grapes, and yet it has a smooth, even finish. The mouthfeel is luscious and full, with black berry fruits and just a hint of oak and pepper (is that the Verdot?) in the nose. It’s velvety and fruitful to the point you almost want to try chewing it. This is superb wine (aged in French oak for 15 months) that makes any event into a special occasion. 

Says our winemaker, “Powerful aromatics escape the glass with rich notes of ripe blackcurrant, blackberry, peppercorn, and a touch of chaparral supported by a frame of sweet oak.

Cara and I had this bottle of 2017 Papillon with New York strip steaks, pan-seared with butter and rosemary, baked potatoes, and roasted broccolini. The steaks were a little thinner than we’d have liked, but cooked to the right temps and their flavors paired well with the wine. I was so very pleased by the opportunity to share in the festivities and this great bottle of wine! Looking forward to so many more of both…