2014 Caymus Cabernet Blind Tasting

One of my favorite wine shops caught my attention with a special promotion–centered around the 2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a simple concept, one Winestore has run annually since 2010. The 2014 Caymus carries a sizable price tag, but is it justified? Does it outperform $25 competitors on reputation or actual taste?

Winestore lined up eight bottles, identical in size and shape, each masked with aluminum foil and numbered with a simple Sharpie. I was a rookie in that I’d never done a blind taste test, and never tried Caymus. Could I really pick it out against other worthy wines?

Masked bottles at Winestore, endeavoring us all to hunt for Caymus.

Masked bottles at Winestore, endeavoring all comers to hunt for the 2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sampling

I was interested to sample this highly regarded Wagner release, and interested to see if my modest tasting experiences over the past years would be of any value in differentiating it from the competition. I paid my fee and started with #8–you know why. Its color seemed slightly lighter than a typical Cabernet, and its easy finish I considered more Pinot- or Zin-like. Not too much in the way of earth tones or spices, and I considered it lower in price almost immediately. I jotted down tasting notes, swirled, and dialed up my next wine.

Number 7 was a shadow of #8. Almost immediately I was thinking neither of these was the Caymus, in part because neither was “blow you away” impressive and in part because there was less differentiation between them. That said, #7 carried a hint of smoke and slightly more raspberry than cherry or blackberry. All of this went onto my tasting sheet, and I started eyeing bottle #6.

Six was big flavor, an explosion of fruit. It was the right color. This wine’s big, jammy feel reminded me right away of the Petite Petit from Michael David that I love so much. Pretty cool, too, since it was Winestore that first opened my eyes to the Petite about two years ago. This is juice, this is big cherry, and the blackberry I thought missing from the previous samples.

The #5 wine was also a big contrast, very different from all three that came before it. The fifth was as dry as #6 was juicy. I’m not thinking Cabernet tannins here, and I’m catching a feel that is more Roija and Mediterranean than Californian. My notes say “Spanish? Grenache?” Was I right about that? We’ll get to that in a moment. Onward, true readers…

…to bottle #4. This one too was an easy disqualification. Very much not California, very much not a Cabernet. So not Caymus, but pretty damn good. I’m thinking Spanish Rioja here again. This sort of made another pairing. So far I’ve got #7 and #8 in proximity to one other, and #4 and #5 as semblances too.

By the time I hit #3 the wheels are turning, but I’m thrown out of the zone when the dispenser sputters and runs sort of empty as I fill my tasting glass. I sip, I swirl, I mull this one over. It’s got the right color, and my brain says “#3 always does right by you“. Wine #3 throws off the earthy notes that clearly signify Cabernet, and perhaps California at that. This smells special and tastes that way too. Is this my goal or just a windmill? I wonder how much of my game has been thrown by the sputtering dispenser.

There are fun people in the store, a few tackling this same Caymus challenge, and a couple others just enjoying time and each other’s company as they sample vino. I cracker up, I rinse my glass, and I make my way to #2.

It’s pretty damn good–is this the 2014 Caymus? It pours with the right color, has the right legs in the glass. I whiff and sip. I’ve never seen someone do the slurpy thing in real life, and I’ll be honest in telling you I swallowed every drop that I tasted today. This one in particular, because it is fine. Real fine! It is big fruit, it is layered, and it has a Cab-like finish.

Only #1 remains, and I hit it. It’s okay but doesn’t measure up to the last two bottles I’ve sampled. There’s a hint of something in this wine that I can’t quite place. It’s not vanilla, and it is not spice, leather, or licorice. Even now I’m not sure what it was, but it was closest to the licorice. Beautiful red color in bottle #1 yet no California Cabernet. (Look, if you read this column with any regularity, you know that an overwhelming percentage of all wine in Notes is Californian, so most times I know it when I taste it. This isn’t it.)

Making the Call

I think I’ve got my pick, and I’m wondering about the psychology of the order as I make my way over the employees managing the testing. Did they assign bottles to position at random? What does recency bias do to your taste buds? Do professional tasters wrestle over questions like this, and would they scoff at anyone who would confuse Caymus for these other wines? What’s the price of these other wines, which I have ordered by quality in my own brain in a way that’s independent from label, reputation, or cost?

2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA. AKA #6!

2014 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA. AKA #6!

Moment of confession–at this last minute, I hedge my bet. I ask the employee if the Petite Petit is among the samples. When he says no, I know right then and there that Caymus is Bottle #6 and I make my prediction. Yes, I get it right, but I still half-kick myself for not having the confidence to say so without wanting to first disqualify the David. The 2014 Caymus Cabernet is reminiscent of both Conundrum (which I have had on several prior occasions) and, obviously, the Petite Petit.

So what did I learn? Looking back, I recognize my palate has begun to tell me things about red wines and, to a growing extent, to differentiate between rich, nuanced reds and others that lack the subtleties that come in higher-regarded (and pricier) releases. I get the sense that I can discern California Cab from other varietals. And I also learn that I can find 90 to 95 percent of Caymus’ amazing taste in the Conundrum and Petite Petit bottles that cost 50 to 60 percent less. Fun occasion–thanks to the Winestore team for the compelling promotion.

The Wines

#8 was the 2014 Snowvale Cabernet ($12.99)

#7 was the 2011 Americano Petite Sirah ($14.99)

#6 was the 2014 Caymus Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($64.99)

#5 was the 2014 Waccamaw Proprietary Red ($14.99)

#4 was the 2013 Las Flors de le Peira ($34.99)

#3 was the 2014 Willowlake Napa Cabernet ($59.99)

#2 was the 2013 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz ($34.99)

#1 was the 2011 Marge Priorate ($19.99)

2012 Maglieri Shiraz

A valuable Australian Shiraz, one that climbed with us up the Blue Ridge Mountains to our little cabin hideaway on the outskirts of Newland. The Maglieri was an online purchase–it sounded delicious, was the right bit of affordability, and struck a chord with my recent penchant for Syrah.

2012 Maglieri Shiraz, Padthaway, Australia.

2012 Maglieri Shiraz, Padthaway, Australia.

Granted, the ambiance helps put the right halo around this Mark Robertson (1999 New Zealand Winemaker Of The Year) wine from the Padthaway appellation of southeast Australia. I mean, look at the view. Seriously…

…but this savory red is far more than just mountain vistas. It’s nearly purple in color and has complex, rich aromas to it. The Maglieri smells of fruit, of spice, and of pepper. There are other scents too–both dark berry and smoky things. You sample this 2012 and then you re-taste the tip of your tongue, puzzling through some hidden flavors that emerge over time.

We had the 2012 Maglieri Shiraz along with grilled steaks (and yes this expensive-tasting wine opens up with pepper) seasoned just with salt and pepper. Wax beans (thanks love!) and baked potato too, lightly sauced up with nonfat yogurt. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable summer supper in the mountains of North Carolina.

The wine is savory with loads of ripe fruit including blackberries, black cherries, dark raspberries, toasty vanilla oak, mocha, cassis and a cinnamon spice box,” is how one pro summarized the Maglieri. Now, I have no idea what a “dark” raspberry is, but I think it’s the cassis that I was fighting to identify above. Seems like every time I’m wrestling over a spice nuance it comes down to cassis–here too I think. No matter how you describe it, the 2012 Maglieri is a special wine to be sure.

2012 Dead Bolt Winemaker’s Blend

A California red that comes together in an interesting tumble of red and black fruits, the Dead Bolt makes its mark on you as a consumer. We opened this bottle over the weekend but only finished it this evening with ground beef soup, tortilla corn chips, and buttered rolls. How did it take two sittings to partake of this 2012?

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The winemaker remarks, “Dead Bolt is a rich, round, and opulent California red of dark origins. A generous blend full of rich fruit flavors with a long textured finish.” Is that a little overstated for this working man’s red? Maybe a little, but it is a drink that’ll leave a smile on your face. Partially from this succulent wine; partially from the clever branding.
The 2012 Dead Bolt is the creation of Philip Laffer and brings together Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Shiraz–might be a kitchen sink in there too–into one helluva smooth red. And it works. We’ve got several interesting bottles awaiting us, but I will look forward to the chance to circle back to this one again soon.

2012 Mr. Riggs “The Ring In” Shiraz

“The Ring In” Shiraz was a mail-order bottle that caught my eye in several ways: 1) its simple, understated horseshoe-shaped logo; 2) its odd name; and 3) the fact that it was a Shiraz.  Several years ago I had a pretty significant Shiraz phase, recording thoughts and tasting notes in a wine notebook, but this grape has been absent from our table in recent months.  Someday I may unearth the notebook and add some of that information to Notes–here some thoughts on the Mr. Riggs experience in the interim:

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2012 Mr. Riggs “The Ring In” South Australia Shiraz.

Big bouquet of blackberry and dark fruit on the nose, right upon opening, and with none of the sharpness that you occasionally get when uncorking a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Deep, deep red pour into a glass held by my eager hand, and then more fruit too upon initial tasting.  Here are several ideas from the experts that should further shape your instincts with The Ring In:

This exclusive U.S. import offers notes of black cherry, eucalyptus, violets, blackberry, vanilla, cocoa, and minerals.

As depicted in the mouth-watering photo here, we had The Ring In (a South Australian gem) with a hearty beef stew and biscuits, both cooked up to a tender and flavorful effect by my wife.  You might be thinking about heartburn right about now, but let me assure you her stew broth was packed with subtle tastes that were easy on the tongue and throat.  This meal did well to ward off the chill of a rainy, overcast Sunday and was a great last dinner before an early a.m. flight to New Jersey and “road” foodstuffs.