2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards

Few things in life are both cathartic and fulfilling all at once. That’s what you’ll find in the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from John William Vineyards, with a little dash of calm thrown in the mix too. We know 2014 was a great vintage in terms of Napa reds, and this one falls squarely into that category. I pulled the cork on Friday at the end of a long work week and finished it off with a smile just this evening.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, John William Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Friday this red blend was the backdrop to a crazy late afternoon thunderstorm where the rain was driving down at an angle, bending plants and trees to its will. The John William I had intended to accompany some grilled pork chops but instead it went with a couple of leftover burgers that were the perfect antidote to standing outside in the rain getting drenched. And so it went yesterday, and the pork chops kept nicely for Saturday dinner and perfect temperatures–both outside and in the entrée.

I liked this wine right from the first pour, and my enjoyment only increased as I researched this vintage. Most of the grapes for the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon were sourced from John William reserve vineyards, terroir including Howell Mountain and St. Helena that comes together in a delicious blend of deep, dark red that is nearly purple in the glass. I drank from Cabernet Sauvignon stemware and could smell and taste a rich set of dark berries in the works here. Less cherry flavors and more like blackberry, with accents of spice (not pepper like a Syrah) and a long fruity finish that is really wonderful. I haven’t done its profile justice in previous bottles that I failed to record in Notes, and most importantly you should know I’d hit another one right now if given the opportunity but I obtained from an online offer and not sure how accessible it is in my local wine shop.

Some details from the Winemaker:

  • They deliberately kept the grapes separated by region throughout the fermentation and aging processes in order to keep their unique characteristics.
  • The separate lots were aged in 35% new French oak barrels for 15 months.
  • The final product is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon with 7.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.5% Merlot varietals.

Great grapes, discerning process, and a fantastic result. I originally purchased based on vintage and AVA–and out of deference to one of my favorite composers John Williams of Star Wars and Spielberg/Lucas fame. Whatever the reason strikes a chord with you, just get it and see for yourself. You can thank Notes later.

 

2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company

Much like California Cabs, Napa Valley red blends have a special place in my heart. Given its reputation among wine aficionados and critics, The Prisoner had been on my target list for some time. I know friends have enjoyed immensely and I wanted to understand if the hype was real or just noise.

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2015 The Prisoner, The Prisoner Wine Company, Napa Valley, California, USA.

You know The Prisoner is the real deal after your first tasting. The scent is full and fruity, a mixture of cherry and chocolate, and no overpowering tannic notes. I did not decant the bottle and it seemed very stable as I smelled and poured. There’s some hint of spice and vanilla in the glass, but it was understated in comparison to a mass market Cab that I was drinking recently–in that wine the vanilla was out and in front of the grapes in a way that seemed artificial instead of innate. Not sure that makes sense as I write it, but by contrast The Prisoner seemed more nuanced.

Zinfandel is a big part of this red blend, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono, and no wonder the winery sources grapes from 80 different Napa locations to make their wines. Chrissy Wittman, winemaker at PWC since 2016, is now responsible for the legacy of The Prisoner, and after my first exposure to her work, I’d say its reputation is in good hands.  This is a really enjoyable wine and I’d feel lucky to continue drinking The Prisoner again in the future.

Unless it’s gifted to you, you’ll need to buck up for The Prisoner, and you can find it listed at $47 on the winery’s website. (I paid considerably less, courtesy of my favorite local wine store…) It’s a great drink, one that makes your evening special as soon as you uncork it. But if you’re on a tighter budget and looking for a similar tasting experience, I would suggest you pull a bottle of the Jeff Runquist 1448 that Notes recently covered. Their impact on your taste buds will be very close, but The Prisoner makes a greater impact on your wallet so you have to bear that in mind too.

2014 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards

Earlier this spring, the Rombauer Chardonnay was recommended to me by a speaker who was wrapping up a highly successful webinar for dental students across the U.S. It was her celebratory drink and one she often served to friends new and old, and I can totally understand why. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had, a natural comp to my friends at Buena Vista and their most excellent Chardonnay.

2013 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards, Carneros, California, USA.

2013 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards, Carneros, Napa, California, USA.

Earlier this spring I saw the wine available through an online shipper but declined that first time. When I saw the Rombauer shelved at my favorite wine shop (I was there for the Caymus tasting), I knew I had to pull a bottle and give it a go. My first mistake was buying only one, but it goes back on a short list for next time.

The 2014 vintage is fantastic, the commensurate hint of butter to be sure, but mostly a melon scent that is refreshing even on the nose before you taste it. It pours golden in the glass, much richer in tone than a Grigio, and layers in other citrus smells that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s bright and sweet, but not sticky sweet like the Riesling recently covered here in Notes (only click if you want the contrasting opinion), and you almost feel like you could drink it after a hot summer day or workout.

Additional facts from the Winery:

  • The vineyard started producing Chardonnay in 1982
  • The Carneros region where the grapes are grown is known for its cool climate and clay soils–which yield great fruit flavors and “fresh” acidity
  • Harvested August 28th to October 11th, 2014
  • Stored 9 months in American and French oak barrels (1/3 new)
  • Released in August of 2015
  • Received the gold medal at the 2016 Hilton Head Wine Festival (which sounds amazing even as I type this)

Thanks, Rombauer Vineyards, for the helpful details on your delicious wine.

Queso tostadas with summer vegetables and a spicy cream sauce.

Queso tostadas with summer vegetables and a spicy cream sauce.

The 2014 Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards accompanied a new meal, one I’d never had before and thoroughly enjoyed. Pan toasted tortillas were the delivery tool for summer vegetables that included corn, fairy tale eggplant, and purple bell pepper. That’s queso para freir, which browned up really nicely, and the whole thing is seasoned not only with garlic and shallot but also a spicy crema of milk, lime zest, lime juice, and jalapeño. When I read the recipe I was only lukewarm on its potential, but as the smells started bouncing around the kitchen I was hooked. How did the cheese brown instead of melt? Really cool…

Kitchen magic aside now, a special thanks to you, Ms. Ireland, for setting me on a fun journey with your favorite bottle. It’s going to be one of mine too and I appreciate the gift you shared with your recommendation. Can’t wait to pass it on…

2013 Origami Cabernet Sauvignon

I think this is my fourth and final bottle of the 2013 Origami Cabernet Sauvignon, and I’ve rushed or only photo bombed the previous three tastings. Means I’ve got to do right on this Napa Valley Cab this time around. So here goes…

2013 Origami

2013 Origami Hand-Crafted, Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Wine Estates, Napa Valley, California, USA.

This wine is doing double-duty, a Friday/Saturday back-to-back on a tough holiday weekend. I’m going to remember this one for a long time and wonder if the Origami will too stay in my memories. On one hand it’s a lovely beverage; on the other? There’s a lot of Cabernet that runs through this house and you have to be pretty special to stand out in the crowd.

This Hand-Crafted, Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon is typically offered only to members of the Clos Pegase wine club, but I snatched up a quartet courtesy of Wines Til Sold Out. From my distributor friends I learn that this bottle is a “micro-production” Cabernet Sauvignon…and while I have no idea what that means yet (perhaps sometime in the future) it is a great drink. Of course you have the notable black raspberry and spices of the region, and even some vanilla too. I let it breathe for probably 45 minutes and think it took on even better shape over the course of the evening. I also sampled in my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon glass, and I think that always bends my mind positively around a good wine.

Last night I had the ’13 Origami with steak, corn on the cob, and some macaroni salad. Today it accompanies a variation on that theme: corn, “crispy crowns”, and some grade-A steak burgers. Good flavors of char, pepper, and such.

It seems you’ll pay north of $50 if you’re buying this bottle at list, but at WTSO it was right at the $20 price point. Nice blend of cherries and spices, and nice combination of taste and affordability. Here’s raising a glass to the winemaker.

 

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 Napa Merlot, Beaulieu Vineyard

Ushering in a festive family weekend is this 2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Merlot, a gentle red from one of California’s best-known wine makers. It had an opportunity to breathe and ultimately came out for the cocktail hour and hors de oeuvres on the back patio. The sun’s out, the company is good, and the food is here too–game on.

2012 Merlot Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates, California, USA.

2012 Merlot Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates, Napa Valley, California, USA.

The 2012 Napa BV is a nice fruity red, with strong cherry vibes to it and of course a tad of blackberry. We sampled the BV with a cheese plate, crackers, and strawberry halves complemented with some dipping yogurt. I sort of avoided the strawberries, not sure how their flavors would mix with the Merlot (I might have had some if drinking a Pinot Noir), but in hindsight wonder if I missed an opportunity to bring out some other nuances of the BV. The 2012 had a mild finish and was very approachable.

Of the 2012, the winemaker offers, “Bing cherry, plum and raspberry mingle with chocolate-cherry truffle and red rose petal in this wine’s sensual aromas and flavors. Silky tannins and beautifully balanced acidity gently support the expansive flavors through the delicious, lingering finish.

Tomorrow we’ve got an early curtain call for my cousin’s wedding, so we’re opting for discretion over valor – but yet moving onto a La Mer red blend shortly. Good decisions on both!