Revisiting an old friend, Cameron Hughes Lot 458, Paso Robles Petite Sirah

Cellar Treasure: Cameron Hughes Lot 458

Here is a cellar treasure for you. A $15 dollar wine that was made almost a decade ago, and has been laid down in my cellar(s – I’ve moved three times since it was originally purchased!) since acquired. It came to me first as a single or maybe pair of bottles as part of my semi-annual wine club shipment from Cameron Hughes. After trying it I bought a full case. I’ve pulled a bottle out from the cache now and then over the years and it has yet to disappoint! I’ve written about it before, and today I’m making a mixed grill BBQ of pork ribs and Nashville style chicken thighs and need a “big boy” wine to stand up to the strong flavors and spiciness of the dinner. Petite Sirah is always what comes to mind when seeking a big wine that can handle such a pairing. (Zinfandel too, but as we all know, I’m a Durif sort of guy… Mais bien sûr!)

I pulled the cork and decanted it right when the ribs came out of the sous vide and onto the grill (with hickory chips for smoke). One thing I’ve appreciated about Cameron Hughes from the very beginning has been the astounding value of their wines. This one as I said cost me $15/bottle when I bought it way back when. Another thing that has impressed me has been the quality and longevity of their enclosures. Have a look at this cork:

No cork problems here.

I drink a lot of older wines and all too often my corks are halfway (or more!) saturated after a decade, and an epic and often losing wrestling match after twenty years. Not this one. The bottom is saturated, but the wine has intruded barely 1.5mm into the cork itself. Well done Mr. Hughes!

The wine? Still as big and bold as it was seven years ago when I first tasted it. It has mellowed a minuscule amount, and benefits still from time in the decanter. The only thing lost over time has been the intense opacity it displayed when new. It has become much lighter in appearance (though NOT in flavor) to a more brick red from the deep dark purple it showed in previous years.

It really pays to let some of your bottles rest in a cellar. Try it and see.

Cellar Treasure: 2000 Château Saint-Saturnin Médoc

21 years old… old enough to drink itself.

I bought six bottles of this wine in 2017 from my favorite online crack dealer. I’ve consumed one bottle a year since. They have never failed to please. I paid LESS than $10 a bottle for an aged Bordeaux(!).

It is everything one expects from a French Bordeaux blend: ultra funky nose. All sorts of earthy aromas, and classic old world red flavors. As it has aged the color has faded, yet the flavor keeps getting better.

Best $60 I ever spent.

Cellar Treasure: 1978 Château Montrose

1978 Château Montrose

The purpose of this website has always been to unearth great bargains. It started on the bottom shelf of my local grocery store’s wine section, and the wine lists of a few small town restaurants. It has evolved, much like the overall market has evolved to interesting bargains I find online. Bargains. Stuff you can drink that won’t cost you more than about twenty bucks a bottle. Mind you I’m stretching that goal more towards forty bucks these days, but still really try to find the good stuff for under twenty dollars.

I’ve always been a bit of a wine aficionado, coming to it honestly as my father was a serious wine drinker before I was even born. I once heard him say that he was able to buy bottles of 1961 Château Haut-Brion for $4 each as the store was clearing them out as the 62 vintage was arriving soon. (go ahead and search what that bottle would cost you today.)

I learned a lot from him about wine, as it was a staple at our dinner table, even before I was drinking age. I’ll never forget my first few months away from home at college, watching so many fellow freshmen loose their self-control and party their way to failing grades and dropping out by Thanksgiving of their first year… right around the time of your midterm grades. Mostly because they grew up in strict households where drinking was forbidden (echos of Prohibition that still reverberate through American society.) In our house alcohol was no big deal. Wine was part of cuisine. From family feats to hamburgers on the patio. We drank all sorts of wine, from the cheap to the Grand Cru.

A man I admire once called wine “a soundtrack of your life”, meaning that when paired properly with moments, meals, and good relationships it becomes a marker of time. In that way I can recall several specific bottles that have punctuated important times, places, and people in my lifetime.

This 1978 Château Montrose was likely purchased by my father around that very time of thanksgiving of my freshman year of college, which was in the early 1980s. I imagine he bought six to twelve bottles of it back then, and as he was in the habit of doing, pulling a bottle out every few years to both enjoy, and check on its progress. My father passed away a few years ago, but before doing so apportioned out his remaining collection to me and my siblings. My eldest son helped him sort them all into various boxes to split between myself and my two sisters as they were packing up the multi-decade family residence before they sold it and moved into an assisted living facility. I haven’t perused what my sisters received (if I ever do, my luggage might clink as I leave their homes!) But what I ended up with has some real gems. For Thanksgiving Dinner, I pulled this 1978 Bordeaux from the wine cooler.

You never know what you’ll get with an old wine, so I cheated a bit and did some research on Vivino to see what people have said about this vintage. Universally the opinion was decant for at least three hours prior to serving. Thanksgiving Dinner was planned for 6pm so I pulled the cork at 3pm. The cork of course broke, even with me using an “oops” style wine opener. That cork was saturated in wine two-thirds up. Thankfully my father also left me his array of cork pulling and recovery tools. After a bit of struggle, the bottle is open and its forty-two year old contents are going into the decanter.

At both first whiff and small taste it is pretty harsh. Very sharp and funky. I texted a photo to my mother, who is still in possession of perfect memory, and her instant reply was “Let it breathe!”

On it mom!

I take a sip every hour or so and sure enough it is mellowing and improving steadily. Come dinnertime it is absolutely sublime.

The funk had settled into mild forest floor, and the finish was exquisite. The color was more like a Burgundy, very light brick red, and translucent throughout the glass. The flavor however was a classic Cabernet Franc & Merlot blend. One of those experiences that is worth the delayed gratification, and diligent storage and care efforts totaling four decades.

I could have likely sold this bottle for a modest four-figure sum. But I’d rather have, and glad I did experience this reconnection with my father. Cheers Charlie, you are missed!

Cellar Treasure: 2005 Marqués del Puerto.

2005 Marqués del Puerto Gran Reserva Rioja

Mind you, I haven’t had this in my cellar for very long. I purchased two bottles about eight months ago from one of my favorite online wine shops, Wine Exchange for less than $20 ($19.98 to be exact). I’ve been buying from them for over a decade. They seem to specialize in finding estate aged great value European wines. Some of my best French and Spanish wines have come from them. They send out emails almost every day with great deals. For far too long I’ve been grabbing some of those deals. I’ve recently broken that habit, as my cellar reached a state where I figured I could keep a buzz going for about a year straight.

So now I’m working through the cellar in the opposite direction, consuming rather than collecting. It’s like a whole new outlook on life.

I have learned that Riojas seem to be like old-school Barolos, or at least like one-third of an old-school Barolo in that they seem to hit a perfect note between ten and twenty years of age. I don’t know if that’s an accepted axiom, or not, but at least from my tasting seems to be true. I was going to grill some USDA Prime grade Ribeye steaks and figured I needed something special to pair it with but given the hot weather of late wasn’t really up to something big like a Cabernet or a Petite Sirah, so I thought “why not a Rioja?”

I likely have two cases of various Riojas, ranging in vintage from 2001 through 2015 and dove into the wine cooler to find something ready to drink. I pulled this one out with anticipation. I always uncork and have a glass while I’m prepping and cooking to get a sense of what is to come.

To start off the cork broke. A significant struggle ensued to get the remaining cork fragment out of the neck, a task at which I failed miserably. I gave up and decanted it through a strainer. The first taste was discouraging. It had a great nose, but a harsh flavor.

Thankfully it mellowed in the decanter for the hour or so it required to get dinner on the table. It paired perfectly with the steak and salad. Soft and supple. Absolutely delicious.

Life is too short for boring wine…

Sometimes a bargain isn’t really a good deal.

It’s been HOT recently. Really hot. Way hotter than I really can tolerate. I’m an autumn/winter sort of guy. Summer has never been my favorite season and in the times I was forced by life circumstances to live in hot places I have fled the area in summer and head north and/or higher in altitude to find cooler weather. Well, now I live both “north” and a relatively high in altitude, but even here it has been too hot of late. Perhaps it is climate change?

The only saving grace has been that once the sun goes down the latitude and altitude do kick in and things cool down quickly. Sadly, right as temps peaked recently our home’s air conditioning died. The day it happened we were forced outside for dinner and I had an inspiration: Rosé!

I went to the wine cooler and pulled this one out. A 2014 JCR Rosé of Pinot Noir from California’s central coast. I had picked it up a few months ago, for $19.98, marked down from almost thirty bucks.

It wasn’t cold enough at first sip, so I put the cork back in and placed the bottle in the fridge.

Even chilling it further didn’t really help. While it wasn’t really that bad (we finished the bottle over two nights), but it really wasn’t great either.

I’ve had some great Rosés over the past few summers but this one wasn’t even worth the twenty bucks I spent on it. Kind of disappointing. The best have been either from France or Oregon, perhaps I’ll stick to those.

In good news, our A/C has been fixed, though it took several days for the new part to arrive. Thankfully the weather cooled down two days after it broke and stayed cool until today, a week later. Hot temps are coming back tomorrow, so the pink stuff is going into the fridge now!

Sad Spumante is Sad. Pojer & Sandri N.V. Spumante

Overpriced at $29.98

It’s Sunday. It’s also Father’s Day. I got a bunch of stuff done today (including starting a project doing something I’ve never even tried before and so far, it is going well!) So I decided to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than popping a cork from a bottle of bubbly?

Well, I wished I’d have picked another to be honest. Oh well.

I often celebrate Sunday with a bottle of bubbles… why not? I usually also stock up on a wide variety of sparkling wines around the holidays so my cellar is ready for these impromptu celebratory situations. This is an Italian wine, but from a German-speaking area they annexed from Austria in the aftermath of WW1. It’s a straight up Pinot Noir & Chardonnay methode Traditionale Champagne-style sparkler, despite the “Spumante” designation. In the bubbles department they nailed it an invasion of France in May 1940. Perfect tiny bubbles like you would expect from Champagne. But in every other aspect, it goes down like the subsequent strike through the Ardennes forest: falling short and missing the objectives. The flavor is far too light, and almost watermelon-like.

Not really that great. I’ve had much better sparkling wines for significantly less money.

Bougie Wougie baby! Or not, as the case may be…

About four years ago, my crack dealer… er Wine Merchant, emailed me with an offer for an aged Bordeaux nearing thirty years, but re-corked recently. Having had more than my share of cork-struggles with aged French & Spanish wines I figured this was worth having a go. This offer was a 1990 Chateaux Bel-Tire Lagrave, Moulis-en-Medoc “Cru Bourgeois” for just under $30 a bottle. What could possibly go wrong?

I bought four, and as per my modus operand tasted the first one about five months after it arrived. It was quite nice. Nutty and forest floor nose, and medium-bodied, at least as Bordeaux wines go. Testa Rossa guessed it was a Burgundy at first, and I can’t blame her as it has a distinctly French nose and a pale ruby color in the glass… but no, this is an old world Left Bank Bordeaux. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot – but age and it’s origin had changed it beyond what she has experienced from those grapes here in the USA. Tonight, we polished off the second bottle with a nice strip steak and some salad.

Truly a delightful experience, at a very reasonable price!

I studied French in primary and high school, and frankly (pardon the pun) didn’t learn very much. I have a toddler’s grasp of the language, but have met and befriended several French folks in my adulthood, and even spent some time there.The more I learn about the French, the less I comprehend about them. I imagine they prefer it that way as well. Being the sort of guy who is comfortable with uncertainty, I’m okay with that situation as well.

For example, I’ll never fully comprehend the French classifications of terroir. This wine is labeled “Cru Bourgeois”… Go ahead and read that linked article. You’ll be as baffled as I am. To me there is great terroir, great vintages, and great winemakers. All of these elements are in flux, and like a biorhythm wheel, will occasionally align to make an amazing wine. Sometimes only two of the three will hit, while another will miss. These things change year to year, decade to decade, and generation to generation. Fighting over them in court seems a waste of everyone’s time. Just make good wine!

I’ve tasted “1er Cru” and “Grand Cru” wines that have not been anywhere as good as this Bougie-Crew bottle. How? Well those slot machine wheels didn’t land on Sevens that year… one of those three elements didn’t deliver on its promise. That just is what it is.

Perhaps the French know this deep down inside, and just fight over nomenclature and details for the sake of their own particular Frenchness, or… je ne sais quoi.

I’ll just sign off with a Gallic shrug and a good buzz.

Bon Soir!

Sometimes a Rose isn’t a Rosé…


I have always loved Brut Rosés, that is “pink champagne” to the lowbrow folk. That prototypical rosé of Pinot Noir produced wherever great Pinots are made, but then subjected to the process that makes it into sparkling wine. The brighter and dryer the better if you ask me.

I always keep a few bottles of sparkling wine in the cellar and at least one chilled in the fridge to pop the cork and enjoy. No better way to initiate a celebration than popping a champagne cork! Even if it is just celebrating the end of a good day (as this one is this evening.)

I bought this bottle in the spring of 2016. It is a “2010 Cuvée Cima Coppola Rosé Corsa” from the Trento D.O.C. It’s been in the cellar for a while and for one reason or another was moved to the garage fridge at some point. Testa Rossa shouted to me from a distance suggesting we enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine. It was after all, the vernal equinox, and an unseasonably warm day so far. We recently had an anniversary, but had to cancel our plans due to the viral pandemic going on… so as I walked into the house to grab a bottle, I saw the champagne glasses we used at our wedding and a lightbulb went off…

I grabbed the flutes and the Brut Rosé and went into the backyard to set up for the sunset. Testa Rossa smiles when she walked to our setting and recognized immediately the significance of my gesture.

The wine was delightful, as was the sunset (and the company.) The only surprises were how very cold the ambient temps went after the sun went down and the total lack of “rosé” in our glasses. A little research lead me to the reason: this Prosecco was made with mostly Chardonnay, with some Pinot Noir (or as the Italians say “Pinot Nero”) so I guess technically it can be called a “rosé” but the French would say “Blanc de noirs” (White from black).

No matter. It was a nice vintage Prosecco at a very reasonable price ($20). Cheers!

Cellar Treasure: 2010 Oveja Negra Carignan.

About five years ago I bought a few bottles of this wine out of sheer curiosity (and likely some irresistible sales pitch found in an email from one of my dealers… er wine merchants.) As we all know, the Vinagoth loves Chilean wine… but Carignan? What’s Carignan? It’s an odd Spanish varietal more commonly found in cheap jug wine, or from some fanatical pre-Prohibition old-vine loving weirdos in Contra Costa or Sonoma Counties in California. The only other times I’ve even seen Carignan bottled on its own has been from those obscure NorCal weirdos.

Since these bottles were less than thirteen bucks, I grabbed three to round out an order into a full case to make my shipping free. What could possibly go wrong?

I remember that I opened one and drank it soon after that box arrived and it was just “okay”.

Last night I stumbled upon this one while searching for something Spanish in the cellar. Well, the grape is Spanish, but this wine is from Chile. Whatever works!

Opened it and it drank wonderfully. Mildly peppery on the nose, but smooth and supple in the mouth. Age has worked it’s miracles upon this juice, that’s for sure. There’s another bottle buried somewhere down there, so I’ll have to save it for some future dinner with a wine-snobby friend who’s likely never heard of this grape, nor drank anything under fifty bucks unless it was from Costco. Always fun to do that sort of thing.

Cellar Treasure: 2009 Tinto Figuero Ribera del Duero

A friend visited recently, whose grandparents came from Spain. They had fled Spain in the 1930s to escape from the revolution there, and thought they had found a safe haven in Cuba.

Well, we all know what happened next. His family fled Cuba to escape from that revolution, and ended up (like so many others) in Miami. My friend was born in Miami. We share a few things in common; a former employer, love for our region of the world, and a deep appreciation for Spanish wines.

Several years ago we made a bargain: he brings the steaks, and I’ll serve up the best Rioja he would ever taste, specifically my last bottle of 2001 Viña Olabarri Gran Reserva.

He was here a few nights ago, and we drank that, and a 1964 Rioja I’ve had in my cellar as well. It was a good night.

But as often happens with me once I’m in a groove, it’s hard to get out. Last night I was grilling a pepper-crusted pork tenderloin and was thinking of what I would pair it with from the cellar. I went to the wine cooler and dug around in the Spanish section and found a ten year old Ribera del Duero. Perfect!

I uncorked it and was immediately happy with the choice. Delicious and delightful! I’ve always said Spanish Tempranillos seem to really come into their own around ten years in. This one is no exception. Light nose. Wonderful ruby color. Amazing with the pork with it’s strong pepper flavor. Silky smooth mouthfeel from the wine, with a long oaky finish.

Looking at my notes I see that I purchased this as a single bottle about four years ago. I must have been the only one available, as it has a “CLEARANCE” sticker on it with a price tag of $21.98. Can’t beat that!

A Napa Valley wine of this quality would cost triple digit dollars.

I note that I have four bottles of a later vintage from the same bodegas in the cooler. They should be ready to go in a few years. Stay tuned…