Deep Dish Sicilian: Cameron Hughes Lot 315. 2009 Nero d’Avola.

No mafia or Godfather jokes will appear in this post. I promise. 

A cellar treasure that has been resting in my basement for quite a while, I pulled this one randomly two nights ago. Upon opening it was still tannic and to be honest a bit tart. I only had a glass, put a stopper in the neck and let it sit overnight. Over that time it mellowed and came into its own. Wow. Super smooth and elegant. Silky subtle nose. Tamed, but still present tannins.  A long, long finish. 
I’m certain I have consumed at least one other bottle from this Lot, but can not recall ever knowingly drinking this varietal. I’ll have to make note of it and seek out some more, let it lie for a few years, and then enjoy. If you have a bottle or two of this Lot 315 feel free to open it now, but decant or do like I do and drink it over some time to see how it evolves. 

It’s an offer you can not refuse. 

You can not buy this wine.

Oh, but you wish you could!

But I will sell you the empty bottle! (Inquire within)

WWV only made 125 cases, and then only sold it to their club members. As the TV ads from the 80s said, “Membership has its privileges.” I have two more bottles but they’re staying right where they are: lying about in my basement awaiting their call of duty for some future celebration. Like a nice thursday evening sunset with a strip steak.

Corner Grinder – Cameron Hughes Lot 448 Napa Valley Meritage 2012

In ice hockey there is a particular type of player that every coach wants on his roster. The common terminology used to describe them is “grinder”. One of those players that isn’t afraid to go into the corners of the rink and grind away. Get physical. Hit or be hit. Drop their gloves and engage in fisticuffs if required. No, they’re not a superstar. They’ll never score 50 goals in a season. They likely never enter the hall of fame. Their name will never be mentioned in the same breath as Getzky, Howe, or Richard. You can bet that every superstar hall of famer had plenty of grinders as line mates however. They needed that guy to go into the corner, wrestle the puck away from their opponent, and zip that pass right onto their tape. 

While Lot 448 comes from Napa, it isn’t destined for the hall of fame. It’s a Meritage – fancy name for a mutt. Not a Cabernet or a Merlot, but this coach appreciates a good grinder in the corners of my wine cellar and when the situation calls for it I send one over the wall and out onto the dinner table. Strong. Fearless. Full bodied and flavorful. It will help you put the puck in the net every time. 

Cellar Treasure: Cameron Hughes Lot 386 – 2011 California Field Blend

CH Wine Lot 386

It hasn’t rained here in so long that I can’t recall the feeling of water falling from the sky.

As I am finishing dinner I note a few drops on the living room window. Grabbing my bottle and glass I go out onto the deck to savor the moment. Thunder booming and rattling throughout the sky, and from atop my mountainside abode I can see the tell-tale signs of some serious rain falling on the two towns west of me in the valley between my hill and the higher mountain range to the west.

Thinking back to the last “wet” year on the west coast, it was the winter of 2010/2011. It was a great year for skiers like me, with deep snowpack and a very long season. I remember skiing in a snowstorm on Memorial Day that year, and my local ski hill opening again for a week of skiing around the 4th of July.

Now I look upon the same mountains in July of 2015 and they look like it is September of any other year. Bare of snow. My ski season this year ended early, with the ski area finally giving up fighting against the reality of very warm weather, and a meagre snowpack as April came to a hot, melting end.

So here I find myself upon the deck, lying back in a chair savoring the feeling of water falling from the sky. I don’t care that I’m getting wet. I don’t care that raindrops are falling into my wine glass. All I care about is that we’re savoring this minor break in a drought that seems as if it has been going on for more than a year. I know that this is an illusion… a few sprinkles do not make for climate change. Just some short-term relief.

water… falling from the sky

In my glass is a memory of that last good/normal year. As I said 2010/11 was the last “wet” year on the west coast. The last good ski season. The last memory of what is normal in the mind of this Pacific Northwesterner. This wine has benefitted from resting in my cellar for these past years. It was an “OK” wine when first released. Cameron Hughes is a negoçiant, with a talent for finding good $40 wines and selling them for $15. This blend is right within that wheelhouse. Even with its cellar time, it hasn’t magically become a $300 wine, but it certainly has developed into something worthy of more than the $12 I spent on it back in the day. The Zin remains the backbone, with the one-two punch of Syrah and Petite Sirah to give it a Klingon-like redundancy of critical “oomph”.

Along with raindrops, I enjoyed this wine with a small lamb chop and some sautéed shallots and green vegetables. If you have any in your cellar now may be the time to pull it out. Maybe we can summon La Niña back to the west coast.

Another Cellar Treasure from 2010

Napa Cab

Here is another of the older bottles I pulled from the cellar over the holidays, a 2010 Napa Cab from Cameron Hughes. Like the Merlot I enjoyed with Xmas dinner, it was a “pretty good” drinker back when it was young, but has really come into its own after a few years of chilling in the basement… er… aging in the cellar. Oddly, it wasn’t as spectacular as the Lot 344 Merlot, but it was pretty damn good.

So, like putting money in that 401k or IRA account, stash a few bottles under your mattress, or better yet in a cool spot, and pull it out years later to enjoy.

Cellar Treasure: Cameron Hughes Lot 344 – 2010 Oakville Merlot

Cellar Treasure

Good things sometimes come to those that wait. In this case it has been a few years of waiting, but it was all worth it. Around the holidays I went rummaging around in the cellar, which honestly sounds better than it is because in reality it is just my basement. Thankfully my house is built into a hillside and the back of the basement is dark and cool all year round. Mostly because I’m cheap, and keep the thermostat at 55°F all winter, and supplement the living spaces with a wood stove. It keeps the upstairs cozy, while the basement stays a perfect “cellar temperature” of 55°F. So while rummaging I started to pull older CH Wine lots from the bottom of the pile of bottles in the corner of the basement and carried a few upstairs to accompany my holiday meals. This one was opened with a nice black pepper and garlic encrusted prime rib roast I made for xmas dinner. It was spectacular. I recall this one drinking “pretty good” back in 2011/12 when I first purchased it… or more accurately when it arrived on my doorstep as part of my quarterly shipment of reds from Cameron Hughes. As always, I have near zero clue where my favorite negociant sourced this Merlot, and then sold it for $10-15 a bottle, but I’d be willing to bet that from the OEM it was sold at a far higher price. It really benefitted from time lying about in my basement!

You’ll never know unless you try…. and wait.

2011 Royal Crest Red

The penultimate cheap wine… free.

I grabbed a bottle off the shelf the other night to just have something cheap and red with dinner. I honestly can not recall when this bottle showed up, but I do recall that it was a freebie. It was part of a gift basket at work over the holidays, either this past year, or maybe even a year before. Who knows. All I know is that much like the fastest cars in the world are rentals, the second best wine in the world has to be free.

I had zero expectations, as this one had nothing externally that says it would be awesome. It is a private label, with zero data as to its origins beyond “southern Oregon”… no varietals listed. Nothing beyond “red wine blend”.

Count me as pleasantly surprised. While this is not a 100 pt Parker, it is pretty damn awesome for a freebie. Rich. Pleasant. Mellow. Flavorful. I consumed it over three nights, and it seemed to get better over time. Again, nothing to celebrate a special occasion with, but certainly a great table wine for washing down your chow.

If one shows up at your office in a gift basket next Xmas, grab it and bring it home. Because FREE.

Cellar Dregs: 2006 Cameron Hughes Lot 102.

It was good while it lasted, then it went bad.

I love Cameron Hughes wines. In fact they represent likely 80% of our nightly consumption here at Chez Vinagoth. I buy several cases of mixed reds from CHwines per year to keep the cellar stocked. So by no means am I going to slag on the fine reputation of Mr. Hughes and his products. I just had a problem with THIS PARTICULAR bottle of Cabernet last night.

I had come home from work early and had happily set fire to my front yard.

What? OK, let me explain – You see in mid-2010 Mr. & Mrs Barbarian moved. We moved from a mild coastal area bathed in cool mists and temperate weather, to a high desert plateau, where ponderosa pines shed needles and cones at an alarming rate, into the cheatgrass and sagebrush below – creating huge piles of fuel that can feed raging late summer and autumn wildfires. So it is every homeowner’s duty around here to clear their property of fuel in the winters when the threat of wildfires is low. Not wanting my abode to be consumed by a potential conflagration I’ve been raking and piling fuel and burning it in bits over the past few weeks. You rake, pile, burn, and then put it all out with rakes, shovels, and your garden hose. All this work leaves a man with great hunger. And thirst!

Tired, thirsty, and covered in carbon – I ventured inside to cook up some steaks, a salad, some sauteed broccoli, and some baked leeks. Only a big Napa Cab would do!

I glanced at the rack and spotted this lonely bottle, the very last of a long-ago bought mixed case. I can recall that when first purchased, this was a good wine. Not great, but certainly good. Best of all it was a really good value at $10! But time, and possibly travel, had not served this wine well. I’m pretty sure I bought this in 2008 or so, and likely drank its twins between 2009 and 2010. This bottle must have been lost in the cellar, or perhaps I set it aside hoping to maximize its flavor with some time laying down.

I don’t know what happened to it, but when I opened the bottle last night the taste was almost entirely “straw”… Very harsh. All hard on the nose, weird mouth feel, and astringent finish. Undrinkable. That’s a shame. It went down the sink.

A younger Cameron Hughes Napa Cab took its place at the table.

Cellar Treasures: 2002 Parducci Petite Sirah.

An impending move has me clearing out my cellar. I’m starting a new job son in another state that has Mr. & Mrs. Barbarian moving to a new home very soon. As a result I haven’t bought very many wines of late, and have been very busy doing life-related things are not updating this blog much, if at all. Sorry.

However I’m tasting wines that I laid down for some reason or another a few years ago, one of which is this Parducci Petite Sirah from 2002. I suspect I purchased this about five years ago, likely for around ten bucks. I suspect this is the oldest Petite Sirah I’ve tasted in a long while and the time in the bottle had an unusual impact on the flavor of the wine. It settled down quite a bit from it’s bombastic youth, though still remains Dourif’s big fruit bomb. The bomb however had lost a few megatons and gained a bit of subtlety. I paired it with some boneless beef rib meat which Mrs. Barbarian had marinated with a bit too much red pepper in the mix, so it was hard to get a good fix on the wine due to the capsaicin overload. I really need to chase Mrs. Barbarian out of the kitchen with a butcher knife… or maybe a tape loop of Mel Gibson rants. Just about any other varietal would have been obliterated, but the Petite Sirah stood up to the spicy heat pretty well. Even a Zinfandel would have had trouble here, but the Parducci held its own. Still, it would have been better with something less incendiary on the Scoville Scale. Oh well.

Cellar Treasure: 2002 “K” Syrah

K Syrah

Apologies for the dearth of reviews of late, but I have basically limited my intake to the same Chilean wines I’ve been reviewing over the past year already. I figured you didn’t want to experience deja vu all over again. This has been my contribution to bolster the Chilean economy after the magnitude 8.8 Maule Earthquake in February that so devastated the central region of Chile. Figuring that I could single-handedly contribute to Chile’s recovery by drowning myself in Carmenère, and a few select Chilean Cabs, Merlots, and Malbecs, I have made a serious effort over the past few months to assist Chile. I think I’ve made a dent, so I’m ready to sample some other wines now.

When I met the woman who eventually became Mrs. Barbarian, she was a recent escapee from Alaska. The Last Frontier is an odd place. Filled with big burly men who outnumber both fish and women by a factor of at least ten. As a result of this, the fish are frightened and the women over confident. This might explain a lot. Mrs. Barbarian does like to eat salmon and brought a small one home for dinner tonight. She asked me to make some Aioli, as I am the house Sous Chef when she steps up to make fish. You see, I don’t cook fish. Being a barbarian I prefer my fish so fresh that it has yet to see any heat, much less a flame. Sushi and sashimi? Fine with me. But I would never actually cook a fish. I would sooner have my salmon reposed upon a bed of vinegared rice. Mrs. Barbarian gets her face all contorted at the mere mention of sushi, so I have to find my raw seafood outside the confines of our marriage.

I had garlic roasting in the oven, along with some bread, and aioli prepared and chilling in the fridge before she arrived home. Unfortunately I had no wine that really went with salmon, but I did have a treasure resting in my cellar that could at least stand up to the wave of garlic this fillet of salmon would ride onto our table…
K Vintners’ 2002 Syrah.

I have a long standing habit of buying pairs of bottles, and if I taste some promise in the first I cellar the second. Saving it for a day at some point in the future when it will come in handy and prove me a savvy swiller of the grape. This bottle was purchased back in 2004 or 2005 and laid down in my “cellar” (I’ve mentioned before that while sounding snooty, this is merely some unfinished basement at the northern end of our home, but which thankfully stays very cool all year round) after I consumed its twin. The original purchase price was $24.99.

The label identifies our wine thusly:
K Syrah
Wahluke Slope
Columbia Valley

K Vintners
Walla Walla, Washington

Unlike so many reds that assault you when the bottle is uncorked this Syrah had mellowed. Exchanging structure for force it now displayed a subtle earthy nose much like a French wine. In the glass it remains impenetrably dark, and the bottle itself was stained with the years of close contact with the dark and vital fruit. Surprisingly no sediment appeared in our glasses. Our mouths however were bathed in wonderful, yet subtle fruit flavors. The wine had mellowed considerably over its time in the bottle and had become quite mature and sophisticated. Still energetic enough to withstand the waves of garlic on our plates, but in no way overpowering.

I love salmon, but in a way wish we had some steak to go with this wine. Oh well. Still good as it was.

As a cellar treasure it is unlikely that you can find this wine to buy today, certainly not at the price I paid. However this does serve as a lesson for low-lifes like me – that is that cellar time is good for some wines. Try putting some down and leaving them be for a few years yourself. Even cheap reds like I usually drink can benefit from a few years of rest. It is a low risk proposition, give it a try!