Cameron Hughes Lot 458, Paso Robles Petite Sirah

As all of you know, I LOVE Petite Sirah. 

I also love that American négociant Cameron Hughes. He sells high-quality stuff at VERY reasonable prices. He doesn’t do Petite Sirah very often, but when he does it is usually great (not always… more on that in a future post). This one is terrific. Deep, dark, smooth mouth feel, and a sharp flavor on the palate. Big flavor that lingers long after your last sip. One of those wines you can drink on its own, or pair with a big juicy steak. I was smart enough to grab a case of this one before it sold out.

Cameron Hughes Lot 460, 2013 Oakville Napa Valley Merlot

Merlot may have suffered a bit sales ways from a single throw-away punchline in Sideways, but as a varietal it remains one of the Crown Jewels of Bordeaux, and it’s North American outpost of Napa Valley. For a bargain-hunting gourmand such as your humble barbarian we can all thank Rex Pickett for his jab at Merlot. 

The double-word score here is a score from Cameron Hughes, an American negociant who sources his wines mostly from California with a specialty in Napa. I love Cameron Hughes because he sells big buck wines at a big discount, so this Merlot, which would likely trade around $40 or more per bottle became mine for $13. Yep, thirteen bucks. 

This one has been in my cellar for a few years and I pulled it out a few nights ago. I’ve enjoyed it over three nights of the past four, with things as varied as lamb, steak, and some salami & cheese. By the fourth night it was just starting to lose the potency and flavor it presented on opening. So clearly some serious aging potential on the remaining bottle in my cellar. 

Too much of a good thing. Kenwood Vintage Red Wine, 1990

I’ve written a lot recently of the benefits to be found in cellaring cheap wines for a few years. The key is to buy more wine than you can possibly drink, and have a cool dark place to store them. I didn’t come to this conclusion through any sort of brilliant cunning strategy; I came to it quite by accident. Or perhaps I inherited  it honestly, through genetics. 

I’m visiting my parents with my two sisters and their familes this week and some take-out barbecue was on the menu last night. I ask my father if a good Zin of a Malbec was going to be opened to accompany this feast. He replies “a Sauvignon Blanc”…   My father’s chief complaint in his eighties is that the vast majority of his lifelong friends have either died, or lost their minds to dementia and/of Alzheimer’s disease. Age has had an impact on him as well, mostly manifested in limited mobility and a veritable pharmacopeia of a daily routine… but this drift into white wines may be a sign that his normal state of super-sharp mental acuity may be starting to lose its edge. 

He says that I can head to the crawl space in the cellar and find something more to my liking. My ten year old nephew eagerly volunteers to join me and I gladly accept his offer in that my aging knees are happy to sit outside the tiny crawl space while the boy goes spelunking for wines on my behalf. He goes in and grabs the first bottle he sees and emerges saying “this one looks good!” I agree, as it is a 1966 Chateau Trotanoy Pomerol(!) and my nephew’s father, who is walking by at the time chuckles and agrees with me that he should put this one back and go for another. I direct him from outside the crawlspace to a bottle near the bottom of the rack with a newer, more domestic appearing foil. This bottle was the result. Kenwood is a great old Sonoma vintner, famous for producing some great stuff. This morning in my father’s library I found a Wine Price Guide from 1993, and it lists this bottle as trading for $4.69. You can’t get much cheaper than that!

That it is a 1990 is interesting, as that day was my niece’s 26th birthday, and my oldest son was also born in 1990 and that year had been the subject of discussion earlier in the evening. So I open this 26 year old bottle of cheap wine and…

It’s not very good. Mind you, it isn’t bad, but it is clearly long past its prime. It is a blend of Zinfandel and Gamay. The Zin seems to have completely aged away, leaving zero backbone and an odd mix of raisin and slight Gamay flavor. Of those two grapes I would have imagined the Gamay to be long gone and the Zin to be left holding it up, but oddly the opposite is what you have after twenty-six years in the cellar. Just too much time at rest. Couldn’t stand up to the BBQ ribs we had for dinner.

It didn’t stop me from polishing off most of the bottle with a little help from my one of my sisters.

A nightly tradition, sunset glass. Doña Paula Estate Malbec, 2013

I’ve always liked the line in the original Manchuian Candidate:

Raymond Shaw: My dear girl, have you ever noticed that the human race is divided into two distinct and irreconcilable groups: those that walk into rooms and automatically turn television sets on, and those that walk into rooms and automatically turn them off. The trouble is that they end up marrying each other.

It is true, I am the latter, and the former Mrs Barbarian is the … well, former. It was merely one of our irreconcilable differences but was an important one to remember. We began living in separate places several years ago, and I found a place with a great view to the west, an array of snow-covered mountains laid out before me. In summer I sit out on the deck with a glass every night and soak in the sunset. When winter comes, I maintain the tradition, but from within the house sitting in a comfy chair. No TV, just the best that nature can offer. 

Tonight I am enjoying an Argentine Malbec. Specifically a Doña Paula 2013. I recall paying about $10 a bottle for it about a year ago. I acquired three and this is the first I’ve opened. I think I’ll let the other two rest in the cellar for a few years as this one is quite tannic, even after being open for quite a long time. I have some lamb chops thawing that would make a nice complement to this one, since I tend to get a heavy hand with the Rosemary & Garlic crusting. 

As I have said here recently, I’ve really learned the lesson of cellaring. I have also learned that the key to successful cellaring is having more wine on hand than you can possibly drink. Now that I’m alone, that is a pretty easy thing to do. 

It also helps to live in a cold climate and have a cool basement that stays around 55°F all year round. Another nice benefit of my home in the mountains. 

That’s another issue that tends to split human personality types; are you a mountain person or a beach person. Not as irreconcilably divisive as TV on or off, but certainly an easy camp to split people into. Your beach house is unlikely to be a great place to cellar wine however. 

Super Tuscan, lives up to its name, finally.  Cameron Hughes Lot 374

Cameron Hughes Lot 374, 2007 Super Tuscan. 

I’ve had this wine in my cellar since it arrived back in 2009 or so. Originally I had three bottles, and as is my wont, one of them was likely consumed soon after arrival. I don’t recall it being anything super, but I do remember it being good. The second bottle was consumed around 2013. Again, pretty damn good, but still not super

Well, Super Tuscan finally achieved full Super last night. A dinner guest came over and prepared a hearty Italian meal for a blustery, winter solstice night. The sun had set by midafternoon, following a day of howling wind, rain, snow, and a sunbreak or two. As she sautéed onions, sausages, and peppers for the soup I descended into the cellar for something Italian to accompany the meal. Lot 374 was all I could find. Plenty of reds from California, Washington, France, Argentina, and Chile – but only one Italian: Lot 374. Good thing, as it was spectacular right out of the bottle. A full and meaty wine to accompany a dark and stormy solstice. 
If you are smart enough to have stashed away some of these, I strongly suggest pulling one out of the cellar and enjoying it now. 
This is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Sangiovese.

Go-to Favorite: 2012 Guenoc Lake County Petite Sirah


Guenoc is the very first Petite Sirah I ever tasted. It was a long time ago, in a place far, far away. It is consistently good. So good that I can honestly say this glass tastes just the same as the first Lake County Guenoc I tasted back in the day. I’m not really good at nosing/tasting terroir in most wines, but like Islay in a Scotch Whisky, I can always sense Lake County in a red wine. I don’t know why, but I can. It is here in this glass as well, and I REALLY like it.

This Petite Sirah is a good sample of the meaty varietal, with a big backbone and a finish that goes on forever (with that distinctive Lake County sensation.)

I stated in that earlier (wow… 2008) post that I buy a case of Guenoc estate Petite Sirah every year. Well, I have failed to do that for a long time now. Tasting this (non-estate version) is reminding me of that folly. I should fix that.

You should too.

Cameron Hughes Lot 348 – 2009 California Field Blend

Lot 348

I recall hearing Tom Leykis once state that it is a crime to open a Tempranillo before it is ten years old. I’m only four years short of that and it is only 32% Tempranillo, so perhaps this was just a minor misdemeanor?

If you haven’t figured this out before I’m a big fan of Cameron Hughes‘s wines. I’m in their red wine club and receive a case, with three samples of four red wines, every few months. My usual modus operandi is to unpack the case into my cellar, let it rest a few weeks, then put it into the rotation at the dinner table. If I REALLY like one of them, I’ll buy more. I never drink them all, but often leave one bottle of each sampler case in the cellar for a few years. Nine times out of ten the extra cellar time really improves the wine. When that happens I will take notes and write them up here as a “cellar treasure.” That is certainly the case here, as this $13 wine has matured well, and likely would trade at well over $35 (and only that low due to the fact that it is a blend. If it were a single varietal I bet a wine of this quality would sell for over $50 a bottle.) Sadly, it is long ago sold out, so good luck finding it to buy. SorryNotSorry.

As a blend, this one is an odd duck. The label says “Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane” (WTF is that? Well, it is jug wine!) In reality, it is really a bit more complex, with CH themselves claiming “Tempranillo 32%, Petite Sirah 25%, Syrah 24%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11%, Graciano 5%, Carignan 3%”

That explains a lot, because to me this comes across like a mellowed Petite Sirah, with the tannic edge of a Tempranillo and the slight acidity of a Syrah. While I’m a self-confessed barbarian, I’m not a bum, so I wouldn’t know Carignane if it jumped out of a cardboard box at me. Or gallon jug for that matter. I’ll have to check to see if any more of these bottles are in my cellar because I imagine another few years of quiet rest in cool darkness would reveal a truly stellar wine. Thirteen bucks plus time equals awesomesauce. Consider that for a bit.

I’ve enjoyed this with a perfectly cooked black pepper coated super-thick prime strip steak, accompanied by grill-roasted red peppers, and baked kale chips. It was heavenly! I also had a glass the next day with some chile-hinted dark chocolate. It was even better.

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. 

Four Graces 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Four Graces Pinot

I usually avoid Pinot Noir. Perhaps “avoid” is the wrong word… more like eschew, or maybe just “pick something else for fear of being disappointed.” A great Pinot is indeed a wonderful thing, but a mediocre Pinot is far more common and a (pardon the pun) frankly depressing experience. The noble Burgundian is my go-to choice for a blanc-de-noir sparkler, but those are more of a Sunday afternoon on the deck, or celebrate an occasion choice, and nothing like a full red Pinot Noir with all of its complexity and potential for delight, or disappointment. At any point in the price spectrum you can find a “meh” Pinot Noir. Seriously. Just about any other varietal you can peg quality to price pretty closely, but not so Pinot. Not being a gambler, I stick to safer choices when I pick my wines, and indeed, I did not pick this one. However, it was a winner.

Not a “blow your mind” winner, but an excellent solid example of an Oregon Pinot.

Recently some family was here to visit, so we sampled a few of the area’s great eateries. One warm summer evening we enjoyed a great meal, seated al fresco. The table had ordered a wide-ranging selection of foods, including Caprese and Caesar salads, escargot, wonderfully crusty French bread with creamy butter, and rack of lamb. One of my guests chose this wine, and it was a perfect accompaniment for everything on the table.

With a huge earthy, woody, nose … it was tempting to stick your honker deep into the glass and just sniff. On the palette it was subtle, with a lot of fruit up front, a strong oak middle, and long, long finish.

It is hard to find a good Pinot. Even harder to find one at a reasonable cost. This one retails for around $32, which is on the low end of what you’ll pay for the produce of the Willamette Valley these days. If you see it, buy it.

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.