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.

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.