Dumas Station 2012 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 

Dumas Station is one of my personal treasures in the wine world. I stumbled upon them at a local eatery in my small town. By habit I tend to scroll right past the standard reds right to the “interesting reds” category on any wine list and it was there I found a Cabernet Franc from Dumas Station that sent me scrambling for more. I signed up for their wine club and have been buying direct ever since. 

Tonight I opened this 2012 Cabernet Not Franc and was pleasantly surprised. It has been in my cellar for a few years and on opening the fragrance from the bottle and cork were fantastic… I knew this was going to be some good stuff. 

Very dark. Earthy. Moody. A bit stanky to be honest. Almost old world. 

I imagine it wouldbe tough to find one of these in a wine shop, or even online now four years after vintage, but if you can I suggest buying a few. They will continue to age well, so drink one now and lay the others down, then revisit from time to time. 

Likely to live, or likely to die? Cameron Hughes Lot 513 “Triage” Red Blend

Triage Red Blend

An anonymous red blend from a negociant, with zero data on the label of what may lie within… what could possibly go wrong? Looking at the bottle you slip into your own form of triage… Buy? Discard? Run away?

Buy my friend. Buy.

This is a damn good wine at very reasonable $15 price.

Super smooth, and very tasty. Very dark in the glass, but soft and velvety on the palate. It is not a vintage wine, it seems to have been sourced from 2013, 2014, and 2012 grapes from three separate AVA’s in northern California: Lake County, Sonoma, and Calistoga. Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hybrid vigor indeed. This is one of the most lovable mutts you’ll ever meet.

This is a great “everyday drinker” and at that price you can’t go wrong. Let it live.

Roads less traveled… Cameron Hughes Lot 524, 2013 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

Where the hell is Paicines?

I like to drive. A lot.

Unless I have a tight schedule to keep, I actually drive for most of my trips, both business and pleasure. It’s not that I’m afraid to fly… far from it. I grew up the son of an airline employee and have likely spent more time in jets than some pilots (except I slept through most of that time. I’m one of those plane sleepers. Even turbulence that has other passengers screaming for their lives has me waking from my slumber to slowly raise an eyelid, shift in my seat, and go back to sleep again, annoyed at those bellowing crybabies.) I just like to take roads less traveled. In fact, I eschew Waze, SatNav systems, and GPS in general when I drive. I have an old-school Rand-McNally Road Atlas. Spital bound, and highlighter pen marked routes I have driven before… in 49 of the 50 US states, and most of the provinces of Canada. Take a guess of which state I have yet to visit – hint: you can’t drive to it.

I was born with an innate sense of direction hitched to a wanderlust gene. I follow my nose and it never fails to get me where I’m going, or take me the same way twice.

So I was drinking this damn good wine tonight and thinking “where the hell is Paicines, CA?” So I pulled out my phone and opened a map app (hey, I’m sitting on my deck, I don’t have the Rand-McNally handy!) and sure enough I have driven through Paicines before!

California has five major north-south routes: CA1, 101, I-5, 99, and east of the Sierra, US395. I’ve driven all of them. I-5 is of course the worst. A line of cars nose-to-tail from Redding all the way to LA and beyond, clogging every lane and getting nowhere fast. Zero lane discipline. Endless Prii and SUVs slowly loafing in the left lane. A few years ago I had to get to SoCal and had already driven every way there… until I looked at my Road Atlas and spotted CA25. yes! A little ribbon of asphalt somehow woven through the oaken hills between US101 and I-5. So i drove it. Wow, what a fun road. While folks where gridlocked just east of me on I-5, I was blasting down a twisty backroad to the tune of “Red Barchetta” by Rush. I saw ONE other car. ONE. A SINGLE OTHER VEHICLE in a few hundred miles of wonderful fun behind the wheel.

So as I savored this Cabernet on the deck tonight at sunset, I recalled fondly that day’s drive through the middle of nowhere in central California. The wine is quite good. VERY different from your usual California Cab. More subtle. Softer.

I’ve made a mental note to drive that road again.

You win some, you lose some…

Hint: Stick to Malbec

Sometimes I’m a sucker. I fall for things that seem too good to be true. The used car that blows a head gasket 300 miles after I buy it. The promises some asshole boss makes. Or in this case, a Cabernet Franc, from Argentina.

I use an app to track the wines in my cellar. OK, “basement” is a more correct term, but I digress. This app I’m using now also makes me offers based on my “tasting profile”… and I do drink a lot of Cabernet Franc. I don’t post them all here, mostly because they fall outside of the price scope I have set for myself in these ramblings. But this one popped up for a bit over ten bucks. I think I was inebriated when it did pop up because I saw it and said to myself:

“Self! A Cab Franc for $10?? What could possibly go wrong?!”

In addition to that silly thought, the wine carried a bug on the label that proclaimed how Decanter Magazine had bestowed upon it a “best in show” award. Mind you, I have never actually read Decanter Magazine before, but what the hell? They sound like they know what they’re doing, right?

Apparently not.

All I can figure is that the rest of the wines available at this particular show must have been awful.

This wine isn’t really that bad. But it also isn’t really that good. At least not yet.Maybe it is too young. maybe it is suffering a bit of bottle shock? Who knows. I’ll find out when I open the next bottle (I bought more than one) in a few months. Check back and see.

The bottle doesn’t photograph well, so for the time being, we’ll leave it like this and wrap it in a slight air of mystery. At least until I pop the cork on the next one.

Cheap wine, cheap hotels, what could possibly go wrong?  Ghost Signs 2011 Central Coast Petite Sirah

Several of you may have noticed, your humble author changed jobs and moved a few years back. That job impacted my ability to write for this blog on a regular basis. In many ways it kept me so busy that a lot of my previous life was seriously impacted as well. Too many changes to summarize now, but I’ll do my best to sprinkle that tale around as time goes on. I have a new, new job now, that has me on the road a lot. I’m growing to like it. However this past week threw me a curve that I wasn’t able to dodge and that errant pitch hit me square in the face. Right at the beginning of a business trip I caught some sort of viral illness that laid me out like a feverish near-dead thing for four straight days. 

In a hotel, right next to an major international airport. 

It wasn’t the absolute worst week of my life, but it was damn close. It is bad enough being sick at home, but trapped inside a soulless corporate hotel, unable to really care for myself… ugh. Of course, being my cheap self, I am a regular at this hotel because it is no-frills, but doles out loyalty points for every option you choose to make it even cheaper. I had opted to forgo housekeeping for the entire week, as usually I’m only in the room to sleep. I have a million social connections in this metro area because I’ve worked and had professional connections around it since the early 90s. So my weeks there consist of work during the day, socializing at night, and easy access to/from this hotel via public transport as there is several train, shuttles, and car service type options that converge within walking distance of this hotel. 

Not this week though. This week I spend close to 80 straight hours in that room, feeling close to death. Never measured my fever but I can deduct from the humidity levels of my bedsheets that it peaked around 4:52am Thursday. Later that morning I relented and call down to request housekeeping and new sheets. The small victory was still collecting the 250 loyalty points (to be used to cash in on some luxury night non-work related someday) for that day’s “save the environment” option. 

By Saturday morning, I am largely recovered but not a good candidate to sit in an aluminum tube for three hours exposing fellow passengers to what may linger in my occasionally rattling respiratory tract. I check a few options on some travel websites, rebook my return flight from another airport a distance away, and head off for a little weekend wine getaway!

Convertibles were on sale for the price of a Kia, so I grab the drop-top Mustang and head south to Paso. Arriving at an ultra-famous mountaintop winery an hour before closing time, a squeaky clean kid with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie stops me at the gate: “Do you have a reservation sir?” “Nope!” I answer cheerfully. “Well, we usually … um… well… nobody is answering me up there… (looks the car over) Just go on up and if there is a parking space take it. If not come back down here. Ok?” 

Made the right choice with the Mustang. 

$45 of sipping my way through ultra-high end Bordeaux style blends (with one odd, but good Bordeaux/Rhône mix that would only ever happen in Paso Robles!) among stunning Mission-style architecture, fountains, and views of mountains. Not a bad way to earn an hour of my  life back after my hell of a week. I successfully avoid spending any more high altitude money here, as the bottles start at $85 and only go higher. 

To entertain myself I coast the ‘Stang in neutral as far as I can down the mountain, until I notice that I’m slowing up some local in a pickup, at which point I punch it and beeline for Paso Proper for a Pizza. Rustic Fire is a nice local strip-mall family pizza place I discovered last time I was in Paso Robles and I recalled how they sold small local wines at good prices. After all that high-falootin’ stuff I needed a basic Paso Petite Sirah and a pizza to ground me again. 

They have two Petites to pick with my pizza, “Chronic” or “Ghost Signs” I chose the latter. A 2011 vintage the Ghost Signs Central Coast Petite Sirah is VERY intense. Almost too intense, if by intense the intention is tannic. The cork is darkly stained to the point that the Rustic Fire staffer (hard to use the term “waiter” here!) even noticed how dark it was when he pulled it. Given that I always adorn my pizzas with peppers and other things that burn, it is a steep road a wine has to climb to keep up, but this Petit Sirah is heavy heavy fuel… it could coast downhill easily  against any big food, like that pickup truck behind me on the road, relentlessly progressing with big presence. This is a BIG, petit wine. I had two small glasses in nice stemware (the Petite left stains I noted) along with half of my small, spicy pie before it was time to hit the road and find a hotel. 

Now on my own without benefit of corporate sponsored/subsidized choices I consulted the mobile travel app and noted every hotel in wine country was far beyond my cheapness-throttled personal subsidy thresholds, so extending the search area over the hills eastward revealed economic bounties of super-cheap domiciles. Booking one, I dropped the top of the Mustang and drove past the last of the vineyards, over the dusty hills and into the Central Valley’s Petroleum Patch for a cheap motel. There I made use of the plastic wrapped stemware you see above to finish off the last two pie slices and fully contemplate the Ghost Signs Durif. 

I imagine the winemaker, like me, really likes the “bigness” of Petite Sirah and sought that target. A bullseye was achieved, but with such precision that all of the other things we love so much about Petite Sirah were missed. The round fruit and long, lingering finish most of all. Intensity is there, but not much else. 

After letting this wine “decant” or perhaps the better term is “recline” overnight to breathe and open it has lost a bit of intensity and gained a bit of betterness. If you buy some of this (which retails for between $12 and $14) it might be worth it to open it up and taste it over time. Odd for a cheap wine, but as I’ve found time can improve even the cheap. Look at me, I’m getting better!

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.