An Ample Sample (from the Wagner Family of Wine) 09/13/11
When I first launched Convicted for Grape, many years ago (around 0.75 by my count), I was admittedly looking for little more than a quasi-productive outlet to justify the exorbitant amount of money I spent on wine. At the same time, however, I was dreaming of a loftier goal: that glorious, yet no doubt distant day on which my blog would become credible enough to require a page explaining my policy on press samples. In other words, the day that my dear wine blog would become a man.
Well ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce (perhaps a bit too pleased, truth be told) that at last, this fateful day has arrived. And I totally intend to write up my sample policy soon. But first there’s wine that needs reviewing, which means for now you’ll have to make due with a simple preface, the only disclaimer I’ve ever actually been excited to write:
Today’s wine was a sample received courtesy of the Wagner Family of Wine for review purposes. This means there’s no getting around the fact that I was in an unusually good mood while tasting. But feelings are stupid, and I promise I’ve tried my best to keep my emotions away from my ratings, lest I compromise my journalistic integrity – which of course hasn’t mattered in the slightest until now, but which could send my readers scattering to the winds in an instant, should it be lost.
As for the wine, it wasn’t one bottle but six (although at 50 ml apiece, they amounted to less than half a standard bottle’s worth total): the Wagner Family Vineyards Tasting Kit, which I’m positive used to be for sale on their website but evidently isn’t anymore. In any case, the Wagner Family of Wine is based in California, and they’ve been making wine for generations. As far as I can tell, there is no relation between these Wagners and Richard Wagner, the 19th century German composer best known for his operatic reimagining of ancient Norse sagas through Der Ring des Nibelungen.
The first bottle of the kit was the Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2009, from the Santa Lucia highlands, retailing for $22. This wine is notable for its having been fermented in cement, rather than oak or steel. Moreover, in its 750ml, 2010 iteration, the bottle isn’t even made of glass, but ceramic – and it’s really awesome, I might add. So while I may have missed out on that, the wine was still a great example of oakless Chardonnay, which I usually prefer to the more popular alternative.
A transparent, light golden-yellow hue in the glass, the wine’s most prevalent aromas were of green apple, lime, and what I think is pomelo (kind of like a lime crossed with a grapefruit). Medium-bodied, the palate presented more apple notes, with great acidity and a spicy finish that was bolstered by a just bit too much heat, suggestive of excessive alcohol. My theory? The ceramic bottle would’ve mellowed the heat a bit…what with its being so cool.
Still, this was definitely a solid wine, which earns thumbs up.
Next up was the Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008, also from the Santa Lucia highlands, but with a slightly more painful price tag of $32. It was a slightly darker yellow (but still light) in the glass, perhaps a sign of its being a year older, but where this wine really stood out was the nose.
I’m not really a fan of oaked Chardonnay, which I often decry as overly “buttery.” But this Chardonnay gave off a refined, even savory aroma of drawn butter and lemon, with something vaguely vegetal in the background, and in spite of my prejudice, I really couldn’t find anything to complain about. On the palate it was creamier than the Silver, both in terms of texture and taste, with pure lemon notes that stuck around for a long, long finish.
Wine #2 gets thumbs up – the highest I’ve ever scored a Chardonnay in this style.
Third in line was the Conundrum 2009 White Wine Blend, a combination of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat and Semillon, also retailing for $22. I didn’t even get a chance to take notes on this one’s appearance, because right away I typed “Apricots!” – exclamation point included – having been punched in the nose by some apricots upon pouring.
After some breathing, more floral lychee aromas could be detected, and on the palate the wine was intensely fruity (more so than either Chardonnay), with more apricot notes – now with peach! – and some peppery spice on the finish. Because of its full body, intense apricot notes and peppery finish, I would probably have guessed this was Viognier had I tasted it blind. But I didn’t, so now I don’t have to feel like an idiot.
Conundrum earns a respectable thumbs up.
And then, it was time for the reds – starting with Meiomi Pinot Noir 2009, a blend of Pinot Noir grapes from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties retailing for, once again, $22. Also, for those of you wondering, I did use separate glasses for the reds and the whites.
A fairly dark and cloudy purple in appearance, this gave off aromas of dried strawberry, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, this showed nice spiciness, even leather-iness when set against the backdrop of its surprisingly firm tannins. Notes of redcurrant and cherry were most prominent, with a bit of vanilla returning as well.
The Meiomi, like the wine before it, garners thumbs up.
Following that was another Pinot, the Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, from the Santa Maria Valley. This one retails for $44, which is more than I’ve personally ever spent on a bottle, so that’s kind of depressing. The wine, though, was anything but.
A darker hue than the Meiomi, and more opaque, the Belle Glos gave off aromas of cherry and cinnamon, with a hint of smoke beneath them. The palate presented flavors of strawberry and cranberry, as well as black pepper – the pepper being much more definitive than the spice on the first Pinot. Tannins were softer, and the finish was longer; this was my favorite wine of the flight.
The Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot earns thumbs up.
Finally, I sampled the most expensive wine of the lot, the Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, which goes for $68 a bottle. In the glass, this poured darker than either Pinot – pitch purple, I’ll say – and left an olfactory impression that I described as “enormous.”
Aromas of cassis and coffee were the most pronounced, but the intensity is what made them stand out. If Conundrum punched me in the nose with apricot, Caymus hit me in the face with a sledgehammer made of blackcurrant liqueur. On the palate, flavors of cassis were prominent, but gave way to even more pronounced notes of raisin, along with some brown sugar. Not that the wine was sweet – it also had powerful but elegant tannins and strong acidity, suggesting lots of aging potential.
As it is right now, I give the Caymus Cab thumbs up. But then, there’s always the future…
So when all was said and done, what did I learn from my first press sample?