Steakhouse Cab Blind Tasting Panel: Cakebread, Caymus, Silver Oak and Demuth Kemos

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prominently featured behind the glass of major steakhouse cellars, you're sure to find many of the same brands.  Inevitably Cakebread, Caymus and Silver Oak appear along with some others.  I thought it would be interesting to take taste wines from these brands blind to see which could live up to the hype of their famous labels.  Which would stand out and which would fade into the background?

I got together with a group of friends of this site.  All are regular wine enthusiasts like myself and 2 happen to be wine retailers.  A total of 8 of us got together at West on Centre in West Roxbury, MA to taste these wines.  They're BYOB-friendly on Tuesday night, and their service style in support of this blind tasting format was impeccable.  I'd highly recommend you check them out if you're looking for a dining venue that's supportive of you bringing your own wine: @WestOnCentre

As I was trying to think of the quintessenial "Steakhouse Cab" I asked my friends on Twitter what they thought were some wines that went along with Cakebread, Caymus and Silver Oak.  I was thinking of the $60-80 retail/$100-$150 restaurant category.  I got a lot of good suggestions including Shafer One Point Five, Plumpjack, Far Niente and others.  But the folks at Demuth Kemos had the courage to step up and say: I think our wines are in that category- mind if we submit a sample for your tasting?  Bring it on I said!

We tasted the wines in this order:
  1. 2004 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 89WS/$70
  2. 2005 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 88WS/$64
  3. 2006 Demuth Kemos Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon $75 3 Barrels Produced (75 Cases)
  4. 2004 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 92WS/$70
How We Tasted

Before leaving for the restaurant, I removed the foil from each bottle of wine and placed it in a bag. I had the server at the restaurant remove the corks and number each of the wines so even I wouldn't know which wine was which.

We then tasted through the wines in the order listed above, before our food arrived, and we each took notes on what we thought of the wines. My brief notes and ratings of each of the wines are included below, and after tasting all of the wines we surveyed the group to see which wine was their favorite.

What I'm Looking for in Napa Cab

My favorite Napa Cabs deliver a high amount of density and flavor. Some of my favorite offer a unique combination of black currant fruit and savory components. I tend to prefer sweeter tannins and big wines in this category.  Highly aromatic wines too. Balance is important and restraint is key. Higher alcohol doesn't bother me but it has to be well integrated. Non-astringent tannins are also appreciated.

My Notes

2004 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
A little hot. Herbs.  Menthol.  Chalky tannins.  Hmm- not my favorite.
88/100: Very Good

2005 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon
I like it! Big black berries.  Chalky tannins with semi-sweet chocolate.
92/100: Outstanding

2006 Demuth Kemos Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon
Pretty big. Just a little sharp at this point, but big potential. A little closed aromatically. Fine tannins.
(Note: I recognized the larger-than-average neck of the Demuth Kemos bottle so I had a hunch this wine was the Demuth Kemos.  I'd rate this wine 90 points but thought to mention it was non-blind given that I recognized the neck.)

2004 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
Most fruit forward with the sweetest tannins of the bunch.  Smooth stuff.  Great wine.
92/100 Outstanding

Overall Results

When we polled the group, the overwhelming favorite was the Demuth Kemos:

4 Votes: Demuth Kemos
2 Votes: Caymus
1 Vote: Cakebread
1 Vote: Silver Oak

Well done by this small producer!

A Little More About Demuth Kemos

After the tasting, I visited the Demuth Kemos Facebook fan page to learn more about the 2006 Mountain Terraces Cab. The grapes come from Mt. Veeder- an area I associated with Napa. I asked Peter Kemos whether this was a Napa Cab or a Sonoma Cab: "Nope, the fruit comes from the Mountain Terraces vineyard, which is on the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder. The county line essentially splits Mt. Veeder in half, running north/south. Mountain Terraces is 3/4 of a mile from the county line."

He continued, "You've raised an issue which is at the core of our winemaking philosophy: We are trying to showcase Sonoma County as an outstanding Cab producing region, our three Cabs come from all corners of the county, and are all distinct from each other - and everything else out there."

You can follow them on Twitter: @DemuthKemos


The Demuth Kemos wasn't exactly a "ringer" or a value play in this line-up but their brand isn't nearly as established as the competition it went up against. In this respect, I definitely consider this an upset. Their wines aim to be a unique expression of Sonoma Cabernet sites. I'd be interested in trying more of their wines and learning more about their brand.

I was surprised how well the Caymus did (I sometimes think when drinking it non-blind that it's not so special for some reason). I was also surprised how the Silver Oak seemed to veer from it's blackberry fruit-forward flavor profile that I actually like. The mentholy herbaciousness threw me for a loop. Finally, it wasn't surprising at all that I enjoyed the Cakebread. Their wines seem to have a spell on me, even when tasted blind (I was also enamored with their 2007 Syrah in a blind tasting of new world Syrah/Shiraz).

If some of the people who were there wanted to share their thoughts on the wines in the comments section that would be great.

Question of the Day: What do you think of these results? Any other steakhouse favorites you think should have been in this line-up?


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