Caymus Wine Dinner Reveals Surprising Value Plays

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Wagner Family of Wine includes Caymus Cabernet, Belle Glos and Meiomi Pinot Noir, Mer Soleil Chardonnay, and Conundrum blends. Joseph Wagner (second from the left in the photo above) hosted an evening at the Boston Wine Festival featuring their wines including a retrospective sit-down tasting of Caymus Special Selection Cabernets followed by a paired wine dinner.

Some of their more expensive wines were every bit as good as I hoped they'd be. And a couple of their more affordable wines showed absolutely spectacularly in an elegant setting.

Between the seminar and the dinner was a reception where Conundrum White was poured. According to Wagner, Conundrum was created to enjoy with Asian fusion cuisine. It's one of those wines that, I think, makes numerical ratings seem especially silly. Because either you like a slightly sweet fruity white wine or you don't. It's not a question of quality. It's a question of style. It carries a $24 release price and is readily available available at retail south of $20 thanks to 92,000 cases of the wine being made at last check (2007 vintage). They've recently introduced a Conundrum Red as well.

Wagner kicked off the evening by mentioning that Chef Daniel Bruce never makes the same dish twice for these wine dinners. The Boston Wine Festival runs from January to March and features some of the top wineries and the world. The Boston Harbor Hotel has these things down to a science. I thought the service was excellent.


The first course was a Pan Roasted Cod Loin with a Georgia Sweet Pea and Chardonnay Sauce.

The 2010 Mer Soleil SILVER Unoaked Chardonnay was showing beautifully. Crisp and creamy. Beautiful. Chablis-like in style. Clean pineapple aromas and flavors. The wine ferments and is aged in cement tanks which they choose to denote with distinctive ceramic bottles. Very cool packaging and a tremendous effort, especially south of $20 retail. 91 points WWP: Outstanding

This was poured alongside the 2009 Mer Soleil Barrel-fermented Chardonnay which provided a chance to assess the affects of a varying oak regiment on the two Chardonnays. I normally like the creaminess some time in oak can provide Chardonnay but this one took on a bit of an untamed "feral" note that I wasn't crazy about. Underlying this, the two wines were quite similar but I definitely preferred the unoaked SILVER. 84 points WWP: Good

Pinot Noir

Next up was were the Pinot Noirs. Chef Bruce prepared a Flash Smoked Slow Roasted Long Island Duck Breast in a Tomato, Wild Mushroom, and Wild Leek Broth. It was a brilliant pairing.

It's hard to think of a more reliably delicious sub-$20 California Pinot Noir than Meiomi, and the 2010 Meiomi Pinot Noir is no exception. It's a pizza-night staple around our house, so seeing it "dressed up" in this setting was interesting. I'd previously assumed that Meiomi was a blend of the single vineyard Belle Glos wines. It's not. None of the fruit in Meiomi comes from Las Alturas, Clark & Telephone nor Taylor Lane. But it was showing so well. Bright, rich, and pure berry fruit. I love California Pinot Noir and after tasting a bunch of [outstanding] Cabernet Sauvignon this was a luscious return to comfort. 92/100 WWP: Outstanding

The Las Alturas is typically my favorite, so I was pleased to see them pouring the 2010 Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir. In line with prior vintages which so many of us have adored, it's got this distinctive slightly sweet spice note and tobacco leaf that blends beautifully with juicy fresh strawberry aromas and flavors. I thought this wine was outstanding as well, but to be honest I liked the Meiomi just as much. 92/100 WWP: Outstanding

A Family Winery

I was sitting next to Joe at the dinner so I got a chance to chat with him quite a bit. He's only 29 years old, but coming from a line of five generations of winemakers has clearly provided him with a wealth of knowledge he's putting to good work. He's got five (5!) kids of his own and, charmingly, stopped to take a picture to send home to his kids of a Lego man they'd sent with him with the audience in the background.

Belle Glos is named after Joe's 96 year old grandmother Lorna Belle Glos Wagner. Joe said she drinks "whatever she wants" but mostly Conundrum these days.

Joe's brother Charlie focuses on white wines for the family. They have two sisters who are increasingly getting into the business. Even though production levels have increased since their first publicly released vintage in 1972, it's still very much a family affair.

I asked him what other California Pinot Noir producers he'd recommend for folks who like the Belle Glos style. Three he mentioned included Pisoni, MacPhail, and Peter Michael Le Moulin Rouge. Check 'em out!

Cabernet Sauvignon

The main course was a Herb Rolled Char Grilled Prime Tenderloin with Bacon Tossed Marbled Potatoes, Baby Zuccini, and Spring Onions. Sorry, no picture. I must have enjoyed it before remembering to snap a photo!

It was served with two Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignons: 2005 and 2009. It was interesting to taste these wines from the earlier seminar again, from different bottles, and along with food. The 2009 settled down a bit when paired with food (I thought it was extremely fruit-forward at this point) and the 2005 was vibrant with the tenderloin. Gorgeous stuff.


A Warm Nectarine Crostata with Honey Strawberry Coulis and Honey Ice Cream was paired with a 2004 Mer Soleil Late Harvest Viognier. It was a delicious end to the evening.

Conclusions and Recommendations
If there's one thing the wines in the Wagner line-up represent, it's the intersection of delicious, approachable, high quality wines. Their entry level wines provide an affordable window into their style of winemaking and their more expensive bottlings are often rewarding purchases.

The Meiomi Pinot Noir is hard to beat south of $20. And the Mer Soleil SILVER Unoaked Chardonnay is one I'll seek out again. Combined with the always-delicious Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir, these are some of my favorites value plays in the market.

The Boston Harbor Hotel does a tremendous job with these wine dinners. Check out the Boston Wine Festival next year when it comes around again.

Disclosure: Attendance on a complimentary blogger pass.

Coming up next on the WWP: Trip reports on Littorai and Kosta Browne. I'd love it if you SUBSCRIBED to be informed of new posts.


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