négociant of which many of you may already be highly familiar with, and that is none other than a company who is quickly becoming Wine World icon, Cameron Hughes Wine.
I was also introduced to a new and novel approach in sending samples to wine bloggers like myself, that company is called TastingRoom.com and one possibly you may have not heard of before, but definitely one to pay attention to as this Tiny Bottle concept could be catching on, however that review will have to wait for another day.
About the Twitter Taste Live and video conference portion of the event, I and most everyone else [including the San Diego Wine Mafia] thought the speed of the tasting portion was "too-fast" it was more like a speed dating event than a wine tasting webinar. The pace of the event reminded me of the Wine Bloggers conferences where speed tasting is the norm. Other than flying through the wines too fast it was a win for the strength of social media and a win for CH and Tasting Room dot com, who will most likely get some nice exposure from this event, that they wouldn't have otherwise.
Tiny Bottles: Each of the bottles you see above is only 50ml, which is about 1.25 ounces or so.Not really enough in my opinion to render an accurate review of the wine [sometimes you have to work with what you have]. These were the samples sizes sent for this tasting. According to TastingRoom.com wines are transferred directly from finished bottles within a sealed, zero-oxygen chamber and tested [wouldn't you like to have this job] to ensure the quality prior to shipping in its new smaller [tiny] bottle.
Word on the Street: Incidentally from what I've heard from testimonial of hard core wine travelers, these "tiny" bottle are small enough to get through airport security without any hassles, if you'd like to consume it on-board I've heard but have not confirmed that a flight attendant must open and pour it for you or you'll be sternly scolded, by someone grumpy and charged a corkage fee.
About CH: Just a bit of info I was able glean from their website and couple videos on CH wines is that they started back before 9/11 as a traditional wine wholesaler when selling wine with big mark-ups was easy and ongoing. After 9/11, the economy took a lot of time to recover and they CH found themselves facing financial collapse. So after some hard [what-to-do-now] discussions between the owners, they embarked on a new business plan, they would replace a real inventory with a virtual one and would outsource just about everything else they were doing. They would get tank samples from various producers and take them to prospective buyers, who if they liked it enough, would sell them high end juice for pennies on the dollar labeled with the CH logo and thus the Lot series was born. As one of the conditions for obtaining these great values, the producer in many cases had to remain anonymous. Their success model simply stated is; reinvention is the key. CH had to get "real" and revise their business model or go under. They chose to change and realized it really "doesn't cost much to make good wine".
First: I want to preface my review here with a frank admission that I haven't really had much experience or exposure with CH wines, at least none that were too memorable and frankly I "scoffed" at their concept as a bunch of "pie in the sky' marketing, so I didn't take them too seriously. I looked down my nose at their wines and scoffed from afar, without a benefit of the doubt. That said, after I gave their wines a swirly, sniffy and Slurpee a-go in the snobbiest stemware available, overall I was pretty impressed with the caliber of their wines. I was hoping for a slightly broader selection of their wines, since they consider themselves a International négociant, however I came to one conclusion, CH is making some pretty good juice for pennies on the dollar. Please don't take what I said here, as a blanket endorsement of their wines, instead as a general guideline that CH is making some pretty good juice at great prices, considering where some of the grapes are sourced and the growers who provide them with juice they bottle under the CH label.
All the wine except the one white wine were sourced from Napa and Sonoma fruit, the one white wines fruit was sourced from the Columbia Valley. So below you will find a few notes on each wine tasted, my recommendation, price, score and the place to buy a majority of Cameron Huges wines is at your local Costco or Sams Clubs.
CH 09 LOT 151: Riesling 70% and Chenin Blanc 30% from the Columbia Valley. Beautiful floral expressions in the nose, nice steely acidity, balancing the intensely fresh apples and citrus notes. A full in the mouth, cool character, perfect for summer time sipping. Yumtastic and selling for an incredible $10
89 points. Drink now and drink often
CH 08 LOT 176: Pinot Noir, Los Carneros a self proclaimed "100% New World Style" PN. This was one of my favorites of the day, a pronounced nose full of baking spices, on the palate a refreshing soft richness, a nice mouth-feel, where it really brings out the ripe plums and sweet strawberry jam nuances quite nicely. The finish was a bit fleeting toward the end. Still very good for $18 and 89 points.
CH 07 LOT 175: Merlot, Napa Valley from Havens Winery, a bit of stinky cheese in the nose immediately after it was poured, but later after that blew off it had some nice dark fruit and cedar aromas. On the palate, forest floor, plums, berries an a juicy earth flavor, the tannins should soften in a year to leave a fresh, fruitier wine overall that will great with food. Still good for $13 and I scored it 86 points. Decant!
CH 07 LOT 179: Cab. Sauv. 50% and Syrah 50%, Napa Valley from the famous Havens Black and Blue 07 bottling. This was very tight from the word go, like it was stuck in a straight jacket. Hard edged and with medium plus tannins, a pronounced nose of dark fruits, cedar and leather, which didn't translate to the palate. It did have some depth in leather and tobacco departments, but the fruit was too restrained. May need more bottle time and definitely decant, I scored this wine 86 points and it sells for $18.
CH 07 LOT 172: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec from Atlas Peak in Napa Valley. My initial impression of this wine had me thinking if only some Merlot had been blended in to soften this wines hard edges, it would have been that much better. That said, it's a big brooding wine, that needs to be decanted; as it's dry and tannic, the blackberry and currant notes are masked by the astringency, but still a well made wine. I scored this wine 87 points and it sells for $22.
CH 07 LOT 161: Meritage, containing 60% Cab Sauv., 30% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot and only 737 cases were produced. This was one of my favorites, a lovely pronounced nose of light floral perfume, blackberries and currant in the background, dancing around finally integrated notes of cedar. The mouth feel is comfortable and very approachable, ripe berry flavors and sweet tobacco dominate the lingering finish. This wine is selling for a screaming good deal at $16 and I scored this wine 91 points. Drink now and drink often!
Full Disclosure: Yep those tiny bottles you see in the photo above was sent as a sample case to particpate in the twitter taste live and submitted for the review process.
My Recommendation: Overall I had a very good experience with CH wines, I was impressed by the overall quality and drinkability of their wines and in my mind they represent a great value to the average wine drinker. Costco you were so smart to pick these folks up and run with it. Not sure if CH shopped their wines elsewhere and had folks balk at the opportunity, but I'm sure there's a story behind my suspicions. Until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers everyone!