Friday, February 14, 2014

Cameron Hughes Lot 500 Napa Cab

Cameron Hughes Lot 500 Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Ironically, someone asked me just the other day if I knew of Cameron Hughes and I replied I did not. Then, just a few days later I discovered this wine and his brand. Cameron Hughes is another California based negociant, a broker who buys product from producers to remarket under its own private label. The wine may be excess inventory or may not meet the standards set by the producer to market under their own label, hence they'll release it for others to market under a different label so as not to diminish their brand. Naturally such agreements are done under confidentiality. In those circumstances the negociant will hint or tease about the source of such wines.

In this case the tag-line is, "An exceptional Cabernet from one of Napa's first 100-point producers," leaving one to conjecture whom the source might be. Of course the benefit to the marketplace is 'liquidity', no pun intended - the producer can monetize his otherwise un-marketable product (under their own label), although they could also release it in bulk for blending with other wines to be sold as a non-specified wine in another brand or label, or as part of a blend. Most larger producers have multiple labels to classify and sell product at the appropriate applicable price point, but boutique producer's don't have that capability, hence this market. The broker is able to fill a need in the marketplace and can build a meaningful business, and the consumer can get a quality, otherwise expensive label at a fraction of the price, if they're willing to forego the cache of the label brand. Often these releases offer extraordinary value. The challenge is that such releases are one-time opportunities that are short-lived and in limited quantity. And of course caveat emptor, buyer beware.

I wrote more extensively recently in this blog about this practice and another negociant broker, Ninety-Plus Cellars who has come on the scene in a big way with wide distribution of a large number of offers. Our discovery of their recent release of Lot 101 of their Columbia Valley Syrah was an extraordinary find.

Hence I took notice upon reading about this release. Their promotion says, "Lot 500 is our most important Cabernet release of 2013. It's our Centennial Lot that represents what we do best - source amazing wines and sell them at fantastic prices. Lot 500 was born in Oakville from the same vineyard that was one of the first Napa estates to receive a 100-point score from Robert Parker."

SavWay Fine Wine & Spirits in tony Hinsdale (near west suburb of Chicago) were promoting this as Groth product, extrapolating the teaser hint about the 100 point Parker producer. Indeed, the Groth 1985 Reserve Cabernet was the first California wine to be so annointed. Whether this is Groth or not, history shows there have been about forty such wines from but about a dozen and a half producers, a fraternity of the most exclusive producers of the most extraordinary wines. In any case, none of their releases would be found at or even near this pricepoint. Hence, even though this might be a shadow of the flagship or namesake label if released under its own brand, its a quality and distinctive wine at a good value offering a high QPR (quality price ratio). 

I almost don't want to release this before I go back and buy more before it is gone.

The negotiant's notes say "Dark black core with kiss of magenta at the rim. The youthful aromatics open up with dusty loam and blackberry fruit that give way to a very compelling and very pure blueberry essence. Hints of plum and rose petal shimmer in the background. The purity of expression at this stage is very exciting (the wine was bottled in late August 2013, so it’s just now emerging from bottle shock). Silky smooth, delivering highly polished textures across the palate, with bands of black currant and plum swirling about a densely packed mid-palate. Excellent length and depth, but the ultimate expression here is one of silky complexity, beautiful proportion, and balanced elegance. Classy juice."

I found this wine extremely vibrant and expressive, initially hot from alcohol - it needs to be decanted and left for an hour to open and settle to reveal its true nature and potential. Lively forward boysenberry and currant give way to a layer of caramel and hints of vanilla mocha on the long sinewy silky smooth gripping tannin finish.

RM 91 points.