Friday, May 1, 2015

Wagner Family Teams Up With Ruth Chris Steakhouse

The Wagner Family wine empire casts a long shadow, from the stunning flagship Caymus Cabernet, to their rich Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, to the confectionary Conundrum. It’s truly a family affair, led by Chuck Wagner, who helped his parents launch Caymus Cabernet’s first vintage in 1972. His son Charlie crafts the popular Mer Soleil Chardonnays, while Joe heads up Belle Glos, which produces a series of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs with a rich and dark-fruit-dominated style. Chuck’s daughter Jenny now oversees the family’s Emmolo label, which produces a bright and fresh Napa Sauvignon Blanc and a Merlot (which I’ve yet to taste).

You may well recognize the Wagner Family’s more popular, large-production wines, the Conundrum red and white blends and the sugary-sweet Meomi Pinot Noir. I’m not a big fan of these wines, although I recognize they have broad appeal and crowd-friendly style. But I was excited to taste through five Wagner Family wines at a tasting dinner yesterday sponsored by Ruth Chris Steakhouse. Part of a promotion to celebrate the restaurant chain’s 50th anniversary, the Wagner Family has teamed up to sponsor dozens of wine dinners across the country. Many of the dinners were held on April 30, but a few more coming up this weekend.

The food pairings were prepared and executed well, and they complemented the individual wines. The highlight of the dinner, the Caymus Special Selection Cabernet and the filet mignon, is, of course, a match made a hedonistic heaven.   

I took notes of the five wines tasted, which are posted below:

2013 Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
Aromas of lime, white peach, seashells and sea salt. Tangy and bright on the palate, this wine shows lime and lemon zest but backed up by guava and white peach, some honeysuckle. Still a refreshing wine, I appreciate the lightness on the palate. No greens here, just a bright, tangy, refreshing, citrus-focused Sauvignon Blanc. A bit lacking in complexity, but still high quality juice. (87 points)

2013 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
A deep golden color, with equally rich aromatics: honey butter, mango, spiced applesauce, bruised golden apples, just ripe and generous all around. Creamy and rich on the palate yet some refreshing and vibrant elements from the acid. White peach and golden apples and dusted with almond shells, peanuts, cinnamon, vanilla and toasted white bread. Lingering acid keeps the palate refreshed and the taster coming back for more. Stood up very well to a crab bisque. (88 points)

2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Dairyman - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Deep ruby-purple color. The nose shows tons of dark fruit (cherries, blackberries, plums), rich black cherry cola and sweet coffee. On the palate, this is big, bold and extracted with a Zinfandel-like chewy jam approach. Cola, mocha, sweet chocolate. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious, but it's very high octane and lacks freshness and vibrancy. My friend at the tasting dinner, upon first tasting this, leaned over to me and asked, genuinely: “Are you sure this is Pinot?” Tasted from magnum. Perhaps some time will help this unwind a bit, but I'm not so sure without much acid. (86 points)

2009 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection - California, Napa Valley
A rich and velvety Cabernet for sure. Deep purple color with thick, slow-draining legs. Dark currants, loam, cola, hints of smoke and pencil lead on the nose. Bold and ripe, velvety and well-integrated tannins, not much acid. Sweet blackberries, cassis and black cherries galore, the fruit is mixed in with elements of coffee, loam, cola and vanilla, a hint of menthol comes out with time. Chewy and bold but so silky with a finish of caramel sauce and toast (100% new oak). Doesn't seem to have the solid tannic structure for aging too many years past 2020 or so, but I'd like to try this again in three or four. This wine and filet with mushrooms, yeah, good stuff. (93 points)

2006 Mer Soleil Late - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
Deep golden-orange color. Honey, glazed pear, nutmeg and cinnamon on the nose. Full and rich on the palate, sweet, honeyed and lacking acidity. Dried apricots, baked apples, dried pears, candied apples, honey and caramel. All sweetness and rich flavors, which are delicious, but lacks complexity or freshness. Late harvest, botrytis Viognier. (85 points)

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