Ripe nose with aromas of violets, bright red cherries, and plummy earth. The palate delivers with sweet raspberries and currants, followed by pencil lead (flint) smoky notes. This is a more laser-focused style versus the fleshier, rounder Lot 34, with more high-toned fruit. Long finish fleshes out nicely, lingering for a good 30 seconds and suggesting there's a lot more to come. Again, like Lots 34 and 35, this wine is very young and just beginning to "talk."
2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 36 - $14 - Well, this is the last Lot of the three we bought from Cameron Hughes Wine. Rutherford Cabernet is usually big and bold, with a more pronounced earthy flavor, commonly referred to Rutherford Dust. The wine is young, which can manifest itself in many ways like too big in the mouth, too oaky or astringent or with too much concentrated flavor on the front palate, and not very balanced or long in the flavor. This wine came out flat. Not a lot of nose, not a lot of mouthfeel. It was a little too sweet with not enough depth of character. We will leave it alone in the cellar awhile and see if it gets better. I have other wines in the cellar that are more approachable right now.
CAMERON HUGHES NEWS
Fans of Cameron Hughes wines know that many of them offer extremely good value. Hughes buys small lots of high-end wine that the wineries aren't using, blends them, bottles them and labels each with a lot number. The wines are sold through the company's Web site, www.chwine.com, and at Costco. Three new Napa Valley cabernets are either at Costco stores already or will show up in the next few weeks. All are $14 through the Web site (and available now) but will sell for about $12 at Costco.
The 2005 Lot 34 Cabernet Sauvignon is from Rutherford. It was my favorite of the three, offering dark cherry and black currant flavors, accented by notes of olive and sage.
The 2005 Lot 35, from Yountville, is a medium-weight wine with black cherry fruit and some savory nuances. The 2005 Lot 36 returns to Rutherford; it displays plump black cherry, a slight herbal note and good balance. All are great values.
The Cameron Hughes wines tend to sell out quickly at Costco, but they're available longer on the Web site. To sign up for e-mail notifications about Costco availability, go to www.chwine.com.
Five questions with Cameron Hughes of Cameron Hughes Wine
If youâre into wine, Cameron Hughes is a name that will most likely be well known to you at this point. For the uninitiated, Cameron Hughes is what is known in the industry as a wine negociant, only with a twist.
Cameron Hughes focuses on buying small available âlotsâ of premium wine, doing a bit of blending and then selling the wine directly to his retailers. What does this mean for the consumer? Premium wines without the traditional premium price tag.
We tracked down Mr. Cameron Hughes himself and asked him a few questionsâread on to learn more about his companyâs business model, the upcoming release of Lot 33, a Spring Mountain Cabernet, the companyâs plans to add more chains to its distribution model and moreâ¦
Some people paint by numbers. Cameron Hughes wants you to drink wine by numbers. The concept is simple: Hughes tracks small lots of super- and ultra-premium wine in bulk to blend and bottle under his label. The result is a wine that tastes much more expensive than its price tag. And it gives neophyte wine drinkers an affordable shot at top-notch wine.
Cameron Hughes Wine will soon have a much stronger presence in Florida. Beginning July 20, CHWine will be available in 16 Costco locations around the state, including Orlando (NW), South Orlando, East Orlando (Winterpark), and Altamonte Springs.
The industry term for merchants such as Hughes and their businesses is wine negociant. Negociants have been around for a long time, first as middlemen who sold or shipped wine as wholesalers. The definition of the profession expanded as negociants became more involved with various aspects of getting wine into bottles. (In France, some of the better-known negociants are Barton & Guestier, Calvet, Cordier, Moueix and Sichel, according to Wine Lover's Companion.)
Hughes' lot system sets him apart.
"All the component wines that make up a lot have been blended together in one tank and bottled under that lot number. When the lot is gone, it's gone," the California entrepreneur explains. "Other negociants bottle different wines under the same label, so quality can be inconsistent."
Hughes' lots sell out quickly. So quickly, in fact, that fans subscribe to e-mail alerts that tell when a new lot will be sold at www.chwine.com.
"People can be so intimidated by wine. I wanted to create great wines at great prices," says Hughes. "I'm helping people make good choices and enjoy good wines."
In July, Costco receieved three lots, Lot 26 (an 06 SB from New Zealand, price $9), Lot 35 ('05 Yountville Cab, price $12 ), and Lot 36 ('05 Rutherford Cab, price $12).
Cameron's favorite lot so far?
"That's hard. They are all great quality. But I've never forgotten Lot 7," he says of the 2002 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. "It's the closest to my heart. That wine was over the top."
So what happens when the lot numbers reach, say, 99?
"I have no idea," Hughes says with a laugh. "Maybe we'll keep going."
I don't know where I first heard about the Cameron Hughes Wine, but it was probably in one of the discussion groups listed below. I remember looking for some of the hard-to-find, wine club only wines that are frequently mentioned in the discussion boards. I heard good things about Cameron Hughes wines and saw that their price was very low compared to many of the wineries that sell their wines by subscription. There was a story here, and I couldn't make it out initially. Until I saw their website. http://www.chwine.com/.
Cameron Hughes Wines is not a winery. They own no property planted with rows of verdant vines along dusty trails or mountain ranges. They own no crush facilities or fermentation plant. They work out of an office and on the road sourcing grapes from vineyard owners. Cameron Hughes Wines is a phantom producer of wines. They make their wines at facilities all across the world, from the US to Austrailia to New Zealand and they use the facilities of the places that grow the grapes, and they cut out the middleman and the distributor. If you want an education on how the cost of wine increases as every level in the process of production comes in touch with the product, see the Cameron Hughes website.
Anyway, they obtain the surplus grapes from many super-premium wineries and blend them at the sites to come up with wine that they feel is superior quality at a low price. I've had just one bottle so far, after buying a case of mixed lots. The bottle was VERY young, almost too young to drink. It needed several hours to settle and let the flavor of the wine come forward. As the bottle went on, it was getting better and better. All for $14. They claim that the grapes that go into the bottle of wine come from a vineyard that sells their wine from $60/bottle and up. That's a good QPR for me!
Here's the funny part of the story......Cameron Hughes does not only sell their wines online. They do have a distribution channel: COSTCO. Yep, big box Costco, with their 10-14% markups are a perfect combination with the discount producer of super-premium wines! If you are reading this from a state that allows wine sales in Costco, run out and get a case of Lot 35 or 36 Cabernets.
The Cameron Hughes story is just one of the many ways to introduce you all to wines you might never have heard of. You have to be a little adventurous to buy wines you've never tasted, but at $10-20 max. prices......its worth the chance.
On the U.S. wine scene, Cameron Hughes has a pretty unique operation. Basically, he buys lots of wine from producers (now around the world, including France, Australia and Germany) and sells them under his own label. No vineyards, no grapes, no winery. These lots may not have fit into a producerâs blend, were excess production for a small producer, or the producer was willing to sell them to Hughes for some other reason. A lot of the Cameron Hughes wines are sold through Costco, particularly in California, but his distribution is expanding, and he sells directly to consumers in states that allow shipment. Iâd been intrigued by the model, and, frankly, the prices, and took advantage of a free shipping offer around the holidays to test drive a set of four wines.
2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 41 McClaren Vale Shiraz ($12)
Now, Iâll admit to not having a lot of experience with Australian wine, at least recently. I think the last vintage I bought more than a single bottle here or there was 1996, and most of what Iâve bought recently was Riesling from Grosset, but Cameron Hughes had two bottlings that sounded interesting (the man does have a gift for wine sales prose at the very least), so I bit.
This was a much bigger wine than I usually drink, but it certainly wasnât over the top. Virtually black in the glass with a big berry nose. The fruit backs off with some air, and there are some nice Syrah elements - a bit of gaminess and some herbal notes, but the rich dark fruit is the star here. Thereâs enough acidity to balance and this has oodles more class than most wines in this price category. Screwcap closure to boot.
1998 Cameron Hughes Lot 28, Carneros Sparkling Wine ($21)
This bottle was drinking really well on New Yearâs Eve. A bit fuller gold than a lot of sparkling wine, but we are dealing with a ten year old wine. There is a richness to the fruit that certainly speaks to California, but there is enough acidity to keep it balanced. The only real sign of its age is the somewhat reticent carbonation. Certainly hangs with most California upmarket bubbly, and was quickly, and appreciatively drained by me and my in-laws.
2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 36 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford ($14)
Well, as a lover of Loire reds and general detractor of Napa Cab, I gave this one a shot despite numerous comments on CellarTracker about it being on the green/vegetal side of things. I ended up liking it quite a bit.
Thereâs plenty of fruit for me, and while there is an herbaceous element, my bottle had no green pepper or vegetal elements. It definitely filled out over the course of an hour, but there are very substantial tannins here. Iâll either give my other bottle quite a bit of time in hopes that they settle down (though Iâm not confident there is enough fruit to outlive the tannins), or pair this with some grilled lamb, where the fat will counter the tannins, and the herbaceous flavor will match nicely with the gaminess of the meat.
2005 Cameron Hughes Lot 40 McClaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
This was probably (and surprising to me) my pick of the four wines, just edging the sparkling wine. Again, it was a bit on the large size compared to what I usually drink, but it was quite well-balanced with good varietal characteristics. There was good, but not forced, concentration, with enough acidity to keep this food-friendly (well, to the limited extent a big Cabernet Sauvignon can be food-friendly). There was a touch of creaminess to the palate that I always find somewhat disturbing, but that element was gone on day 2, leaving quite a nice bottle. Screwcap.
Overall, I was quite happy with the price/quality ratio here. Unfortunately, Mr. Hughes doesnât release a lot of wines that are to my palate preference, but Iâll be inclined to order those that do. I was also relieved to find a high degree of accuracy to his descriptions. One always wonders with these interested-party descriptions how much is an attempt at honest description versus puffery, but, at least for my palate and the bottles I sampled, Mr. Hughesâ came quite close to the mark.