Brian Cain

Grape Variety vs. Terroir and the Winemaker's Hand: Rude Tasters March 2019

Brian Cain
Grape Variety vs. Terroir and the Winemaker's Hand: Rude Tasters March 2019

Grape Variety vs. Terroir and the Winemaker’s Hand: Rude Tasters March 2019


This is a theme that we used to offer with some frequency in the early days (1970’s and 1980’s) of Rude Tasters.  And, of course, varietal make up is always in play, but, until this week, it hasn’t been the focus for many years.   So, I put together two flights.   One flight consisted of French wines made from four different grape varieties grown in somewhat different terroir none of them from the same winery.   In France, it is typical that each region has a go to varietal for its AOC (Appellation of Origin) wines and very few producers have estates in more than one region.   In the second flight, I put together four wines all from the Wagner Family of California which included a wine made in the family style but made mostly from grapes in the Central Coast instead of Napa Valley.   To start things off, I opened a 2006 DuVal Leroy Cuvee Paris Champagne as a way to adjust our palates to the first flight of French table wines that followed.



2006 DuVal Leroy Cuvee Paris Champagne $40 This wine was well liked by all of the tasters.   It is one of my very favorite Champagnes, perhaps because I don’t drink a lot of Champagne so one which has huge flavor, big toasty roasted burnt butter subtleties and a fresh acidity that just makes the citrusy lean fruit sing, forces me to take notice and savor that moment.   A finer Champagne such as Dom Perignon with great class and elegance would likely go right over my head and past my palate before I know what to think.   So, the fact that both the winery and the trade generally consider Cuvee Paris more of an anomaly than a fine wine made only in powerfully fat vintages fits the taster who is looking for something impressive that gives a bigger bang.  Based on the general discussion in the room, I’m guessing this would have scored in the 90+ point range had it been rated.



2010 Goulee by Cos d’Estournel Medoc (80% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Merlot) 14.7% ABV, Bordeaux FRANCE $20  This is not an actual second wine from Cos d’Estournel. The grapes hail from a nearby property managed by the famous St. Estephe second growth.  My wife Alice picked it out while we were at Eastman Party Store in Midland based on a recommendation of the staff and the fact that it was a very reasonably priced Robert Parker 90 point Bordeaux. The fruit was black, dense and ripe with a very rich mouth feel and classy fresh finish to balance the power.  My score 93 points; group score 88 points, 7th place.

2009 Chateau Suirac Lalande de Pomerol (85% Merlot 20% Cabernet Franc) 15% ABV, Bordeaux FRANCE $30 This was my favorite of the evening with its compost, creosote-like nuance running thoughout the big cooked black fruit aroma and perfectly yummy balanced mouth feel.   For once, I think we caught this one at its absolute peak.  My score 96 points; group score 91 points, 4th place.

2013 Domaine Bart Marsannay “Les Finottes” (100% Pinot Noir) 15% ABV, Burgundy FRANCE $30 This is a pretty massive wine for a Pinot Noir.   Though I guessed it as such, the rich strawberry jam, dust, nuts, sour milk and compost fulfilled a very large complex plump ripe sensation one doesn’t normally associate with the northern most Burgundies of the Cotes d’Or.   In spite of its size, it is still very fine and classy.  My score 91 points; group score 89 points, 6th place.

2009 M Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage “Les Petite Ruche” (Syrah with a splash of Viognier) 13% ABV, Rhone FRANCE $35  Though very highly rated by the press, it was pretty disappointing by any standard.   I’ve had this wine many times in the past by itself and enjoyed it, but, in this setting, it just didn’t compare to the rest of the wines.   The nose seemed slightly flawed with a hint of band-aid box smell and although that seemed to air off, there was nothing really compelling in the lightish texture and soft somewhat transparent fruit.   My score 85 points; group score 85 points, 8th (last) place.



2012 Caymus Napa Valley 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon (14.6% ABV) California $100 This wine needs no introduction.   Universally acclaimed as the wine everyone wants to drink, I think we got it just right as far as age.   In a very pleasant way, this big black bruiser is both raisin-like and grapy fresh yet settled enough to show some depth of flavor and that very toasty smoky sweet oaky taste that has become the hallmark of Wagner Family house style.  It is a dandy wine, though, in my opinion not quite in the same league with the best of the first flight.  My score 91 points; group score 96 points, first place tie.

2013 Emmolo Napa Valley Merlot (15.1% ABV) California $55  As the quintessential fruit bomb it also shows cedar, pine, a bit of Napa dust and a rich rich mouth feel that is just flat out delicious.   Not surprisingly, it is a bit bigger and more muscular than the Cabernet in whose shadow it normally resides.   Though, I suppose there is nothing smart about spending $55 on a bottle of wine, one might call this the “smart money” Caymus.  My score 92 points; group score 96 points, first place tie.

2012 Beran Napa Valley Zinfandel (15.1% ABV) California $40  Here, I think the Napa Valley class and the Wagner Family house style clearly trumps grape variety.   I would not have picked this out as Zin had the other three wine not been so clearly not Zin.   Like the Cab and Merlot, it is big rich fat with loads of ripe red fruit, sweet oak, a hint of dust and a velvety yet persistently tannic finish.   Lovely wine.  My score 90 points; group score 93 points, third place.

2013 Meiomi Monterey/Santa Barbara/Sonoma Pinot Noir (13.8% ABV) California $20  Though this brand was sold to Constellation shortly after this wine was made, this 2013 vintage was still produced under the Wagner Family umbrella, and stylistically, it shows through loud and clear.   As a Pinot Noir, one would have to call it a monster.   This normally delicate varietal can be described as chewy, jammy and marmalade-like in the nose and entry while a nice fresh, slightly herbaceous acidic zing keeps it lively and compelling in the finish.  Not surprisingly, it was rated well into the 90’s by the press and became Americas most loved Pinot Noir.   My score 90 points, group score 90 points, 5th place.


If I understood the rumbling of opinion in the room, many of the tasters felt that all of the second flight tasted about the same with very few clues regarding varietal while each of the wines in the first group were distinct, yet not so obvious regarding their varietal make up.   The Wagner Family is often criticized for a certain “formula” or sameness to their wines, yet, as you can see by my notes and by the group scores, they are flat out delicious!   What’s not to like?


Enjoy in Good Health,

A Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner