Cameron Hughes Wine, Costco’s Best Bargain?

Tasting at Charles CommunicationsI had a chance to sit down with couple Bay Area Wine Bloggers last week, Alder of Vinography and John from Corkdork, and taste through some new releases from Cameron Hughes Wines. Cameron lead the tasting that was put on by Kimberly Charles of Charles Communications in San Francisco, and I must say, I was impressed. But before we talk about the wines, let me give you a little background information on this unique operation.

Cameron is what you would refer to as a Negociant Winemaker, that is, he doesn’t grow his own grapes, or have his owner winery. Instead, Cameron sources finished wine from a winery, puts it in bottle, puts his label on it, and takes it straight to Costco. This brilliant method slashes most distribution costs, since the standard “three tier” distribution method is cut out, and Costco doesn’t really mark up the wine. As Cameron puts it, wine doesn’t cost a lot to make, it costs a lot to market. So, the savings are passed on to the consumer, and the wines retail for around $10. But don’t let the price fool you, these are serious wines. The first wine that really stunned the market was the 2002 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 7, which Costco had a hard time keeping in stock after word spread between friends, family, and on wine forums.

So how does he get his hands on this stellar wine? Many times a winery will have a few lots that don’t fit their needs, so that finished wine is sold to large producers as a “silver bullet” to be blended with mediocre wine to help kick quality up a notch. Instead of blending this wine away, Cameron has struck a deal to purchase this finished juice and sell it under his label. How does the wine remain consistent if it’s being made by different winemakers? He trusts his palate, and uses only lots consistent with his taste buds and vision. This has enabled Cameron Hughes to offer wines from all over California, with new offerings due out soon from all over the world. (The boat from Stellenbosch is already en route.)

Cameron Hughes

The following are my notes from the portfolio tasting I attended on July 28, 2006. Some of these wines have not yet been released, or are already sold out.

Cameron Hughes 2003 Petite Sirah Lot 11 Paso Robles $10
This blend of 95% Petite Sirah, 5% Zinfandel has a beautiful aroma of cedar, plum, and fig with a medium bodied mouthfeel full of blackberry and spice, accentuated by a nice round finish. A very nice wine. 3,000 Cases produced (Sold Out). 88pts JAT

Cameron Hughes 2003 Syrah Lot 12 Sonoma Mountain $10
Update: Tasted last night. This is an amazing Syrah, and definitely shows the consistency of Cameron’s palate. This Ruby Red wine screams blackberries and vanilla with a touch of oak on the nose. The round, juicy mouthfeel complements the velvety tannins that fill your mouth but don’t overwhelm. This wine carries a long, complete finish and definitely gets the big “V” stamp for Value. 92 pts JAT

Cameron Hughes 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 13 Dry Creek / Napa Valley $10
This bottle of 80% Dry Creek Cabernet receives some softening with the addition of merlot (20%) from Napa. This wine has a fleshy berry and light oak taste with chewy tannins that will definitely develop in bottle. If you are going to open this one soon, let it decant for at least an hour. 2,400 Cases produced (Sold Out) 88pts JAT

Cameron Hughes 2003 Merlot Lot 14 Napa Valley $10
If unpopularity has kept you from buying Merlot, that’s great, more of this wine for me. This is a great effort with 66% of the fruit coming from Rutherford, the other 24% from Pope Valley. This bottle gets a hint of Cabernet Franc (5%) to firm it up a little, but it is still very succulent and sexy. A simple aroma that doesn’t overwhelm, this wine carries hints of Cherries, Blackberries, and Cocoa on the palate and offers a balanced finish with soft tannins. This wine is drinking great now, but I recommend decanting it for an hour or so. 3,700 Cases produced. (Just Released!) 90 pts JAT

Cameron Hughes 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 15 Rutherford $13
This amazing blend of 66% Rutherford fruit, 18% Pope Valley, 16% Oakville screams of Cherries, Raspberries and Chocolate on the nose. In the mouth, a light mineralty and toasty oak appear, interwoven with hints of Cassis and Blackberries. The wine is fleshy and ripe, with a great mouthfeel and finish. 2200 Cases Made. 92pts JAT (Get this one before it sells out, just released!)

Cameron Hughes 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 16 Stags Leap District $14
A great wine from Stags Leap for Under $15? You betcha! Put down that bottle of Sleeping Dove, this is the alter eagle! Although this wine is very young, and still developing in bottle, the aroma throws pepper and stone fruit hints at you, with lots of Blackberry/ Cherry character caressing your tongue. Amazingly, this wine offers a silky finish without a tannin in sight. Obviously, this wine is meant to be enjoyed young, but could easily benefit from 2-5 years in bottle. 5,000 cases produced. (Just Released!) 90pts JAT

Cameron Hughes 2004 Barbera Lot 17 Sierra Foothills $9
This Sierra Foothills site is doing a nice job with Barbera, somewhat of a lesser appreciated varietal in California. This dark wine offers notes of crushed rock (thanks for that descriptor Parker…), a nice mineral and dark fruit flavor on the palate, and comes together with a medium bodied mouthfeel and finish. This wine comes across as very food friendly, but has enough finesse to be enjoyed on it’s own. My notes might be off, but I believe production is only around 600 cases, so give your local Costco a call to see if they have this one. (Just Released!) 88pts JAT

A big thanks to Kimberly, Lauren, Cameron, and Alder for putting this thing together, as you can see, the wines were to my liking. I tasted additional wines that day from Epiphany Cellars, Fess Parker Winery, Fortress Vineyards, and Havens Wine Cellars, with notes on those to come, so stay tuned.
Would you like help finding any of this wine? Email me here, or visit and get on the mailing list.

Two Weeks No Wine?

CnDPCould you do it? Why would you do it? Are there any benefits?
Well, I just did it, and allow me to answer those questions.

  1. Could you do it? Yes, but I must say, on some of the hot days, I really wanted a nice Sauvignon Blanc. Actually, I cut out all alcohol, which also left me craving a nice margarita. Although a bit of a difficult task, avoiding alcohol can be done, and becomes easier as time goes on.
  2. Why would you do it? I had a personal reason for not drinking, but I can see a couple other reasons for people to try it. Giving your liver a break, trying to lose weight, or rebuilding your appreciation for alcohol are all good reasons to take a brief hiatus.
  3. Are there any benefits? Yes. I lost about 6 lbs., heightened my sense of smell, and lowered my tolerance (I’m a cheap date again!). I am also more aware of flavors and textures in wine, and have found it easier to make distinctions between them.

So hopefully that explains my time off from the blog. I am enjoying wine again, but I have cut out most drinking during the week. Sometimes it’s good to mix things up.

How much would you pay to taste these wines?

  1. Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 2002
  2. Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley IX Estate 2003
  3. Robert Foley Claret Napa Valley 2003
  4. Gemstone Yountville 2002
  5. Harlan Estate Napa Valley 2003
  6. Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard 2003
  7. Merus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003
  8. Schrader Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard 2003
  9. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2002
  10. Sloan Rutherford 2001

On Friday, October 20, 2006 you can have the chance to, and for only $1,775.00 USD. An added bonus for paying the entry fee to the California Wine Experience is access to the rest of the 3 Day venue, from October 19 – 21, where you will taste food prepared by Mario Batali, Emeril, Wolfgang, and Charlie Trotter, and wine from renowned regions throughout the world. The California Wine Experience, which is put on by Wine Spectator, is held this year at the San Francisco Marriott. The program looks pretty amazing, and you still have time to sign up.

Does anyone want to sponsor winexpression? ;)
Visit the event page here.

WBW #23 Round-Up Posted

Wine Blogging Wednesday LogoA great theme leading us into these warm summer days, Joel of Vivi’s Wine Journal has posted the 23rd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, BBQ Wines, and in good time too. So, if you’re open minded to drinking port or box wine, need a pairing suggestion, or are just curious about what other people are grilling this summer, check out the round-up here.

WBW#23 – 2005 Herb Lamb Vineyards EII White Wine

2005 EII White WineIf you haven’t already noticed, Herb Lamb Vineyards is one of my favorite wineries from Napa Valley. This year was exciting because Jennifer and Herb came upon some Sauvignon Blanc, and under the talented hand of David DeSante released the EII White Wine under the 2005 vintage. In a word, this wine is breathtaking. Not overdone, the wine shows a definite balance of flavors from Sauvignon Blancs around the world. Tropical and stone fruit from New Zealand, minerailty from Bordeaux, zesty fruit and hints of Lemon grass from Napa; this wine has it all. You might be offered this wine if you signed up on the waiting list recently, but at only 200 cases produced, it’s going quick.

I chose this wine for Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Joel from Vivi’s Wine Journal, where the challenge this month was to pair wine with the Bar-B-Que, and this white pretty much works with a lot of things you’d throw on the grill. I had this with a lemon and honey marinated chicken breast that we grilled, then tossed in between a focaccia roll. It was delightful.

Wine: 2005 Herb Lamb Vineyards EII White Wine
Varietal: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Alcohol: 13.2%
Score: 96 pts
Price: $24

Side-note: Between my job change (I’m now an Independent Contractor), celebrating my Anniversary, and just being busy, I haven’t had to much time to post lately. (I even missed WBW last month, the first one I’ve missed since I started with WBW #10, because I didn’t have time to search for a low Alcohol wine. Little did I know, most people cheated and had higher ABV levels than recommended, which I could have done at 12.7%.) As I have read on other sites though, trying to post everyday is an early web 2.0 philosophy. At this point, well established blogs have people that aggregate their content, via email or feed, and the blog will continue to retain readers if the content remains high in quality. Hopefully that is the case at Winexpression, but on the same token, I will try to post more often than I have been.


Macbook BoxP.S.S. There’s a new member in the family! (isn’t it ironic that after I bought a superfast blogging, podcasting, do-anything-out-of-the-box computer that my posts became infrequent?)

VinoVenue: Wine Bar For The Next Generation?

VinoVenue Tasting Room PhotoMary Lynn Slattery was in the right place at the right time. Halfway around the world, a revolutionary new way to taste wine was being developed: the automated self-serve tasting room. Mary Lynn saw it’s potential for the thirsty U.S. market and VinoVenue was born in San Francisco, CA. Now after nearly 2 years, the thriving business has a list of 500 people interested in franchising, and the store is doing great. As of late, the tasting room has received quite a few imitators, but experience and initiative has kept them on top.

On a recent trip to the city, I had the opportunity to cash in on an anniversary gift and experience VinoVenue with a $40 gift card. (The money went quick, but I think it was spending someone else’s money syndrome.). Here’s how it works:

  1. At the front desk, exchange funds for a encoded card
  2. Insert the card in a number of kiosks
  3. The price of each wine it easily read above each bottle.
  4. Place your glass beneath the metal spout, push the button, and get your 1 oz. squirt
  5. Your card automatically reflects the difference and displays the remaining balance.
  6. Repeat

2003 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon at Vino VenueThe wines are diverse, and change regularly. One of my favorites was the 2003 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon, and at 12.50 per 1 oz. pour, it was one of the more expensive wines, but where else would you be able to try such a hard to find bottle like this? Most of the wines tasted are available for purchase, unfortunately, the hourglass was not.

You can purchase the minimum $10 card and actually get a lot out of it, as there are a bunch of wines around $1 a taste. If there’s a wine that’s more expensive than the amount left on your card, the system simply gives you the corresponding lessor amount of wine.

The wine bar is conveniently located on 3rd and Mission near the SFMoma and the Metreon. Experimenting is the name of the game, whether with varietal, producer, or region. However, I found myself gravitating toward varietals and regions that I was already familiar with. I think we naturally find comfort zones, and at a place like this, you have to tell yourself to branch out, which becomes easier the longer you’re there. Just don’t be surprised if you have to add funds to your card.

686 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA

(Note: Save the phone number. Katie and I arrived after the opening time of 2 PM to find the place still locked up. 20 minutes later I decided to call and Mary Lynn finally opened the door. She’s a busy gal.)