Monday, June 16, 2014

Tasting Caymus Vineyards 40th Anniversary Napa Valley Cabernet

This past Saturday I was invited to take part in a virtual tasting of Caymus' 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon. Proprietor Chuck Wagner hosted a webcast with his sons and daughter, who are also involved in the family business, making other labels like Belle Glos, Mer Soleil, and Emmolo. Total Wine stores around the country held special tastings too, where their customers could sample Caymus portfolio and ask questions to the Wagners. Since there is no Total Wine around me, I was sent a bottle of cabernet and some background information along with an invite to participate in a brief live tasting.

Caymus was of interest to me because I had sold this wine in retail since the 1997 vintage, up through 2007, and always knew it had a popular customer base. I even recall having a 1999 Caymus one year at Christmas - a gift from my then-boss - and absolutely loving it. Priced at around $55-60, it isn't a wine I purchase for my own consumption so when the chance to re-visit this iconic producer came up, I was looking forward  to seeing how consistent their style has stayed over the past 15 years.

Chuck Wagner gave a brief introduction to his cabernet and how they produce it, along with giving us some of his views on winemaking, vine age, and stylistic choice. It was interesting to hear him say he doesn't believe that older vines make better cabernet, replanting every 15 years, or that great Napa cabernet doesn't have a lot of acidity. He also discussed tannin management and how he likes very, very soft tannins in his wines. This too struck me as odd but obviously for the Caymus wines, it works. Just check their sales numbers!

2012 Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley:
The nose is massively ripe, with notes of blackberry and cassis jam. This holds true to what I remember about Caymus cabernets. Additional notes of cocoa dust, alcohol, and pipe tobacco come out with air. On the palate it's pure sweet, rich, black fruit. A true hedonists cabernet sauvignon. Notes of tobacco and anise come through with some swirling, as well as a sweetness that I suspect comes from a bit of residual sugar. This is like a smooth-riding Cadillac across your palate. It glides through, so cushioned and soft, till the finish. I kept re-tasting the wine to figure out what was going on, but the finish has some sort of burnt quality to it, like burnt wood or burnt sugar. I suspect this comes from American Oak barrels but am not quite sure. Given a few more months, I suspect that burnt quality will settle out. 14.6 abv. $55 SRP.

So there you have it, I re-visited this massive, hedonistic wine. It's a wine I could see Robert Parker giving a high score to, and it's easy to understand why this is so popular with steakhouses. For me, a bone-in New York Strip, medium rare, and a glass of this cabernet would certainly be a fun pairing. I think the meat would help add structure to the wine, whereas the wine's ripe fruit would act as a foil to charred, meaty flavors. That said, after one glass my palate would be screaming at me for something with acidity and structure.

Buy this wine if you love hugely ripe, opulent cabernets. It'll wow you with the ripe fruit and soft, smooth structure.

If you're like me and love high acidity, tart fruit, and loads of minerality, stay away. This is not the wine for you.

Visit the Caymus website here and the Wagner Family of Wine website here.

This was a sample for tasting purposes.

Beau Carufel


  1. There *is* a Total Wine somewhat near you. You just have to be willing to drive to Vancouver/Vantucky/that place across the river (whatever you want to call it). ;) I was at the in-store tasting & webcast and it was awesome. After it was all done, they also had two bonus pours for us (one was another California cab and the other was a Super Tuscan) as well.

    1. You're right, there is one out that way, but it's quite a drive for me AND I have several Portland wine shops that I would prefer to give my business to. :)

  2. Beau, nice job with a fair assessment to whom Caymus would appeal. We served Caymus as well as a variety of other California Cabs with nice rare steak last fall with our wine dinner group. The Caymus stood out as so sweet and ripe, most in our group thought it didn't really go very well with the steak. Maybe with some kind of chocolately dessert?

    1. I think that maybe a chocolatey dessert would be the best, or maybe an after dinner cigar. The fruit is so ripe and intense that it's reminiscent of young Port wine.

  3. As a wine enthusiast, my travels have taken me to a wide variety of vineyards and wine areas of France and Italy, and of course to the wonderful gardens of the wineries and surrounding places. Such spectacular fountains, planters and statuary! Citrus and olive trees in beautiful planters, stone statuary in the midst of bubbling fountains, elaborate terra cotta creations…. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I walked into Authentic Provence in West Palm Beach, Florida. In a beautiful environment of running water and good smells, the owners have sourced one of the finest collections of European garden antiques that I have seen in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, etc. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. They are available online at, and can arrange shipping anywhere in the US. Well worth a visit!