Heavy Weight Wild West Showdown - A Pointless Booze Review
All wines are worth trying once, but only some are worth trying again, and again... which of these enormous reds will I recommend in the end?
An Introduction to Pointless Booze Reviews
I often encourage people to try and appreciate a wine for what it is, which is nearly impossible to do today. This is particularly challenging when you're new to the world of wine. You don't know what to buy, where to shop, or even how to describe what you are looking for. So you gravitate wines with familiar names, cool labels, positive reviews, and suddenly you find yourself enjoying wine, but stuck drinking the same few brands over and over again. Sadly, that's the end goal for a lot of commercial wine producers, to corner you into brand patriotism. But say you really want to get into wine, so you start reading reviews, editorials, you download all the wine apps... then you have the disturbance of wine critics, who can be helpful, but more often then not, fail to educate the consumer about anything useful to furthering their experience. Everything from point scores to advertising campaigns will influence a sale without ever explaining "why." So I've decided to put together the Pointless Booze Reviews segment on FoodTribe to compare and contrast wines with the sole objective of enlightening the consumer. Each review will have it's target audience (or palate), and will address a wine's style, region, and other factors that influence it's character. Quality is not determined by my own subjective preference in wine, but instead, the more objective Sommelier equation for quality: Complexity + Expressiveness + Balance + Length of Finish. I'm not here to rate wine 1 out of 100, I'm here to cut through the BS and pick out wines that have the potential of being YOUR new favorite, with cost in mind! It's time to change the image of wine from some pretentious alcohol with a 92 point score, to what it really is, a portal to a cultural, historical, gastronomical, and multi-climactic experience.
Who are these wines for?
I chose these two bottles because they are stylistically very similar -- big fat red wines with noticeable oak, built to pair with barbecued meats, baked pastas, and dishes with rich sauces or gravies. Apart from style, these wines share very few similarities. One is from a historically significant wine conglomerate, The Wagner Family, better know on this label as Caymus. The other winery, Ancient Peaks, is known for pioneering sustainable and organic farming in Paso Robles, and even has a stake in raising cattle for top quality beef. (No pun intended.) Both wines are what I would consider regionally significant for their influence on new viticultural endeavors in California, but only one will be endowed with the coveted "Angry Somm Recommendation."
2017 Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif Petite Sirah
This was one of the first straight Petite Sirah wines that hit the market as a serious competitor to Napa's famed Cabernet Sauvignon. The region is actually a dozen miles southeast of the Napa Valley AVA in Suisun Valley. Lying just below the Vaca Mountains in the north, and the Twin Sisters Range in the west, they are shielded from much of the cooling influence provided by the Pacific Ocean. Instead, they rely on the cooling breeze from the mountains to moderate temperatures. This makes it a prime growing area for grapes that require lots of heat and sun to ripen. Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Grenache are just a few of the many red grapes they grow throughout Suisun Valley. Whites are slightly less common, but you can find large plantings of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Colombard. Petite Sirah can handle the heat, and when planted in cooler soils like clay or loam, can make soft, jammy, dark wine. The plots with more schist and volcanic soil make for a more tannic, intense, and deeply colored wine. Caymus uses Petite Syrah from both sites to blend a more balance varietal wine. So has it worked?
Photo courtesy of FirstCrushWinery.com
In short, yes. I was expecting a far more dramatic and tannic wine, but it drank very easily without any time to breath. As it opened up I noticed more interesting black licorice and herbaceous notes on the nose, some vanilla from the use of new oak, and a very intense bramble and blackberry characteristic. There was a subtle pepperiness, but not much for the earthier notes. The nose seemed to have more going on than the palate, as if they held off on extracting more phenolics during the winemaking process. Knowing Caymus, the goal was to produce a crowd pleaser, but I feel like this traditionally loud grape could have made a more interesting wine if they didn't have the masses in mind. At over 15% alcohol, this wine is as big as they come, but not as complexed as I expected at $50-$75 a bottle. I've seen it on restaurant wine lists for as much $300 a bottle, and that just doesn't make sense to me. The finish was nice and smooth and lingered for quite some time, but I presumed it may have been due to the residual sugar and aromatics attributed by the oak. I started to struggle with the unbalanced jamminess and cloying texture of the wine. It wasn't offensive, but it lacked some key components needed to balance out such a rich and fruity wine. Just a bit more acidity and less adulteration in the winemaking process, and I think they could have made a real treat, but I find this to be an obstacle for me when drinking Wagner Family wines. They taste a bit homogenous, they have a perceivable sweetness, and are usually made to be so smooth, they lack expressiveness.
It's something I would recommend to people who want to try a big bold Petite Sirah, but are usually more sensitive to heavily structured wines. Smaller producers will embrace the wildly spicy aromas and gravelly flavors of Petite Sirah, but Caymus has molded this one into something a bit less daring. With that said, sometimes people just want a jammy, easy drinking, monstrous red without the monstrous personality, and that's what the Wagner's have done here.
2017 Ancient Peaks Renegade Red Blend
Confined in the Central Coast, Paso Robles has been an ideal region for making rich Rhône style blends, jaw breaking Zinfandel, and a plethora of other New World masterpieces. The furtherest southern American Viticultural Area (AVA) within Paso Robles is a great big single vineyard called the Santa Margarita Ranch, and it's owned by Ancient Peaks Winery! You might assume it's going to be as hot as the rest of the Paso Robles, but it's actually the coolest sub-region due to an opening in the Southern Coastal Mountain Ranges just west of Paso Robles. This allows precious cool air from the Pacific to slow the growing season, help retain acidity in the grapes, and allows them to methodically ripen to perfection. In addition to there ideal climate, vines are only planted on the most ideal sites, ranging in soil types from volcanic, to gravel, to granite, and even ancient calcareous sea bed. Because of the diverse soil types, Ancient Peaks has purposefully cultivated a large variety of grapes, all with a specific objective in the Renegade blend. So what is this 5-piece red blend like?
Examples of Ancient Peaks 5 different soil types. Photo: AncientPeaks.com - edited by The Angry Somm
The color was more ruby, and a little less intense than the Grand Durif, but it coated the glass just as well. Aromatically it was full of red and black berry, violet, dust, and some pleasant baking spices from the use of both French and American oak. Being over 1/3 Syrah, you initially get these dark berry and gamey meat flavors. (Think lamb with blackberry compote.) The 24% dollop of Malbec softens tannins, provides floral aromas, and offers some nice plumy notes. Petite Verdot is undoubtedly there for structure, color, and gives the wine stability. Zinfandel adds some pepperiness and red-fruit flavors, while a mere 10% splash of Petite Sirah is definitely doing something structural, maybe... probably. The culmination is an intensely flavorful, buff red wine that you can get between $18 and $30. That's surprisingly inexpensive for the attention to detail Ancient Peaks proudly boast. Being the developers and founders of California's Sustainability In Practice certification (SIP cert), they should be allowed to brag a little about their business practices.
I can confidently recommend this wine to anyone looking for a tasty, signature example of a purpose built Californian red blend. It's still a soft and fruity for my personal taste, but it's complexed enough for me to find other interesting things to enjoy. Some busy red blends contain so many random varietals they conflict with one another, but Ancient Peaks Renegade is like a completed jigsaw puzzle that illustrates what Paso Robles wines are all about. 5 unique soils, 5 well grown varietals, 1 grandiose vineyard... I tip my hat to you, Ancient Peaks.
So which cowboy wine will I recommend to FoodTribe?
I feel like it might be obvious, but...
Ancient Peaks Renegade is absolutely worth the money. Even at an inflated restaurant price of $40-$60, this bold blend deserves The Angry Somm recommendation for being a superb example of Paso Robles wine. You can drink it upon purchase, or if you're looking for more nuance and caramelized characteristics, the 2017 vintage could age for another 5 years. Any more and I'd imagine it will start to lose it's vital fruity profile and balanced structure.
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