The Highly Anticipated Lot 200

Review: 2008 Cameron Hughes Cabernet Napa Valley Lot 200

In addition to a wine review today, we're going to look at the topic of how challenging it can be to talk about wine by pitting yours truly against wine marketing genius Cameron Hughes.  Hang on to your knickers...

Bottom Line: We couldn't do it any better than Cameron and, as hard as it is to represent this wine appropriately, this is a kick ass bottle.  Read the rest...

Cameron Hughes is a natural salesman.  Watching him speak, he's so genuine, so natural, that it's easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm.  Proof: my cellar is overflowing with his bottles.  Experience with his wines suggests that he's worth listening to when he's talking about California Cabernet.  But his most recent release, the highly hyped Lot 200, was accompanied by some very careful language.  In the video about this wine he says,

"We've sourced a very special wine from an absolute A+ player in Napa valley.  These folks don't sell a bottle of wine under $200.  They've got probably more 100 point scores than just about anybody...Like any great Napa Cabernet, it's going to take 6-12 months to come around in the bottle...You can sense that there's so much more there...It's transparent.  You can sense the structure, you just can't taste the wine yet...  Huge structure, but again, it's virtually transparent wine."  Then this on their Facebook page: "Please note this wine is just beginning to develop in the bottle and patience is advised."

Okay, I'll admit it.  I'm intrigued by the pedigree.  Who wouldn't be?  But then the wheels sort of fall off the marketing cart here.  In my cynical mind, some of these lines read like a list of disclaimers.  
  • "It's going to take 6-12 months to come around in the bottle." Translation: It's nothing to write home about now, but, trust me, buy a bunch and sit on it until next fall. 
  • "You can sense the structure, you just can't taste the wine yet."  Translation:  This is the Houdini of wines, but backwards - you can't see it now, but it'll appear later. 
  • "It's transparent." Translation:  Honestly, I don't know what this means, but "transparent" doesn't exactly resonate with me as a desirable attribute. 
  • "Patience is advised."  Translation: Good parents understand how to wait out a tantrum-prone toddler.
In summary, we've got delayed gratification, reverse Houdini, transparency, and it may frustrate you the way your two year old does.  Greeeat.  Not exactly the kind of this-wine-is-mind-blowing pitch you might've expected.

Now, what Cameron is doing here is expectations management - and you've got to love him for that.  He doesn't want you to open this bottle the moment it arrives on your doorstep only to be disappointed; he wants you to love this wine as much as he does.  That's admirable.  But, again, not a terribly compelling pitch. 

Why?  Because talking about a wine can be hard.

To find out what he really meant to say - and to see if we could do any better- we ordered some.  (Of course we did, we've learned to trust this guy when it comes to Cab.) Notes, which were voice recorded while tasting in the cellar, read as follows:

"Okay, so we've got the Cameron Hughes Lot 200 labeled at a 2008 Cab from Napa Valley.  The back label says it's an elegant, blah-blah-blah, molten licorice, sweet tobacco, blah-blah-blah.  Yeah.  Anyway.  So, this thing's been open since about noon and it's about 7:15 now.  It needed every bit of this and then some as far as time decanting goes.  I wouldn't say that it's so dense and tightly wound that it's going to need decades to evolve, but it'll probably evolve nicely over time."

"I don't know whether 08 is reputed to be noteworthy for its longevity, but what we've got here is a wine that under delivers in its looks.  It's only 3 shades darker than a Pinot.  The racy legs on this things are an early indicator of its 14.5%  alcohol rating.  Wow, the viscosity is so alive in the glass.  It's a fast moving wine, it's shimmery, and that's where the lightness of it stops.  The nose is complicated.  It's fast, it's tight for sure and needs some time to come into its own.  When you taste this wine, though, everything about it is in contrast to what you see in the glass.  This is chunky, it's got so much Rutherford stuff going on.  Man, it sings.  Okay, so we've got top to bottom rings of flavors.  This is not the kind of cab that hits you in the lower gut and has you trembling at a bass level, nor is it so high strung that it has you singing soprano.  It's all the frequencies in between that resonate and it goes on and on and on and on." 

"I had somebody taste this blind earlier today and I suggested that it might have come from a $100-$200 program and while they thought that it's quite a lovely wine, who's going to pay $200 for a wine today?  Not me, that's for sure.  And not you, either - that's my bet." 

"So, here we are.  We've got a pretty extraordinary wine.  We probably should have let it sit for longer after shipping - today is Sunday and it arrived on Wednesday - but next time I place an order, I'm definitely going to double down on this stuff.  At $28 it's worth every penny.  It's going to be even more of a bargain as it comes into its own.  $200 a bottle?  No.  $100?  No.  But $50 a bottle?  Probably." 

"This is a solid, solid wine and wine Cam used some juxtaposing expression in his video - which frankly I thought was a horrible explanation because it sounded like a hollow wine - I'm glad I gave this the chance and I understand what he's talking about now.  It's very difficult to put into words.  It doesn't have the body, the weight, the punch you associate with this kind of a pedigree, but it has all the aromatics, all the excitement, and all the drinking pleasure that warrants your attention."

That last paragraph pretty much sums it up.  Enjoy.