Monday, January 2, 2012


You may not be aware you've had wine made by the Wagner family.  If you've had Conundrum or Caymus, Mer Soleil, Meiomi or Belle Glos, you've had a Wagner wine.

The Wagners - Charlie, Lorna and son Chuck - carved out their place in Northern California's Monterey County in the early 1970s.  Charlie passed a few years ago, Lorna is in her nineties and enjoying the Pinot Noir named after her, and that 19 year-old who
helped his folks get things started is now running the show.  He's the same Chuck Wagner, just not 19 anymore.

The tasting package provided by the Wagners allowed me to sample their wines - most of which were already familiar to me - and also try out the mail-order samplers bottled by TastingRoom, Inc of Santa Rosa.  The package contained six small screwcap bottles, each holding 50ml of wine - just enough for a taste - and the label bears a “Best Enjoyed By” date.  TastingRoom makes quite a few tasting packages, most of which sell for somewhere between $20 and $30.  The entire package and contents are 100% recyclable.  Here's what was in the Wagner Family Selection:

Conundrum 2009 - Labeled as “A Proprietary Blend of California White Wine,” Conundrum is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Semillion and Viognier with a 13.5% abv number.  Jon Bolta has been heading up the white wine side of the
Wagner Family's repertoire since 1988, and Conundrum was his pet project.  The first vintage was released in '89.  The "conundrum" is figuring out which grape varieties make up the blend.  It's not too much of a puzzle to figure out that it pairs well with Asian food. 

The pale golden wine is fairly complex, showing aromas of white flowers, tropical fruit, a few drops of honey and a bit of honeydew melon.  It's nice and full in the mouth, with oak present.  Pear juice and a trace of pineapple are the main flavors, while a good acidity level makes it a great choice for pairing with seafood.  Conundrum is lush, with full malolactic fermentation adding softness.  I like it with lobster, while Chuck Wagner likes it with crabcakes.

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2009 - This beautiful white from Monterey's Santa Lucia Highlands is fermented in small cement tanks imported from France.  No French oak here, just French cement.  Chuck's son, Charlie Wagner II, handles the production for Mer Soleil.  He's a 5th generation winemaker.  The Mer Soleil Vineyard lies in the Santa Lucia Highlands, in the cool, dry part of Monterey County.  This Chardonnay carries a hefty 14.8% abv level.

A pale golden color in the glass, Silver has very fresh aromas of peaches and nectarines.  The stately palate is not all tricked up.  It has a very clean and fruity taste, with peaches, melons with a trace of the rind, tropical fruit and citrus joined by some nice
minerals.  There's a very food-friendly acidity here as well.

Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008 - This one is also from the Santa Lucia Highlands.  The alcohol level is 14.5%.  This "oaked" Chardonnay is a little more golden than the unoaked version.  There are peaches and nectarines on the nose, joined by
some wood spice.  It's a full-bodied, California-style Chardonnay.  On the palate, the oak is in the forefront, and a sense of movie theater popcorn butter lingers on the finish.  The acidity is even better than in the other two whites.

Belle Glos Pinot Noir 2009 - One of three single-vineyard Pinots by this arm of the Wagner Family of wines, the fruit was sourced from the Clark and Telephone Vineyards in Santa Barbara County's Santa Maria Valley.  Joseph Wagner - another 5th generation
winemaker - produces Belle Glos wines, which are named Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, wife of founder Charlie and Chuck's mother.  This 100% Pinot Noir is her favorite wine.

This dark wine brings an alcohol level of 14.4% abv to the glass.  The nose presents dark and burly fruit - black and blue berries - a familiar profile in red wines from the Santa Maria Valley.  The palate boasts black cherry cola - slightly sour - with a hint of minerality.  It's full in the mouth and sports great acidity.

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2009 - Joseph Wagner is also the winemaker for Meiomi, which means "coast" in ancient Indian languages.  Meiomi's vineyards are located in some nice coastal regions, Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties.  This Pinot has a lighter complexion than the Belle Glos with a  lighter alcohol content, too - 13.9% abv.

The nose is much brighter than the Belle Glos, with cherry and anise aromas in a very fruit forwrd manner.  A huge cherry expression dominates the palate and there's a nice tannnic structure with a great finish that darkens a bit, showing some coffee notes.  I'd have this with a steak.

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - The Caymus Vineyards are where it all began back in '72 for the Wagner Family.  Chuck Wagner is the winemaker for Caymus.  The famous Caymus Cab is produced using Napa Valley grapes - about one-fourth hillside fruit and three quarters from the valley.

Medium dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a fabulous nose with aromas of cassis and coffee - even an almost candy-like caramel component that wafts in and out while sniffing.  The currant comes through on the palate as well, and the wine is rich and full.  The tannins are forceful and beg to paired with a great steak.  The alcohol content is a big 15.2% abv.  The Caymus Cab lists for $68.

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