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2002 Caymus Conundrum, Napa

Everybody knows Caymus, right? [note: their web site seems to be having issues at the moment] They're one of the producers regularly ticked off on the fingers of Cabernet lovers' left hands as they enumerate the "hallowed" producers in the Napa valley. Their wines are good, but not often surprising, and consistently priced higher than they should be.

However, one exception is the wine that deviated so far from their primary brand expectations that in 2001 they decided to give it its own separate brand, website and all.

I've been a fan of Conundrum for a while now, and often return to it if only as a reprieve from Chardonnay, though occasionally as a perfect pairing for a certain dish or dinner out at an Asian or other ethnic restaurant.

Conundrum began in 1989 as an experiment borne of Caymus winemaker John Bolta's desire to produce a food friendly white blend in the tradition of white Rhone blends but distinct and uniquely Californian. The result, after purportedly test blending some 11 different varietals available to him in California, is a combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli, Sémillon, and Viognier.

Yeah. Bizarre. Yet somehow, like many of the best white blends from Europe, this particular combination elevates itself over any one of the individual varietals to create a pretty harmonious whole that really is pleasing to drink. This is partially achieved through detailed winemaking in which each of the different varietals is first put through the entire winemaking process -- each fermented with different yeasts in different tanks and barrels as appropriate to the varietal. The fully fermented wines are then blended to achieve the final product.

This is very unique wine that has something for everyone in it. However, those who prefer to drink only blisteringly mineral-laden Chablis or Albarino may find too much fruit in it. For those who don't mind tasting exotic fruits in their wines with a hint of sweetness will be rewarded whether it is drunk as an aperitif or with an appropriately paired food.

Tasting Notes:
The 2002 is incredibly bright yellow in the glass, way past gold in hue, and lushly ripe, with aromas of sultanas, vanilla, candied orange and jasmine. In the mouth it is excellently balanced between an acidic minerality on the one hand, and fruit flavors of lychee, pears, honeydew, and orange blossoms on the other. The finish is long and clean with elements of lemon zest. Bolta describes this wine as "exotic" and he's right. With the exception of the Muscat, which is a fairly distinct flavor profile, the wine tastes like some mysterious nectar of unknown origin.

Food Pairing:
This was a stunning combination with a squash soup drizzled with just a touch of crème fraiche and almond oil.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $22

This wine is pretty widely available both in retail outlets in California, as well as Internet retailers. Try Wine Searcher.

Comments (11)

Gastronomie wrote:
09.26.04 at 10:13 PM

A -

So, so agree with you about Conundrum. The viognier & the muscat in this wine achieve a fine balance with the semillion (amazing mouthfeel) and Sauv Blanc (for good acidity).

Regardless... I don't feel the price is justified... curious about your thoughts on the price point.

enoch choi wrote:
09.26.04 at 10:49 PM

$20 at costco. i think pricey for sauv blanc, but i'm more of the stick-to-the-varietal type anyways.

Alder wrote:
09.27.04 at 3:54 PM

At 22 bucks (or even better at Enoch's Costco price) I think it's fairly priced. I see a lot of internet retailers charging 27 or 30 for it and that's a little unwarranted.

Lenn wrote:
09.28.04 at 1:21 PM

Caymus Conundrum was one of the first wines that 'hooked' me on vino. I honestly don't remember what vintage it was...but it must have been 10 years ago...

It's absolutely delicious and is the wine I mention as a "fine" white wine that I can't imagine people not liking. It's one of the best whites I've ever tasted...and I'm not really even a white wine lover.

David George wrote:
12.05.04 at 5:30 PM

You remember the date and where you were when you had your first glass of this exceptional wine. My vacation partner and I recall running the next day to the local store and purchasing a case or two. That was 10 years ago, and every vintage continues to be exceptional. It is especially rewarding after the temperature warms and the wine has enough time to open. Well worth the $20 when you consider how many wines you have drunk that you do not remember and paid close to if not more money.

Walker wrote:
02.19.05 at 11:26 AM

My wife and I discovered Caymus conumdrum several years ago and became instant fans. But recently we noticed
"Caymus" did not appear on the label,just Conumdrum.We purchased several bottles anyway. While having an intimate dinner party one evening,I began to open the second bottle only to discover it was a "screw top".Now I'm no
connoisseur but it's been my experience
thar screw top is usually associated with "cheap" wine.I don't mind paying $22 for a decent wine but not when it has a screw top. Someone commented that
there's a shortage of cork, but I haven't noticed any other better wines
changing to screw top.I was very disapointed and a little embarressed after I had boasted to my guest about this great wine.Anyway I hope there's a better solution if there really is a cork shortage.

Alder wrote:
02.19.05 at 4:39 PM

Walker. Don’t hide those bottles away in embarassment !! I have an explanation for all of it.

Caymus decided to spin Conundrum off as its own brand (same way Duckhorn has done Paraduxx and Paradigm, or Silver Oak has done Twomey Merlot) to get some freedom in the way they talk about and market the wine. Still made by the same people and at the same level of quality as Caymus in general.

Second: SCREW TOPS ARE GREAT !!!! While you and many others are inherently suspicious about screw tops and used to them appearing on only "cheap" or "value" wines, they are an inherently better closure mechanism which means that you are getting better wine! Their superiority comes from their lack of TCA bacteria found in approximately 8-12% of the corks out there, as well as their ability to reseal completely if you don't finish a bottle.

To rest your mind, there are some very serious players in the wine industry whose bottles sell for $30 - $80 apiece who are slowly moving to screwcaps as their customers become more accustomed to the idea. It is strange, and less fun than corks, but trust me when I say its superior. Caymus is doing you and all wine drinkers a favor by moving to screwcaps on Conundrum.

So I don’t particularly care if you stop buying Conundrum, but please don't write off a wine because of the cap. You'll be depriving yourself of some potentially great stuff.

If you'd like more information about screw closures and their acceptance in the industry, let me know and I'll happily point you in the right direction.

Walker wrote:
02.21.05 at 4:24 PM

Alder, Thanks for the information about screwcaps.I'm certainly no wine snob,and I didn't really notice any of my guest turning the conundrum down the evening I served it,quite the contrary, they loved it. I won't let the screwcap keep me from purchasing it,especially after your information . Interesting about the bacteria and cork,makes sense also aboout resealing any unfinished bottle,which in our house rarely happens with conundrum!

Matt wrote:
03.02.05 at 7:38 AM

Alder, good info on the cork issue. Screw cap does NOT equal cheap wine. A great example is Bonny Doon Vineyards, who have moved almost exclusively to screw caps, from their Big House Red to the very pricey Cigar Volante. The screw cap is much better at keeping oxygen out of the bottle, and of course the bacteria issue. There actually is some truth to the "cork shortage" explanation as well. It has more to do with demand outpacing supply, and the use of younger cork trees (3-4 years) as compared to the 10 year old trees that were once used. A great site to get some more info on this is:
One last note: If you haven't seen the movie Sideways, its a must for anyone who knows anything about wine or wishes they did. Happy tasting!

ed wrote:
06.28.05 at 11:06 PM

You are so right..as weird as they look, screw-tops are actually better. you are guaranteed a great wine every time.

Rich Schumacher wrote:
12.14.05 at 11:51 AM

Regarding Caymus' connection with Conundrum, I was told by a wine marketer that Caymus discontinued its association with Conundrum as the acreage dedicated to the wine expanded and the quality eroded.

Personally, in recent years, I had noticed that Conundrum had become sweeter. I had been a fan and enjoyed the combination of fruit and acidity. It is now too sweet for my palate.

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