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.