Wine 12: California Red Blend

What a conundrum…to feature a wine that’s just a red blend (aside from the Bordeaux blend) or not? Well, one taste of this wine gave me the answer I needed: DO IT! It was years ago when I first heard about Conundrum wine, when I worked for a company who conducted market research on restaurant menus. Pretty interesting stuff actually, but I remember I always saw this wine and keep thinking, “What is this stuff?” I won’t lie, I was also somewhat put off by the red blend. What’s in it? The answer? I still don’t know.

I learned that this is a pastime of Charles Wagner, cofounder of Caymus Vineyards. He had a habit of making his own blends at the dinner table; each night he’d mix up a new concoction. What a cool way to innovate, right?

Conundrum is a bit vague on what makes up this blend, but from what I could find, the 2015 Conundrum includes, but is not necessarily limited to, petite sirah, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Those are some pretty heavy hitters when it comes to reds. They’re full-bodied, loaded with fruit, and have some pretty powerful tannins. Because of the varietals used, we won’t be surprised to find that this wine clocks in at 15.1% ABV. Let’s get into the tasting, and then explore Conundrum a bit more.

So this past week I was at a conference (yep, another one!). We were going out for a relaxing team dinner before our meetings were in full swing, and I was really excited because my team let me pick the wine! They’re all very privy to my blog endeavors and are incredibly supportive – and let me pick it so I could write about it. Aren’t they the best?! No pressure though, right?

At any rate, I came across the 2015 Conundrum Red Blend – which has always caught my eye on menus – and we decided to go for it! It’s usually sold around $23 in retail shops.


Appearance: Granted, it was pretty dark in the restaurant, so I couldn’t do the full review of what the wine looked like. However, it did appear to be more purple in color, and was nice and full colored. No waning of the color around the edges.

Nose: Picked up a bright raspberry, with some leather or tobacco notes. I also smelled a soft baking spice or fresh-baked cookies. Hopefully, you’ve been able to sum up that it smelled delicious.

Taste: This was such a smooth wine. At first the tannins seemed pretty weak, but as I swished the wine in my mouth, I felt them intensify, which provided more structure. The wine itself was rich and carried flavors of dark fruits – blueberry, black cherry, and maybe a little [perfectly ripe] plum. I truly was expecting something overwhelming, but found it to be a very drinkable and balanced wine.

Overall: Whether drinking it by itself, or with great company and food, Conundrum is an excellent choice. There’s no question why it’s included on many great restaurants’ wine lists. I’m so glad I was able to share it with my colleagues, and start the week off on a great note!

Taking a bit of a step back, and a detour from my other posts, I want to address the winemaking history of the Wagner family, because it actually goes back quite far. This isn’t a family who just randomly decided that they were going to try this wine business out. In fact, the Wagner family’s wine roots go back to the early 1900s. Great-grandpa Carl Wagner came to America from Alsace (German territory at that point) and bought land in Rutherford, part of northern Napa Valley. They built a winery in 1915, which ended up producing 30,000 gallons (which from my calculations, equates to over 1,000 cases) per yield before Prohibition shut down their production.

Carl’s son Charlie married Lorna Belle Glos whose relatives on both sides had significant experience in winemaking in Napa as well (taking things back to the 1850s). I think it’s safe to say wine runs through their veins. 😉 Charlie and Lorna then bought land and planted their own vines. In 1972, the family founded Caymus Vineyards. In 1988, the vineyard began crafting the Conundrum white blend, which later introduced the red blend featured in this post.

Fast forward to today, the family has introduced Mer Soleil and Belle Glos wine labels, Emmolo and Red Schooner (yep, German roots for sure!). The family motto is “one brand, one varietal,” and they try to stick to that the best they can.

But that’s just scratching the surface. You see some of the great-grandkids have gone off to make it on their own. The story goes that Charlie (and Lorna) told their kids to “pick a grape” that would be theirs to cultivate and produce wine. The oldest chose chardonnay, the oldest sister chose merlot, and Joe took pinot noir. I list Joe by name simply because you may be familiar with the mark he himself has made on the wine industry. His first wine was the Belle Glos pinot noir, but probably one you’d recognize even more would be the Meiomi Pinot Noir. Both of these were included in my second post. Wanna know something more amazing? Joe launched Meiomi at the ripe old age of 23. Yep, no joke. He sold it off but still produces wines under the Copper Cane company, including one line called Torial (the logo resembles The Green Lantern symbol) which has been recommended to me by our local Total Wine manager. Perhaps a post in the future? We’ll see!

At any rate, with all this history and knowledge passed down from one generation to the next, and the deep roots this family has in the winemaking industry, it is no surprise Conundrum was a delight, and I bet the others are too.

Cheers my friends!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s