So far, the feel-good wine story of the year belongs to longtime vintner Pat Roney, owner of Vintage Wine Estates. Last week, Roney's company announced the acquisition of Cameron Hughes Wines out of bankruptcy.
Cameron Hughes is a saga of boom and bust. The popular value brand was founded by Cameron Hughes a decade ago. He parlayed his inside knowledge of the bulk-wine market into a unique national brand widely distributed by Costco.
When Hughes founded his brand, the wine industry was enduring a prolonged glut of excess wine. He targeted top wineries in chic appellations, such as Stag's Leap and the Russian River Valley, purchased the excess wine and repackaged it under his own label. Here's the kicker: He sold his wines at a fraction of the price they would have fetched under the original label.
The concept proved popular, and the Cameron Hughes brand took off ... until the glut dried up, forcing Cameron to seek new sources to fuel continued growth, including many from outside the United States.
Roney, whose company owns Swanson Vineyards, Clos Pegase and B.R. Cohn, among others, explained that Cameron Hughes hit the skids because it grew too fast and was undercapitalized. He paid $5.5 million for the Hughes brand and plans to keep the business model intact, including the retention of Hughes.
"Cameron will be doing what he does best, finding great wines, with a lot more arrows in his quiver!" Roney messaged me over the weekend.
I've been impressed with the Cameron Hughes wines from the beginning because of the tremendous value they represent. That Roney plans to continue the Cameron Hughes vision is a boon for consumers, especially in the wallet.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Gundlach Bundschu 2013 'Mountain Cuvee.' ($20) — The blend of this wine is different each vintage, but the results always seems to be the same, which is a thing of beauty. This year's cuvee is predominantly merlot and has bits of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. It's a meaty, juicy red that offers supple tannins for a smooth ride as you enjoy the bold red and black-fruit nuances, which are complemented by a generous helping of wood spice and smoke. Rating: 91.
Castello di Gabbiano 2013 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($25) — This Tuscan property has been on a roll with recent vintages, so the 2013 is just one in a string of successes. The Riserva exhibits excellent structure, good weight on the palate and firm acidity. On the nose, the wine shows notes of dried herbs and spice, which carry through to the palate. Aromas of black cherry and earthy forest floor dominate. The finish shows intensity and uncommon length. Drink now, or wait another three to five years, when it will be approaching its peak. Rating: 93.
Renato Ratti 2014 Nebbiolo 'Ochetti,' Langhe, Italy ($25) — Renato Ratti's Ochetti nebbiolo from the Langhe district of Piedmont, Italy, is an early contender for value-red wine of the year. It is not as powerful as nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco, but that may be a good thing. The 2014 shows ample fruit, including bright cherry notes with hints of leather and sage. It has softer tannins than you would encounter in a Barolo or Barbaresco from the same vintage. This beauty is just the sort of wine Barolo and Barbaresco lovers should drink while they wait for those wines to reach maturity. Rating: 93.
Landmark Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir 'Overlook,' California ($25) — Landmark's Overlook may be its bottom-tier pinot noir, but it has plenty of oomph to go along with the sweet price. The nose offers up fragrances of spiced earth and a strong note of wild cherry. On the palate, the wine exhibits good density, supple tannins and a long, spicy finish. At this price, it's a steal. Rating: 88.
Gundlach Bundschu 2015 Gewurztraminer, Sonoma Coast ($25) — Gundlach Bundschu has a long and distinguished history with gewurztraminer, which is commendable because gewurz is a challenge to produce as a dry white table wine. When it's not handled properly, the result can be bitterness on the palate that is difficult to get past. The Gundlach Bundschu crew is skilled with this grape, however, and the 2015 is yet another solid effort. It shows notes of honeysuckle and spice on the nose and complex aromas of pear, tropical fruits and lemon zest on the palate. Rating: 89.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.