Lodi California is in the San Joaquin Valley. The San Joaquin Valley is known for its jug wines. I will never drink a San Joaquin Valley wine. It’s a good thing I didn’t know that Lodi was in the SJ Valley when I drank that Cameron Hughes Lot #160 last night. Otherwise, I may not have known how truly delicious it was. It’s a Zinfandel with a nose of dirt and cherries. The taste was cherry spice with a long tannic finish. There were many flavors mingling in and out with each sip. With each inhale I felt lost in a lush, viney forest that was filled with berries and wet earth. This is a rich, delicious wine.Cameron Hughes is not a vintner. He is a negociant. He buys up expensive wines that haven’t sold, bottles them with his name, and sells them at a bargain price. This Zinfandel was much more delicious than it’s $10 price tag would have led me to believe.
One of the intriguing things about wine is the label. It’s appealing to read the label and let one’s mind wander to that particular village, whether it’s in France, Argentina, or California. The wines that are made from grapes all on one vineyard are especially intriguing. They seem more pure and genuine, as if one vintner has welcomed you to his or her home and shared centuries of a family’s work with you, a stranger. In that bottle one can taste not only the style of winemaking from this one family, a style that has evolved and been perfected over perhaps a few centuries, but also, one tastes the weather, the soil, the slope of the land. The French call it the terroir.
Perhaps the Cameron Hughes Zinfandel I drank last night was a lot of old vine zinfandel that he bought from the Herzog winery. Even though that winery wasn’t established until 1985, the family has a history of wine-making that includes making wine for the Emperor Franz Josef of Austro-Hungary. This is a family that escaped the Nazis during World War II, and escaped the Czech communist regime shortly after that. They then came to America and rebuilt their fortune on winemaking, finally opening the California winery in 1985. It’s quite a story and quite a family. But none of that is in this bottle because it’s not on the label.
This past week-end my husband and I filed our tax return. It was rejected because of my name. When I got married I changed my name on my social security card. But instead of dropping my middle or maiden name I just added my new last name. Now, I have four names on my card. The IRS hates that. It would be much easier for them if I dropped one of my names. My middle name was my grandmother’s maiden name, my great-grandfather’s surname. My maiden name was my last name for 33 years, my father’s surname, back for generations. The names together reflect where I came from. They are my terroir.
The Cameron Hughes, Lot #160 is every bit as delicious as it would be if it had a family name on the label rather than a number. But there’s something more to wine than just the taste. A good glass of wine is delicious. A great glass of wine is an experience.