Wine Review: 2009 Conundrum

18 11 2011

I don't think even 2006 Me would have been overly thrilled by this.

True story:  back in 2006, when I was JUST starting to get interested in wine, I went to a long-standing Calgary wine boutique over the holiday season looking for a special celebratory bottle of wine to help ring in the New Year.  I barely bought any wine at all back then, and when I did it rarely exceeded $20 a bottle, but since this was to be a wine for an occasion, I decided to splurge and upped my max budget to $50.  I was directed to a proprietary white wine blend from an iconic Napa Valley producer, Caymus, who was mainly known for making some of California’s best Cabernet Sauvignon; however, as a side project, they had started putting together this fruity, floral, dynamic white that had quickly made a name for itself.  On the shop’s recommendation, I bought and enjoyed a bottle of Caymus’ Conundrum.  It cost me $45.

Fast forward five years.  I bought tonight’s bottle of Conundrum a couple of weeks ago.  It cost $18.

What happened?

Well, Costco happened, certainly.  Caymus entered into a distribution arrangement with Costco that is seeing it offer up even its top Cabs at less than cellar-door prices (I should know — I went to the Caymus winery in Napa last summer and paid more for a couple of bottles directly from the source than I could have paid at the Deerfoot Meadows Costco 1,500 km away), which seemed to change the focus of Conundrum significantly.  It was always a bit of a cash flow wine:  Napa Cabernets cost a lot to make and are idle assets sucking up capital as they age and mature prior to release, whereas a crisp white can be bottled and sold the year after harvest, bringing some liquidity to the books.  But by moving Conundrum from a $40+ retail bottle to a sub-$20 retail bottle, Caymus made it more of a commodity bottling to be sold en masse, which surely meshed well with Costco’s business model, but which required a fairly sizeable annual production (20,000 cases in 1999) to grow exponentially (120,000 cases in 2009) so that it could satisfy a bulk market.  That’s 100,000 cases worth of fruit that had to be sourced from new vineyards, with increasing pressure to keep costs down to reflect the new sale price.  Logically, that has to have some effect on quality, which I definitely noticed tonight, because the wine I had was not the wine I remembered.

Stelvin Rating: 8.5/10 (Take that, anonymous black screwcap world!! Sa-weet.)

The grapes for Conundrum come from all over California, but primarily originate from the Monterey region just south of San Francisco.  The eponymous “Conundrum” is the mysterious blend of grapes that go into the bottle — the label just says “California White Blend” with no further information or breakdown.  Thanks to the Internet, I now know that the 2009 Conundrum is a (strange) blend of Muscat, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Semillon…which is funny, because if I had been given this to taste blind I would have said with near certainty that it was 100% Gewürztraminer (side note:  mondo props to the WordPress spellchecker, which just auto-added an umlaut to “Gewürztraminer”…even my blog hosting site is a wine lover!).  Looking at this melange of grapes in retrospect, I can say that this wine features the perfumed fruity/flowery notes of Muscat and Sauv Blanc, the fullness and weight of Chardonnay and Semillon and the exotic fruit of Viognier…but really it just tastes like Gewurz.  It was a vivid lemon colour in the glass, with prominent aromas of lychee, mango, pear, honey, flowers and a Febreze-y combo of fresh smells I can best label as “sea breeze”.  The wine’s rich, mouth-filling body and lush texture immediately registered on the palate, and a clear hint of residual sweetness made it go down VERY easily, but the little acidity that was present was somewhat disjointed and not really connected with the rest of the wine.  This imbalance was accentuated by the great big platter of bold tropical fruit forming the Conundrum’s flavour profile:  banana, pineapple, lychee, melon and red apple.  These bright flavours started out powerfully but tailed off substantially on the finish, leaving behind an odd part-mineral, part-chemical, part-oily aftertaste.

If I was still paying $45 for this wine, I would be horrendously disappointed in it.  At $18, it’s not a worldbeater, but it certainly brings its share of hedonistic flavour to the table; it’s a drinker, not a thinker.  I am probably more disappointed than most will be in this bottle because I remember how impressed I was with Conundrum half a decade ago, but this time I found it a little soft and a little flabby, though still pleasant.  It would drink nicely with sweet or spicy ethnic cuisine like Chinese or Indian food…but when you can get the Dr. L Riesling for the same meal from the same Costco at $5 cheaper, why would you ever bother?

83+ points

$15 to $25 CDN

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3 responses

13 10 2012
Gustoffer

Insightful review, thanks. I have been wondering at the price drop in Conundrum in recent years. Curious if you have tried the Conundrum Red?

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13 10 2012
petervetsch

Thanks! I haven’t tried Conundrum red – to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen it on shelves here. What’s it like? Another crazy blend?

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15 10 2012
Gustoffer

Sorry, no first-hand knowledge although friends bought and enjoyed the 2010 vintage at Beacon Hill Costco for around $20, and I believe Highlander had it on sale last week, similar price point. These friends tend to favour juicy fruit bombs–not to say there’s anything wrong with that but would be a good hint of what to expect from the Conundrum Red. I look forward to reading more of your reviews. Cheers!

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