Saturday, June 22, 2013

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Conundrum

In my review of Franciscan Estates' Equilibrium, I referenced an old fave of mine called Conundrum -- one of my first gold standards for white wines when I was starting down the slippery slope of wine fandom. I received several emails from readers asking, in effect, "Well, what the heck is this Conundrum stuff?"

Good question. I hadn't had a bottle of Conundrum in years. When the Sweet Partner in Crime and I were courting, this was one of our "special occasion" wines. We would save the corks and write the occasion on each. When Conundrum made the environmentally positive decision to switch from corks to Stelvin screwtops, a bit of that romance was lost -- and we were broadening the scope of our wine knowledge anyway, so we often looked at other options.

Still, after I wrote that review, I was largely going from my memory of Conundrum's flavor. For the sake of full disclosure, I thought it would be a good idea to return to the scene of the....crime.

Conundrum started in 1989 at Caymus Winery. It bills itself as "The Original California White Blend," which wouldn't surprise me -- since at the time, most California wine was more or less single varietal. In the 2000's, the Wagner family, who owns Caymus, decided to split Conundrum off as its own brand. "Caymus Conundrum" simply became "Conundrum," but the wine remained the same, retailing for around $20. (Meanwhile, the Caymus brand became exclusively a high-end label. Those wines go for $60-70 and up.)

The wine is a proprietary blend of up to eleven different grapes -- but it always includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli, and Viognier. The blend changes each year, depending on climate and harvest conditions. Conundrum also produces a red wine which is another "nontraditional" blend of red grapes. (My guess, however, knowing Caymus and reading the tasting notes -- would be that it's largely Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps with some Pinot Noir thrown in.)

I was relieved that my memory was still pretty good regarding the flavor. The Conundrum 2011 White Wine is still a hefty white. The nose is very floral and the body substantial from the Viognier. The Chardonnay gives it a green apple-dominant flavor, along with some citrus and a honey-like sweetness. It's a fairly complex wine. There's enough acidity to keep it from being too sweet, although the honey and apple hang around on the finish. I wouldn't be surprised if they'd slipped some Riesling into the mix -- because it really reminded me of some of those flavors. For a food pairing, rich fish or chicken dishes or Asian spicy flavors work well.

If you're looking for a crowd-pleasing wine that's a little higher end, it's a solid choice. The Conundrum did illustrate how much my palate has changed over the years. Before I'd explored much wine, I really liked how full flavored this wine was. Trying it now, it's actually a little heavy for my palate. I usually prefer my whites a little bit crisper.  My vote for these similar white California blends would still be for the Equilibrium.

No comments: