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I love to play with unconventional food pairings. It’s easy to put a nice Zin or Cab with pizza, or a complex Bordeaux red with an elegant French dinner.

But what do you drink with Sloppy Joes? My wife Teri and I love to eat good food, but we don’t eat gourmet every night. Sunday night I had a taste for fresh grilled hamburgers, so I pulled out a 2004 Napa Cab from Anomaly ($85).

It was a great pairing. I love homemade burgers, with chopped onions and some spices mixed in with the ground beef. The Anomaly was a great pair, because the rich, full-bodied fruit could stand up to the spices and charred flavor.

Then Monday I looked at the fresh buns we bought from Publix for the hamburgers, and I didn’t want the four still in the package to go to waste. So we had Sloppy Joes Monday night. The Cabernet and burger combination worked so well I decided to try another top shelf Cab with the Sloppy Joes.

Caymus Cab with Sloppy Joes, potato wedges, corn on the cob and fresh veggies
Caymus Cab with Sloppy Joes, potato wedges, corn on the cob and fresh veggies

This time I pulled out a Caymus 1999 ($65). I have been disappointed by some Cabs that get beyond 10 years old, but this wine was incredible. All the oaky sharpness and tannins had mellowed out. All that was left was a wonderful, smooth, silky explosion of fruit. It was one of the nicest wines I’ve had in years.

A great wine is a perfect way to take a simple meal over the top. That’s just what happened with the Caymus and the Anomaly. When I was in college we would have Sloppy Joes with Kool-Aid at my Kappa Sig fraternity house at the University of Illinois. I thought that was pretty good, but now I can appreciate what a fine wine like Caymus brings to the meal.

That's a big bottle.
That’s a big bottle.

We drank a 2009 Caymus with deep dish Chicago pizza a couple of years ago and Teri called it “unparalleled.” This time she just chuckled and said, “Oh this is good.” It’s the kind of wine that makes building a cellar worthwhile.

Rich Cabs like this are powerhouses when they are young, and I love that flavor. But if you put a little age on them, they become fantastic. Then when you find a 15-year-old like this that has lost nothing over the years except perhaps a little sharpness, you know you have hit the jackpot. Each of these old bottles is a one-of-a-kind experience. They all develop a little differently.

My advice to you is find a good cab you really love and buy a couple of extra bottles. Put them away for a few years, even if you have to stick them in the back of a closet. They just need to be somewhere not too warm and where light doesn’t get to them. Then make sure you remember they are there.

For most Cabs 3-5 years is plenty to give them a little something extra and mellow out the tannins. Sometimes you get lucky and find one that lasts 15 years like the Caymus.

Joe Wagner in the Caymus tasting room.
Joe Wagner in the Caymus tasting room.

Wine stored in the barrel room.
Wine stored in the barrel room.

Winery: The Wagner family has lived in the Napa Valley for five generations, growing grapes there since 1906. They were producing wine and selling it to San Francisco wine merchants when Prohibition shut down all wineries.

In 1972 Charlie, Lorna and their son Charles J. (Chuck) established Caymus Vineyards and produced their first wines, 240 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then Caymus has focused on producing quality Cabernet. They now bottle 65,000 cases a year, including some Zinfandel.

The Caymus winery in Rutherford.
The Caymus winery in Rutherford.

The Wagners took the name Caymus from the Mexican land grant known as Rancho Caymus, given to George Yount in 1836, which encompassed what eventually became the town of Rutherford and much of the surrounding area. The tasting room is gorgeous and worth a visit whenever you get to Napa.

Besides Caymus, the Wagner family owns Belle Glos, Meiomi Pinot Noir, Mer Soleil Chardonnay and Conundrum White.

Anomaly Cab
Anomaly Cab

Winery: Anomaly Vineyards is located at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains in California’s Napa Valley in the small historic town of St. Helena (current population 6,000). Anomaly specializes in the production of the highest-quality Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first vintage of Anomaly was harvested in 1997 and made by Steve and Linda Goldfarb, “budding garagists,” who gave up commuting to San Francisco to produce wine. Buoyed by the praise of their 1997 vintage, they embarked on the journey of obtaining a permit to produce Cabernet Sauvignon by building a small winery adjacent to their small vineyard.

In the fall of 2000, a hard-fought battle with the city was won, and they secured a permit to build a stone winery replete with a 2,000 square foot underground cave. Construction was completed in time for harvest in 2002.

Their first release consisted of 300 cases and sold out immediately. As the vineyards matured, the increased availability of grapes allowed Anomaly to gradually produce more wine. Of course, weather conditions played a large factor in the amount of fruit the vines produced.

The current release (the 2011 vintage) is 759 cases.

Anomaly consists of three vineyards that surround the winery. The 2001 vintage was made entirely from the grapes grown on the two small vineyards immediately adjacent to the winery. In October 2000, five more acres of prime Cabernet land were purchased adjacent to Anomaly’s existing vineyards.

Vineyard manager, Doug Wight, oversaw the planting of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot vines in the Spring of 2001. They named the new vineyard “Indee’s Vineyard” in honor of the family’s husky-shepherd who passed away in the fall of 1999. She is also represented by the image on the label. They began harvesting fruit from Indee’s Vineyard in Fall 2004.

The final two acres are now in production, allowing Anomaly to harvest grapes from a total of eight acres representing four different Cabernet clones, 2 Petit Verdot clones and one variety of Cabernet Franc.

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