From The Pour Fool, August 4, 2014:
“McManis Family Cabernet 2013 – For ten years, now, whenever somebody has asked me to recommend a good, approachable, inexpensive Cabernet, I’ve said “McManis. No contest.” Made by a veteran grape-growing family based in the very un-sexy Ripon, California, this wine is every bit as user-friendly and versatile as your iPad. The McManis family started the winery in 1990. The first vintage of Cabernet cost $8 at retail. By the time I first found it, in 2000, it was $10. Today…it’s still $10. Wine snots will say that this Cab is too fruity and not structured like a great American Cabernet…both of which are true and both of which are irrelevant. At ten bucks, you’re not expecting Screaming Eagle. What is is…delicious, juicy, generous, even a tad complex, showing glorious red plums, red and black berries, currants, anise, pepper, and fine, food-friendly acidity. I’ve probably told 200 people about this stuff and exactly TWO didn’t like it. For a dynamic, consistent bottle of American Cabernet, this is the juice. 91 Points“
Today, that same bottle – the one that just says “Cabernet Sauvignon California” on the label is…$10. OR LESS! Really.
For over two decades, this lovely, perfumey, expressive, lighter-bodied, graceful bottle of California Cabernet became more and more and more popular and the McManis folks just kept growing more grapes and making more of it and, in all that time, it never ONCE slipped a millimeter. Consistency in wine is almost unheard of. Grapes just…change, from vintage to vintage, dependent on weather, amount of water, smoke in the air (especially in California), the way they’re trellised, then how they’re aged…I mean, achieving even similarity is a magic trick and Ron and Jamie McManis produced truly exceptional value-priced wines – reds, whites, you name it – every single vintage, for 21 straight years. Mozart, asked how he wrote his symphonies, said, “I write music as a sow piddles” and I think of that quote, that expression of casual accomplishment, every time I even think of McManis wines. They make it look easy. And, to me, there is little in life that is more endearing that seeing someone do a thing at the highest level, just because it wouldn’t occur to them to do it any other way.
But, as McManis grew, they had to acquire more grapes and more grapes meant, in their case, more land. Napa and Sonoma are just about about a dead-on 100 miles, a two hour truck trip, so they could have bought some land and/or fruit from there and really mixed it up with the prestige wineries of America…IF they were willing to charge maybe $75 a bottle for their Cabernet, because, honey, that land and them grapes are Not Cheap.
So, they expanded their share of Lodi. Lodi is about 35 miles from Ripon and has become, over the past decade, one of the country’s primary appellations for Big Zins…Make that BIG ZINS. Lodi wines are to other American wines what Knob Creek is to a peach cordial. I went out to Lodi in February of 2019, primarily to visit one of the best-kept secrets in California wine, Klinker Brick Winery, and its uber-personable owner, Steve Felton. After that glorious tasting, I drove around the area, marveling at the sheer acreage devoted to grapes. Lodi is not some Johnny-Come-Lately growing area. Those folks are All In and the wines get better every year.
BUT…there is still land for sale around Lodi and it’s surprisingly affordable, which means the wines are not very spendy. And into this little economic time warp strode that family from Ripon, with lots o’ bucks and the same blue collar work and business ethic as the Lodians. Match made in Heaven. Okay, Lodi.
Lest this sound like McManis was a conquering newcomer to Lodi, it bears noting that it didn’t happen all at once and they already owned a bunch of dirt up that way, anyhow. Many of their wines are sourced from the 1,775 acres of planted grapes in the family’s seven vineyards located in four of Lodi’s AVAs (Borden Ranch, Clements Hills, Jahant and Mokelumne River).
But the family, with long-time winemaker, Mike Robustelli (the McManis Family Vineyards winemaker since 1999) worked at the grape-growing techniques and came up with…well, I hardly know what to say.
I’m going to take a fair amount of, uh, merde for this but the new(ish) McManis Lodi AVA California Cabernet is among the five or six best Cabernets I’ve tasted from anywhere – Cali, my own state of Washington, Australia, Argentina, Bordeaux, anywhere – and it remains one of the most jaw-dropping, howling, irrational bargains in the entire world of wine.
To keep it fresh, I looked up prices for this wine just this morning on Google and found that, in about 50% of the listings, it is now priced at…Ten Bucks. Maybe half the others had it at $12-$13, and I saw it here in Tacoma, on the shelf, for $16.00. (And snapped it up) I picked up a bottle yesterday from a discontinued bin at our local Fred Meyer for $8.99 (and literally danced when I found it) but you get the picture: this mind-boggling bottle of estate-grown, certified organic, sustainably farmed Cabernet will give you change back for your $20, enough to quite likely get you a bottle of some other value wine you really like. AND…and, it’s even responsibly grown and produced!
(According to Justin McManis – who serves as Vintner & Supply Chain Coordinator for the family business, and is the son of founders Ron and Jamie McManis – “All McManis Family properties are certified LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing as well as by CSWA (California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance). We’re over 90% estate grown, but our goal, (which they have now achieved), is to become 100% as our newest vineyards come online.”)
How? WHY? Ten, twelve, thirteen dollars?? Can this be right?!? This is, make no mistake about it, a GREAT Cabernet. To hell with “for the money” or “for a central California appellation” or (the Franco-snot version) “for an American Cabernet“. It’s just GREAT, PERIOD, and it’s going to take you about twelve bucks and ONE sip to figure that out for yourself.
Having worked in this unhinged trade we call “American wine” for about 30 years, now, I have a circle of friends and a larger circle of acquaintances and a gargantuan circle of “jackasses I know”, all of whom are at least as attitude-ridden as me about wine and some FAR more. I have participated in at least 300 discussions (in which no new ground was ever broken on the subject) about what constitutes a great wine and specifically what constitutes a great Cabernet, as we’uns up here in WA State grow and drink a TON of Cabernet. According to a 2020 survey, out of a total 60,000 acres of wine grapes, almost 40,000 total acres are devoted to red grapes and almost 13,000 of that was just two varietals: Cabernet and its evil step-brother, Merlot. And most of that is still Cabernet.
So, you may expect that we have a lot of Opinions about what a makes a great Cab. Foremost among ’em is that French holdover attitude that sneers at anything “too big” or “too fruity” and espouses the French Chamber of Commerce party line about “elegance” and “nuance” and “restraint” and…okay, I’m getting a headache in my ass. Point is, I will very shortly, after this next paragraph, get a tactical cluster-bombing of Local Wine Weenies descending upon me like flies on a day-old croissant, for daring to espouse “BIG”. But I got sick of apologizing for having an American palate, years ago. As with Soccer Wieners, a lot of people insist on running our Yankee aesthetics through the sterile filter of Frenchness and I feel safe in saying that the new Lodi appellation McManis Cab will cause Francophiles to lurch across the room like a busted Hotpoint washin’ machine.
The new McManis Family Cabernet Lodi AVA California is absurdly fine. Halle Berry fine. Porsche, Patek Philippe, Teuscher, Paris at sunset fine. I haven’t tried doing this yet but I damned well might, if I can figure out how to get away with it: I would love to slip this into a blind tasting of Joseph Phelps Insignia and Quintessence and Bryant Family and Sassicaia and Realm and Figgins and a bunch of the other top-shelf stuff and ask everybody to guess prices. Yes, of course, there would still be some raised pinky types who find it too big and maybe pushy but I’d bet anything they’d guess about $50 – $75 north of its price. And watching them all soil their undies when the labels are revealed would be a real hoot.
This wine explodes on the palate, starting with a broad wash of blackberry jam and cassis and a hint of eucalyptus, eliding into an immediate slick of black cherries, fig compote, cafe au lait, graphite, and baking spices. Black pepper lurks on the tongue and is then washed away by plums and raspberries and graceful wood notes. It develops new flavors as it’s sipped and especially as it sits open, showing teaberry and bay leaf, after a while. It so boggled my wine snot experiences that I had to try it SIX times to convince myself that I wasn’t just projecting my fondness for the whole idea of McManis and lock into THIS Cab, on THIS day. But, by damnit, it just defied my intense desire not to have to rave about it and has done that over the two other bottles since. We hardly ever finish an entire bottle of wine in an evening, as we are both not as young as we once were. We killed the first bottle of this and I went out the next day, looking for more.
Could I have just written, here, “This is a mind-blowing great bottle of Cabernet and would be at four, six, eight times the price. You really should put your pants back on, get in the car, and go find it, like about NOW!”? Yes, of course, I could have. And it might have been just as persuasive but this was more fun and I would hate to miss a chance to rave a bit when one of the American wineries I like most, whose values I treasure highly, whose heads are screwed on relentlessly straight, whose hearts are in the right place, makes something like this. Honestly, I was a tiny bit scared to write this, because I fear that the McManises might have some bean-countin’ attorney yahoo on retainer and that person would start saying, “See? I told ya! You GOTTA start changing what these wines are worth!“
Well, let me put it this way: if they did charge what this Cabernet is worth…you and I and most people we know couldn’t afford it.
95 Points (a LEGIT 95 and anyone who doubts that should STFU and go taste it.)