2003 Schug Carneros Estate Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Mission Codename: The Time Travelers Wine

Operative: Agent Red and Agent Sparkle

Objective: Visit with legendary Winemaster, Walter Schug, and together, hand select a special wine for our Operatives

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Schug Carneros Estate

Wine Subject: 2003 Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaker: Mike Cox and Walter Schug

Backgrounder: To most wine aficionados,winemaster Walter Schug needs no introduction. Mr. Schug’s pioneering work with Joesph Phelps and Insignia is the stuff of wine legend. Today, Walter Schug’s own winery, Schug Carneros Estate, makes wines that are as good or better, but made for folks like you and us Wine Spies. Do Schug wines really stand up to the $200 per bottle for an Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon? Read Agent Red’s tasting notes and intriguing mission report befow for the full story

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Deep garnet with a heart of inky dark ruby. Slightly murky through the middle with deep concentration of color maintained all the way out to the edges of the glass. When swirled, the surface of this wine settles – but the center spins and spins, finally leaving behind legs of mixed size and spacing

Smell – Deeply aromatic and perfumy with bright blueberry, dark cherry, violets and cassis, tempered against licorice, mild spice, soft oak and dark chocolate

Feel – Initially wet and light at the front of the palate, then medium to full-bodied, drying and lush with mouth-coating and supple medium tannins that gradually give way to follow-on flavors

Taste – A balanced palate of dark mixed berries, cassis and cherry – against natural cola, Italian salt licorice and soft oak

Finish – An long and clean finish that eases downward slowly and smoothly, while revealing new flavors – with pronounced cherry – as flavors tapers off

Conclusion – Agent Sparkle and me reviewed this wine together. One sip had both of us swooning over it! With a rich boldness of dark flavor that is held in check by lighter fruits and earthen goodness, this wine is a beautifully balanced treat. This is a beautiful wine that is built for maximum enjoyment and easy drinking, without sacrificing any complexity or character. Mr. Schug’s lifetime of experience absolutely shines through in this superb Cabernet Sauvignon – a wine that gives its Napa rivals a true run for their money. And, speaking of money, given the choice between this wine and a bottle of Insignia, I’ll take this one – and still have enough money to buy several more bottles of today’s great wine

Mission Report:

I had the incredible great fortune to meet with one of the wine industry’s most respected and renowned wine craftsmen in California wine history.

Walter Schug, owner and winemaster at Schug Carneros Estate, was born into wine in Germany in 1936, where his father was winemaker for one of Germany’s top Pinot Noir Producers.

As a young manm Walter worked throughout Europe, honing his craft. In 1966 Julio Gallo asked Walter to oversee all grapegrowing and quality control for the company. Seven years later, after Walter’s reputation had grown, Joseph Phelps asked Walter to become Phelps’ winemaker at his new Napa Valley winery.

Walter helped to create the Insignia label and some of the finest and most sought after Bordeaux-style blends in the country. Walter crafted wines that set the high water mark for excellence in winemaking.

To this day, Walter Schug’s early influence on the industry lives on, with wineries across California and around the world emulating his winemaking style.

With Phelps, Walter Schug’s goal was to make the best Bordeaux-style blend possible. Today, Walter Schug’s philosophy remains largely unchanged. There is one big difference, however; Where a bottle of Insignia may cost you $200 or more, a Schug wine of comparable quality with cost you less than $60.

On arriving at the Schug winery last week, I am greeted by Axel Schug, Director of Marketing for the winery and the son of Walter Schug. Axel, with whom I had met previously, introduces me to his father, and then escorts me through the bowels of the winery, to a tasting room buried in a wine cave. The long table the stretches down the tunnel is surrounded on both sides by seemingly every vintage from Schug’s history.

As I am escorted to my seat, I notice several magnums of Insignia wine and I spot one bottle in a special wooden display. Walter Schug sees me looking at it and he takes it from the display and shows it to me. The bottle is from Joseph Phelps himself, and a touching tribute to Walter Schug, from Phelps, is engraved on the back.

What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation:

AGENT RED: Mr. Schug, thank you so much for making yourself available today. It is an honor to meet you!

WALTER SCHUG: Welcome, Agent Red.

AGENT RED: Let me first say that your wines blow me away. The winery is beautiful as well. I love Carneros and wines from the region. You are really a pioneer of the region. When it came time to build your own winery, how did you come to settle here?

WALTER SCHUG: When I was with Gallo, I sourced fruit from Carneros. I recognized the region as having great potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Given my passion for Pinot, settling in Carneros was a natural.

AGENT RED: And, when you did settle, you produced a fair amount of Chardonnay, did you not?

WALTER SCHUG: Yes, and it was excellent, too. It still is. Back then, Chardonnay subsidized my passion for Pinot Noir! It allowed me to perfect Pinot here.

AGENT RED: This Cabernet Sauvignon we are drinking [today’s 2003 Heritage CS] is incredible. How has your philosophy changed from your Insignia days?

WALTER SCHUG: Very little. The goal now, as it was with Phelps back then, is to create the very best wine that we possibly can. And, to do so without recipe orformula.

AGENT RED: Ahh. Whereas I have heard that Insignia is more formulaic in its approach to winemaking today. Instead, your proportions or even fruit sources may change a good deal – if it means making wines that are that much better. Am I correct?

WALTER SCHUG: Yes, this is true. This Cabernet isstreamlined and far more European in character. This is a wine that has elegance, delicacy, finesse – this is what I strive for in all of my wines!

AGENT RED: Again, this is a great wine and I am sure that our Operatives will love it. I also look forward to bringing them your Pinot Noir, during a future mission.

WALTER SCHUG: If they appreciate wines that are made for the best enjoyment, they will love this wine. In the end this wine is not made by going to the vineyard and knowing what you are going to get. Rather, it is the result of meticulous blending of wines made from the best fruit. Again, it is my mission to create wines that are the best expressions of place. It is my mission to make wines that are to be enjoyed.

AGENT RED: Mission accomplished, Mr. Schug, Mission accomplished!

WALTER SCHUG: Thank you, Agent Red.

We talked a great deal about Walter Schug’s history and his influence and impact on the wine industry. While I was certainly impressed by his incredible history, I must say that what impressed me the most – what seemed to matter to me the most – was what the Schug Carneros Estate winery was doing today. Today, Schug is crafting remarkably beautiful wines that are a true delight to drink and enjoy!

Pairing Recommendation:


6 six ounce salmon fillets
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups fine toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup pureed roasted red bell peppers
2 Tb. finely chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 Tb. finely chopped kalamata olives
1 tsp. each: finely chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley and basil
1/3 cup chopped cooked bacon
2 Tb. minced onion
Cabernet Sauce (recipe below)

Place a piece of aluminum foil onto a baking sheet. Arrange salmon fillets onto foil, skin side down. Now mix all remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Keep mixing until topping is evenly distributed and clings together when a handful is squeezed together. (If mixture is too dry, try adding a little more melted butter. Add more bread crumbs if too wet.) Now squeeze a small amount of topping in your hand and place it on top of a piece of salmon. Add more topping until the top of the fillet is completely covered with about 1/3 of an inch of topping mix. Cover remaining pieces of salmon the same way. Place salmon fillets in a preheated 425 degrees F oven for approximately 15 minutes or until fillets are cooked. With a spatula lift each piece of fish from the foil (the skin should stick to the foil) and place onto a hot serving plate. Drizzle a spoonful of sauce over each piece and serve immediately. Serves 6 delightfully when paired with Schug Cabernet Sauvignon!

Cabernet Sauce

1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup Schug Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon
1 Tb. butter
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary

In a small saucepan, bring stock and red wine to a boil. Lower heat and reduce volume by two-thirds. Whisk in butter, salt and pepper and chopped rosemary. Use within 30 minutes or butter will separate.

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the gorgeous Schug Estate winery can be seen in this satellite photo.

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