Here’s How to Drink Really Good Wine for Under $40
Meet Cameron Hughes Wine, a négociant offering high-end wines for a fraction of the price
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I enjoy a high-end bottle of wine as much as the next person. Unfortunately, my penchant for fancy fermented grapes doesn’t always align with the balance in my bank account. So splurging on wine is often reserved for once-a-year special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, promotions. For every other uneventful day of the year when I’m craving a dry red or light white, you bet I’m heading down the street to my local liquor store and straight to their $20-and-under selection.
Well, that was my M.O. until I discovered Cameron Hughes Wine, a négociant (fancy word for wine trader) that sells exceptional wine at a low price and delivers it right to your door.
Founded in 2001 by Cameron Hughes and his partner Jessica Kogan, Cameron Hughes Wine doesn’t operate its own vineyard or produce any of its own wine — confusing considering every bottle has a label with “Cameron Hughes” on it. Instead, the company’s sole mission is to find consumers the best wine and negotiate the cost down to a reasonable price. How do they do it? Well, it seems Cameron Hughes is quite the negotiator.
Per the company, Cameron Hughes is tight with top wineries and producers worldwide — to the extent that they sometimes buy unlabeled bottles of wine or wine still in the barrel. These deals are made discreetly and are often bound by an agreement that promises to keep the winery they’ve sourced the wine from anonymous.
It’s how you could be sipping a $100 bottle of Napa Cabernet for a third of the price. It’s also why, when perusing the website for the first time, you might be a bit confused about what exactly you’re shopping for, since each wine the négociant acquires is given a lot number and, again, sold under the Cameron Hughes label.
However, you’re not just purchasing an unmarked bottle of wine with zero context on where, when and how your wine was made.
On its website, Cameron Hughes offers as much information as possible without spilling the beans on its purchased wine. Under each bottle selection, the site provides tasting notes, the number of cases produced, the year the wine was produced and the geographical location of where the wine was made. You’ll also find ratings and reviews from other Cameron Hughes customers.
So how is the wine? For the price, pretty darn good.
I tried my hand (mouth?) at two reds from Cameron Hughes: Lot 811 2019 Lodi Zinfandel ($13) and Lot 796 2019 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon ($35).
Of the two reds, I actually preferred the cheaper offering. Lot 811, a 2021 Denver Int’l Wine Competition gold medal winner according to the site, was balanced and smooth with a hint of pepper. While it wasn’t anything life-changing, it’s an easy-to-sip, enjoyable Zinfandel that’s on my repurchase list.
Lot 796, a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from a multi-generational Napa wine producer, was definitely the bigger and bolder offering of the two. With notes of blackberry, tobacco and chocolate, it had a more unique flavor profile but was a tad too acidic for my liking. I’m still, however, going to finish the bottle.
I’m no sommelier. I oftentimes buy wine solely based on how cool its label looks. Through throughout my wine-drinking journey — frequenting wine tastings, splitting semi-pricey bottles at dinner and buying bottles based on Vivino reviews — I’ve learned a few things about what I, personally, deem a good bottle: a dry red with a deep flavor profile, one that doesn’t give me serious acid reflux. And sometimes that bottle is above $30, and sometimes it’s not.
I’ve had wines from many different price points, and I’ll admit, the most expensive ones, in direct comparison to cheapest ones, at least, do taste lightyears better. But my experience with Cameron Hughes has me questioning if I’ve been victim to a wine placebo effect — if I’ve been duped into thinking a bottle tastes better because I’ve spent a pretty penny on it.
There’s truth in all of it. Raw materials, along with the cost of production, can drive the price of wine up. Plus, the more it’s aged, the more valuable wine is. I do believe the more time and dedication it takes to produce a bottle of wine, the better it’ll taste. But, there’s also customer-perceived value. We’re willing to pay more for “luxury” items because of the prestige that owning them entails, and that prestige has surely influenced my taste buds from time to time.
There’s nothing wrong with purchasing items because they invoke something “exclusive” and “luxurious.” But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that good-tasting wine doesn’t have to come at the expense of your bank account. Especially if you don’t care for labels. If this is the case, Cameron Hughes then might be the wine seller for you.
You can purchase bottles from the company à la carte, or sign up for a monthly or quarterly membership, where you’ll receive hand-picked wines from experts, get 15% off regular orders year-round and have exclusive access to special releases.
If you find a wine from the site you really like or want to check out, I’d encourage you to purchase it ASAP, because each bottle is considered a limited release. Once it’s sold out, it’s gone for good.
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