A Few Hundred Bucks Worth Of Cult California Cab, Definitely Not Made By Metallica Roadies (Tanner Dafoe Recent Releases)

Vinted on September 25, 2014 binned in kick-ass wines, sexy wines, wine review

Question: What do you get when you cross a law-school trained producer of films and commercials with a former professional mountain snowboarder?


In the case of Tanner Dafoe (named after Jeff Tanner and Rob DaFoe, the producer and snowboarder, respectively), you get some fairly complete and substantial Cabernet Sauvignon priced like the California cult red that it is, only (blessedly) with more acid.

What, you didn’t see that one coming?

That Tanner Dafoe can price their (very) small production wines (less than 200 cases for the most part) the way that they do (over $100 per bottle), and yet produce Santa Ynez Valley Cab so complex that the lofty price tag seems justified, is a bit of a minor miracle in the high-end CA wine world. Based on the uncorked contents of a large wooden box full of samples that I received recently from this duo, the hype surrounding their mini-cult endeavor ought to be entertained seriously, if not believed outright.

Even if the guys look like a pair of Metallica or Rolling Stones roadies (sorry, somebody had to say it… c’mon, just look at that picture!)…

The rocky, southern-facing vineyard spot that Tanner Dafoe calls home in Santa Ynez Valley sits on a rocky hillside that must have at least a little bit of special grape mojo going on; there’s not much else that could be used to explain how they got their inaugural cabernet effort – from the 2009 vintage – so right. But as you will see from the tasting notes below, right they got it, indeed. That they started the endeavor on a bit of a lark, after discussing a shared passion for CA fine wine juice, makes the well-executed results even more remarkable.

For the more budget-minded, Tanner Dafoe also offers a Bordeaux-style red called “Rogue’s Blend” that is lush, opulent, tasty, and structured – a sort of shot-glass version of the larger patina of elements on display in their more expensive Cab-only red – that clocks in at a “mere” $75 per bottle (and it’s just about worth it, too).

Following are my thoughts on TD’s first three releases (as tasted from my sample pool). Try not to drool too much on the keyboard when you’re reading these. All are about $110 or so per bottle, all made in quantities under 200 cases total, all clock in at just over 14% abv, and all see over two years of aging in French oak:


2009 Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Ynez Valley, $110)

Basically sold out, and what a shame. This is multi-headed hydra of a wine beast, if that hydra were beautiful in its raw power. The first thing that struck me was that this wine was like the typical cult CA Cab, only with less booziness & more acidity (both good things). Tomato leaf, mint, sage, dried herbs, stewed plums, lots of juicy red and black fruits, and power to spare. Delicious above all else, there is rich cassis, a velvety mouthfeel, and a palate that’s showing just enough structure to suggest some serious aging potential still to come. While I wished that the finish was a tad longer, it’s mouth-watering and excellent, and about as complete a red as you can make from a single variety that is single-sourced from one vineyard.

2010 Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Ynez Valley, $110)

I was worried for a bit that, after the stellar 2009 example, 2010 was showing a sophomore slump. But that would be discounting the wine for what it is, and what it is is a softer and silkier take on the same themes present in the 2009. The dried herbs and sage are there, as is the tomato leaf action, and the intense cedar spices. But there are also darker themes afoot here vs. the 2009; blacker fruits, denser expressions. This is a Cab that’s serious, but also seriously sexy, and comfortable in its own skin.

2011 Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Ynez Valley, $110)

This is the vintage that probably shows the most raw promise of the three TD Cabs to date. At first, it’s all over the place aromatically; at turns confounding, at turns beguiling. Then, things settle in and display vibrant, juicy red and black plums, more of that textbook cassis, but with a layer of minerals & bell pepper that was largely missing from the 2009 and 2010 incarnations, followed by the dried herbs and sage that this vineyard thankfully cannot seem to shake. The palate is brooding and demanding, showing heft and power but also great length already. This is more potent and leathery than the 2009, less overtly sexy than the 2010, and seemingly much more serious overall about its intentions. It’s excellent stuff, ready to wow, but not quite ready to wow at full throttle just yet.






  • Rob

    Have these guys submitted the wine for an official RP/WA/WE/etc. rating? Curious how that works…cellartracker reviews also raving about the wine, so might be an OK buy even at $110.



    • 1WineDude

      Rob – no idea. I certainly wouldn't know, since I don't subscribe to those pubs.

      • Rob

        Well, here's to hoping something good comes out of your writeup. Couldn't help myself, and ordered 2 bottles after reading your review. Roll the dice, if it is as good as you seem to think (2009 primarily), maybe we have a new cult cab. If nothing else, I'll have a couple great bottles of wine for special occasions.

        Thanks for the tip on these guys…never would have heard about them had it not been for your blog!


        • 1WineDude

          Rob – let us know what you think of them when you get a chance to taste. I've got two additional bottles, I'm going to hang onto them and see what time brings to them…

  • K j

    Ummm… most of the descriptors sound like under-ripe Cab to me. While I am a fan of "less ripe" wine, tomato leaf and bell pepper indicate a (perhaps overly) healthy dose of pyrazines that indicate more sun exposure is needed on the fruit. Haven't tasted them, so I'm only speaking second-hand, of course. I do make wine professionally, so I have some basis for my opinion, de gustibus non disputandum est…. (trans.: in taste, there is no debate i.e. to each his own) Color me curious, but hardly $75 worth, much less $110+…

    • 1WineDude

      Kj – in this case, those elements struck me as pleasing nuances, think spices rather than meat.

  • Bob Henry

    Hmmm . . . any inkling if they read you? (Example: Have they left any comments?)

    "Rob – no idea. I certainly wouldn't know, since I don't subscribe to those pubs."

  • Bob Henry

    Let me immediately add that was not a "veiled" dig.

    (Joe and I exchange private e-mails with some regularity. And get each other's twisted humor and philosophy on wine and wine writers/wine critics/wine bloggers.)

    Speaking as a marketing guy, I always subscribed to the notion "Keep your friends close and your [ fr – ]enemies closer."

    Always welcomed "competitive intelligence" to know what others are saying and doing . . .

    • 1WineDude

      Bob, well, whenever I’ve taken WS to task here in the past, they contact me either by commenting or via private email.

  • Bob Henry

    Excessive herbaceousness (evincing aromas and flavors akin to a tomato/mixed green salad) was the hallmark of 1980s Santa Barbara County Cabs and Merlots . . . where Santa Ynez is located.

    (Example: try an early 1980s Sanford Winery Merlot. I did last year, courtesy of a wine cellar reorganization client. Pyrazines up the patoot ! The combination of Santa Barbara's cool climate and a benign ignorance of proper canopy management techniques left the grape clusters physiologically underripe.)

    Since then, vineyard managers have 25 years of added experience informing their decision on where to plant Bordeaux grape varieties and how to manage for their vines.

    • 1WineDude

      I see nothing at all wrong with a hint of herbs. It’s not a fault, unless it dominates, IMO.

      • Rob

        I think most folks who love California cabs understand the historical shortcomings of Santa Barbara's reds. I found's Joe's take a differentiated one, which really piqued my interest…and made me think that TD might have figured the matrix out. I'm with Joe…well placed herbaceousness isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't think $110 for a potentially great bottle is outrageous either…lots of mediocrity in the $80 range in Napa, for sure.


        • Bob Henry

          When you cross the triple-digit retail pricing divide, there's a big world out there of alternates — starting with wines from the "home country": red Bordeaux.

          Suggested retail prices can be driven in input costs (e.g., buying land at the top of the market pre-Great Recession, hiring an expensive vineyard manager to plant the property, hiring an expensive "flying winemaker" to consult on the project, designing and building an architecturally distinctive — and expensive — winemaking and barrel storage facility on the property, et cetera) . . . or by ego: "My neighbor commands 100 bucks a bottle for his Cabernet. I should too !"

          Related to these considerations on "positioning your brand" [*] in the mind of the consumer.

          Veblen goods – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veblen_good

          [Excerpt: “Some types of luxury goods, such as high-end wines, designer handbags, and luxury cars, are Veblen goods, in that decreasing their prices decreases people's preference for buying them because they are no longer perceived as exclusive or high-status products.”]

          Giffen goods – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giffen_good

          Excerpt: “Some types of premium goods (such as expensive French wines, or celebrity-endorsed perfumes) are sometimes claimed to be Giffen goods. It is claimed that lowering the price of these high status goods can decrease demand because they are no longer perceived as exclusive or high status products.”

          [*Attributed to marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout.
          http://booksummarysource.com/1/post/2013/06/posit… ]

      • Bob Henry

        Herbs have always been an apt descriptor of red Bordeaux grape varieties.

        It's when the wine smells and tastes like unripe green tomatoes that I find no appeal.

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