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Feb 3, 2010 05:12 AM

The days of stratospheric pricing for high-end Napa wines may be numbered.

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  1. I was just going to post this, but I'll add a question as well:

    Sticking to the LA Times' narrow definition of a "Napa Valley high-end super-premium Cab", what would the knowledgable members of the CH wine board buy right now? What wines are you holding out for? What price points are you waiting for?

    Or will you continue to take a pass on the whole segment? ;-)

    16 Replies
    1. re: Joe Blowe

      Blankiet is the only "Napa Valley high-end super-premium Cab" that I have purchased, and they have cut their prices and also now have a lower priced, merlot driven wine, "Rive Droit". For the most part, I think this whole segment of the market is and has been way out of line with reality. Frankly, I prefer buying several bottles of something else than even considering buying some of those Cali Cabs.

      1. re: Joe Blowe


        My income is limited right now so I had to pass this year; but, in general, the Karl Lawrence Reserves still represent a good value to me. I think they are at or near the pinnacle of CA Cab wine and at just over $100, still reasonable.

        Other more expensive CA Cabs I would consider if money allowed:
        Herb Lamb
        Araujo (yeah, really expensive, but not absolutely abhorrent, plus an actual track record of quality)

        A little less:
        Single Vineyard Etude stuff

        But the $50ish price range seems most comfortable right now:
        Karl Lawrence

        All of that said, I'm drinking almost exclusively Champagne, Rhone, Central European whites, and Italians at the moment... and I'm quite happy about it.

        1. re: whiner

          "All of that said, I'm drinking almost exclusively Champagne, Rhone, Central European whites, and Italians at the moment... and I'm quite happy about it."

          That pretty much sums up what we're drinking now, with the addition of Spain and Portugal.

          I've never considered buying one these Cal cult wines, but an article like this comes along and makes you think there might be an "unbelievable bargain" lurking out there...

          1. re: whiner

            All of that said, I'm drinking almost exclusively Champagne, Rhone, Central European whites, and Italians at the moment... and I'm quite happy about it.

            Concur re the Champagne (mostly Terry Theise) and Rhones...

            I will, however, take my Dehlinger allocation and probably Crocker Starr as well but I don;t think those are anywhere near the Napa Valley high-end super-premium Cab price range that is the subject of the discussion.

            1. re: whiner

              Agreed. Araujo might be the one cult wine that I'd be interested in buying. Especially their Syrah.

              Still love my Dominus, though their prices have dropped under $100 as well, if one looks hard enough.

              And if you're going to splurge above $100 for a good bottle of wine, there are too many European wines with longer and better track records, even for those who love the big cabernets. The prices for 07 Rhones are actually significantly lower than those for 06 Rhones, and the wines, nearly across the board, are of higher quality. That's where I'd spend my money these days.

              1. re: whiner

                Funny - Rhones, Champagnes (and other Sparklers), and Austrian/German whites have become our usuals as well. Good minds think alike?

                1. re: whiner

                  Thanks to your rec last Summer on the SF board, dh & I visited Karl Lawrence & discovered their fabulous wines. *The* most laid back tasting (St. Helena outpost) anyone could ever do & we absolutely loved it! Even their $35 "leftover" wine was so good that we bought a couple of bottles in addition to the more refined, pricey ones. Too bad they're only available for tasting on weekdays.

                  The other highlight of our trip was Shafer...namely the $70 Relentless (a syrah but wow!) & the $215 Hillside Select (dh bought it for our anniv. but I was just as happy with the relentless).

                  This was the first time we'd ever splurged in Napa; but thanks to just these two wineries, we now know the difference between a $70 gem & a $70 bottle of crap. Okay, may be crap is harsh... : )

                  1. re: whiner

                    With the Porto/Champagne exemption (in terms of price), I'm drinking lots of Rhones, Languedoc, Spanish and Portuguese reds and whites, plus Austrian whites and Chablis.

                    There are only 4-5 California wineries I regularly purcashe from, and with one exception, nothing they sell is over $40 or so.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      its great to have you back on the Board; willing to share your 4-5 favorite California wines with us? (and why)

                      1. re: ibstatguy

                        In alphabetical order . . .

                        Ahlgren -- outstanding Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, second only to Ridge and significantly less expensive.

                        Carol Shelton -- big, intense Zinfandels (not my favorite style), but very well made and never coming across as "hot"; besides, I love Carol . . .

                        Dashe -- excellent Zinfandels, produced with elegance, complexity, and finesse.

                        Edmonds St. John -- the most true-to-the-Rhône style "Rhône-esque" wines made in California; also, very affordable, very high QPR.

                        Ridge -- OK, this is rather obvious; especially re: Lytton, Geyserville, and Monte Bello.

                        Storrs -- small Santa Cruz Mountain winery, ripe yet layered Zins, elegant, complex Rhone-esque reds (even their Petite Sirah* shows amazing subtlety), and, surprisingly, their Merlot can be exquisite.

                        OK, that's six, but the six combined generally total 6-7 cases/year, and I never buy more than 6 bottles of any single wine.


                        1. re: zin1953

                          not quite sure why but Zins have fallen out of my rotation except for Ridge. my problem with Cal Rhone-style wines is that I feel that I can ordinarily get the "real deal" for less than the price of Cal wines so I really don't make much of an effort to seek them out. maybe I should rethink that,,,

                          1. re: ibstatguy

                            Well, normally, I would completely agree that California's Rhône-esque wines are seriously overpriced. But ESJ's "Wylie-Fenaughty" Syrah is $35 or so (only 320 cases) and is very much in the Côte-Rôtie style. Yes, it's Californian, but it's also a great value (IMHO). So, too, their Grenache-Syrah blend "Rocks & Gravel" ($18-20) . . . just my two cents.

                            Same is true of Storrs . . . IMHO.

                            1. re: zin1953

                              Jason: it is a real pleasure to have you back on the board and thanks for the suggestions!

                              1. re: zin1953

                                Wylie-Fenaughty is pretty awesome, and you can generally find it for less than $30 in New York City. I had the 2005 a year ago, and it was great.

                                Jason, how do these wines age? When might they peak?

                                1. re: mengathon

                                  I should acknowledge something in the interests of full disclosure: while it's not like Steve Edmunds and I "hang out" on a regular basis, we do have dinner together, usually a 2-3 times a year; he and his wife have been to my house, and we've been to his . . . take whatever grains of salt you deem appropriate.

                                  That said, I stand by everything I've said about Edmunds St. John's wines; I sincerely believe they are among the very best California wines produced from traditional Rhône varieties. I find them to be more "true to type" than most, and certainly more on the French side of the spectrum than Australian, if you catch my drift. And his "Bone-Jolly" Gamay Noir is top notch!

                                  Now to your question, by way of examples:

                                  The 2001 Wylie-Fenaughty Syrah was superb at 7+ years of age, and I have stubbornly held onto my last bottle to have it at age 10. The 2005 Rocks & Gravel is still improving with age (I think I still have 12-15 bottles of it), and I still have six bottles or so of the 2005 Wylie-Fenaughty aging patiently.

                                  I am a big fan of Steve's wines in the 3-5 year window, and then again 7-10 years after vintage. Beyond 10 years of age, I'm had some stunning wines and a few disappointments. Since the stunners have been from Steve's personal cellar, I've pretty much decided to drink them all by age 10.


                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Thank you dear sir.

                                    I've met Steve once at a tasting, and I still have distinct memories of those wines. The Wylie-Fenaughty is among my favorites in CA syrah, and not just for the price. I'll save a bottle for 2015.

                  2. Sloan @ $325/bottle goes right next to the Bond mailer in the universal filing bin. Futo, even Harlan. Screw 'em. There is lots of good wine out there.

                    1. Supply and demand. People will keep paying the crazy numbers for these wines, but I am curious how much of these sales will be done at auction in Asia. The Asian auctions seem to be brining in huge numbers.

                      I know that my days of buying $100 plus cabs is a thing of the past, and the only high end cabs we buy anymore from California are Maybach and Scarecrow. Also pick up Quilceda Creek, but that is about it for $100 plus cabs.

                      So many good options closer to $50 in my opinion. Stefania and Rivers-Marie come to mind. -mJ

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: njfoodies

                        being on the same boat as whiner...cut back on purchase by a lot but i still buy few high end calif wine which are highly allocated:

                        screaming eagle
                        sine qua non
                        pride rsrv

                        which are all above $100

                        1. re: rickym13

                          Never made the Screagle list, and at $750 per, no thanks. I know a lot of people loves these wines, and the few times we've tasted it at offlines it was damn fine in older vintages, but I don't have the wallet for that. Even if I did, I don't think I'd buy. Would rather have a 6 pack of Maybach.

                          Dropped off of Pride as well.

                          SQN is still one of the hardest lists to get on, but well worth the pricetag in my opinion. We've had so many great wines from Manfred and Elaine! Wine of the year of me last year was the '04 Coveert Fingers. Maybe have to open up a Raven syrah this weekend just to get my SQN fix...or maybe a stickie.... -mJ

                          1. re: njfoodies

                            njfoodies...i forgot and agree on maybach. as for screaming eagle, i can still sell 1 or 2 to offset my cost on what i will open :)
                            re raven syrah.....i would hold little longer but if you have few of these, decant for seveal hours.

                            1. re: rickym13

                              The Raven I had back in November compliments of friends was decanted for 6 hours I think, and still super tight. I'll definitely hold onto ours for a while. Did have the Lillian syrah over the holidays, and that was super tight even with a long decant. We'll probably hold onto the Raven's for at least 2 more years before popping them. Sometimes I like to drink wines young, but not Sine Qua Non, at least not that young, unless of course they aren't mine! ;-) -mJ

                      2. They have ALWAYS been numbered, regardless of the economy.

                        The buying pattern of the majority of the US wine-drinking population has always been to spend ever-increasing amounts per bottle until a certain age when it dawns on the purchaser that price does not automatically equal quality. At that point, and regardless of the economy, that individual's average bottle cost declines (special occasion bottles excepted, of course).

                        The world doesn't need a great $50-100 bottle of wine -- there are hundreds if not thousands of them. What the world needs -- besides, of course, "love, sweet love" -- is a great $15-20 bottle.

                        With the exception of Vintage Porto and Champagne, I cannot recall the last time I spent more than $50 for a bottle of wine, and even that is pushing it -- $15-$35 is my norm, with most on the lower end of that range. (And I acknowledge that's certainly more than a lot of people spend.)


                        1. one has to wonder why it wouldn't be so for all outrageously priced wines, not just Napa