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Jan 15, 2011 08:22 AM

Any good places in Napa to taste cult cabs?

Will be dining in Napa soon, first night at French Laundry (FINALLY got reservations!), next night at Meadowood to check out the newest Michelin 3* in the area.

During the day I'd like to maybe do a tasting of some of the higher end wines, esp Cabs scoring 96-100 Parker points, like Harlan Estates (doubt they'll be serving it by the glass at Meadowood even though it's his restaurant) or Screaming Eagle etc.

Is there a wine bar or tasting place where we can do this (for a fee of course). Not looking for a tour, just a chance to taste some of these high end wines so I can see for myself what all the barking is about ... staying in Yountville but have wheels.

Thanks ... (I posted this on the Wines board too, sorry for double posting but I figure a lot of SF Bay area readers wouldn't necessarily be reading the Wine board daily)

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. I know you can taste for $30 at Opus One. Dopn't have any experience doing so..

    1 Reply
    1. re: vulber

      Thanks vulber, looks like Parker has scored recent vintages of Opus One at 94-95, which is a few notches higher than the other cabs & Bordeaux I've tasted, so this one would work ... would still like to find something a bit higher rated, but I've heard a lot about this one with the Rothschild/Mondavi collaboration so will check it out ... thx.


    2. I'm not sure that it would be considered a cult cab, but Nickel & Nickel produces a small number of cases and has interesting heritage due to it's connection with Far Niente.

      Far Niente
      1350 Acacia Drive, Oakville, CA

      Nickel & Nickel
      8164 St Helena Highway, Oakville, CA

      1 Reply
      1. re: KatoK

        Thanks for this rec ... according to their web page one can "Experience five single-vineyard Napa Valley Cabernets from the same vintage but from a collection of sub-appellations" at their tastings. Probably not going to get the Parker 98+ wines from this but seems like a good way to sample a variety of pretty good cabs since they are all single-vineyard.

      2. The only way to get reservations for something like Screaming Eagle / Harlan etc. is to know someone on their mailing list and even then it is hit or miss. Having done both I would go Harlan over SE.

        the opus one tasting is not bad but very very commercial as befits a Mondavi production.

        Mr Parker or the Wine Spectator guys don't taste every wine made in Napa so you may find something that meets your criteria that doesn't have the cachet and price of the two you covet.

        One of the things you might want to do is look for projects of cult winemakers (like Heidi Barrrett for example) rather than going to specific wineries.

        1. I doubt any wine-tasting bars offer tastes of the super-premium Cult Cabs. They can't make it work financially charging $50 to $150 per glass. (Figure the Cult Cab runs $175 to $750 a bottle and there are no discounts, even to restaurants.)

          Some of the Cult Cab wineries never offer tastes of their wines. Their wines are in such demand, and are often sold as futures -- before they're made -- like at Harlan and Screaming Eagle. The winery has no interest (and derives no profit) from offering visitors tastes of their wines.

          Also, if a winery has produced a vintage that has rated a 95+ Parket score, it's highly unlikely the winery has any available for tasting. A score like that means the wine sells out the day after the score is released.

          That being said, here are some other Cult Cabs from wineries who MAY offer tastes, by appointment, but they are doing so to sell wine:

          Abreu "Thorevilos"
          Blankiet Estate
          Bond Estates
          Dalla Valle
          Diamond Creek: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill
          Joseph Phelps "Insignia"
          Nickel & Nickel: Stelling Vineyard (95 pts) and Tench Vineyard (next door to Screaming Eagle)
          Pine Ridge -- only one or possibly two Cabs in their lineup
          Shafer "Hillside Select"
          Stags' Leap Wine Cellars -- Cask 23, Fey and SLV

          Any Cab made by:
          Heidi Petersen Barrett
          Andy Erickson
          Celia Welch Masyczek
          Mia Klein

          Do you even like Parker's palate in evaluating wines? His high scores are always skewed towards a particular style of wine -- which may not be to your liking. Your interests might best be served if you included 90+ Parker scores or instead just tried to taste truly excellent Cab.

          Last, a Cab that's scored highly often isn't enjoyable or ready to drink. Most likely, the wine will still have a lot of oak that will taste harsh and drying. Only when the wine has had time to age will you understand what the score or ratings may mean.

          2 Replies
          1. re: maria lorraine

            "Do you even like Parker's palate in evaluating wines?"

            Maria, the reds I prefer are generally blends (5th growth left-bank clarets or rioja or Argentine malbecs or Gigondas wines or similar). These have some tannins but more emphasis on balance, and are better for drinking young than the 'big' high scoring wines. Parker often scores these in the high 80's and (very) low 90's (I like a $10 rioja that Wine Advocate scored 90, for example ... who knew?), so I guess I do like his palate for this class of wine.

            But often even the low-90 scoring 100% cabs are a bit tannic for my palate, especially youngish ones, so I'm pretty sure these cult cabs which RP often describes as "tannic fruit bombs" will seem too tannic for me, especially ones less than 10 years old.

            That said, I'd still like to try a couple of them just to see for myself ;)

            I'm looking at the vinyards you mention to see what tastings they offer (also the ones Heidi Barrett consults with that Brently mentioned). Not really a total wine geek, we are going to Napa for the restaurants, not the vineyards, but as we have a winter day to kill between French Laundry and Meadowood it seems like a good chance to try some wines I ordinarily wouldn't be exposed to.

            Thanks everyone for the suggestions.

            The French Laundry
            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

            1. re: willyum

              If your budget is pretty large, you could call the Napa Valley Reserve. It's a private club type project from Harlan, and they have sommeliers they work with who can arrange private tasting sessions. The one I attended was sort of an international selection of "best of" in different categories, but it will all be tailored to you. It will also cost whatever all the bottles of wine that are opened cost plus the event fee, sommelier's time, etc.


          2. A tough order to fill, as people here pointed out. I like SteveG's suggestion if _price_ is no object, even more Brentley's if you can afford the _time_ for research or asking around.

            After all, "cult" cabs are that way as much from publicity (and Parker scores) as style. It has always been true that good and great wines are made, in many styles, that widely-followed critics have not tasted yet. My approach has long been to seek such wines. Occasionally the wine is later critic-touted, then the price soars and availability vanishes but the wine itself is the same. (Such experiences put those critics in a revealing light, and validate an observation made already in the 1980s, that the one wine attribute Parker scores consistently predict is the consequent future price.)

            2 Replies
            1. re: eatzalot

              eatzalot touches on the availability issue, and I should have made the point of my post clear: the sommeliers who work with the Napa Valley Reserve can get you those cult wines to taste. They'll charge you for it, but they can make it happen. You won't be able to just walk into one of the "cult" wineries and taste the wines or get a welcoming reception--that's the whole point of them emphasizing their cult status. It's pay to play.

              The other benefit of going with those sommeliers is that they can turn you on to wines of equal or better quality, which have not yet been noticed by Parker. He's really a "drink what's put in front of him" sort of wine writer with access gated by a lot of PR flacks and mutual back-scratchers. He doesn't have the time or interest to search out obscure and worthy wines, despite the impression that might be given by his various publications.

              1. re: eatzalot

                Something else I should mention from experience, it was in my mind earlier. You're right to inquire about local tasting opportunities around Napa, of course, to coincide with your gastronomic visit. But FWIW, I've tasted outstanding or rare wines over the years, some well known, some obscure; sometimes even tasted them with the winemakers officiating; and very little of this, at all, occurred in or near the wineries themselves, even though I've visited many of them (in and out of the US). Though some Americans become habituated to winery visits as if that were the way to buy wine, and though there are always some wines and wineries where direct sales are important, in fact this is not how I, or most serious enthusiasts that I know, get the rare wines or taste them. Tastings usually are either built from individual or pooled collections, or arranged by good wine merchants -- the common factor being these are people with passion about the wines. If you share that passion, and make it known to fellow enthusiasts and merchants, it can be surprising what opportunities open up. Maybe this is obvious, but I didn't want to overlook it.