As the saying goes, “so many wines—so little time”. But that’s not stopping us from putting together our “Bucket List” for 2013. In the past two weeks we’ve covered some great and famous wines of France. If you miss an edition, go to coachellavalleyweekly.com/archives.
Of course Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Australia are also home to great and famous wine, which we’ll cover as the year unfolds. But it’s time to land back home here in California and kiss the ground that produces such great “New World Wine”.
Generally, our wine writers have deemed the last four decades as the time California wine—particularly Cabernet Sauvignon—came in out of the cold and reigned. A generation of wine pioneers pursued their dreams believing that California could commandeer their own brave new world of wine that could compete internationally. But human nature as it is—especially within the matrix of the art of wine, things typically tend to get “exclusive”.
California has long had its share of exclusive wines, but what’s changed is that they are now quite expensive, with a much larger and faster-moving fan base. Known as “Cult Wines”, they are rare & majestic and they have collectors in a frenzy.
California Cult Wines refers to “typically but not exclusively Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon”, that are full, lush, highly concentrated cabernet sauvignons in a very limited production, prized by collectors and very expensive.
The inner circle of cult wines from Napa Valley at the beginning of this new century (kind of a Cabernet Brat-Pack) were: Araujo, Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin Cellars, Dalla Valle Maya, Dominus Estate, Grace Family Vineyards, Harlan Estate, Opus One, Screaming Eagle, and Shafer Hillside Select. There was also one Chardonnay: Marcassin.
(In 2013, some “Cultists”—snooty or not, may claim Opus One and Dominus to have “lost” their status.)
Often with a production of fewer than 600 cases per year, they can command several times their “release price” upon release! And—for you investors right now, China (who purchased so much Bordeaux and increased its value) is out looking for these Calfornia Cult Classics.
A quick tour down Cal Wine memory lane in the 1960s will include the likes of Stony Hill Chardonnay, grown at the base of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, it was all the rage. A great tasting minerally Chard at $4 to $6 a bottle, it was bringing what was then one of the highest prices paid for a California wine.
Ridge Zinfandels from the ’60s and ’70s also developed a cult following as the Santa Cruz Mountains winery began to bottle vineyard-designated wines from different sites and appellations. Kind of egg-head winemakers out of Stanford University—which was cool and therefore had that cool cult status.
In the 1970s, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard developed their own cult status that lasted more than a decade. Its popularity led wine lovers to line up outside the Heitz tasting room in St. Helena to buy it. The wine started the ’70s at $12.75 a bottle and ended the decade at $25, defining that era’s upper price range in California.
Also in the ’70s, American wines first attained widespread international recognition. In 1976, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1973–only the second vintage from that winery–rocked the wine world when it placed first in The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 or the “Judgment of Paris” at a blind tasting judged by French wine critics.
Wine Spectator wrote: “A key turning point came in 1981, when the Napa Valley Vintners Association held the first Napa Valley Wine Auction. The results were staggering– Retailers and collectors broke out in a bidding war for the first bottles of Opus One, the joint-venture Franco-Californian Napa Cabernet made by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. No one outside a tight circle of winemakers had ever tasted the wine, and when that first case sold for $24,000, it set a record: $2,000 for a single bottle of California wine.”
My first taste of these great Cal Cabs came when I was at the Top of the Mark in San Francisco. I was on my client’s expense account so I ordered a glass of their “best” Cabernet. It was $12 a glass—totally unheard of back in the early 80s. Anyway—I had the Silver Oak Cellars Alexander Valley: it was the best wine I had ever tasted. I still recall it being loaded with currant, plum and wild berry flavors framed by smoky, toasty oaky nuances with a long complex, concentrated finish. The next day I was up in Napa visiting the winery.
Speaking of Napa Valley, in Oakville, be on the look-out for what may be a “new cult wine” emerging: Vine Hill Ranch—be the first one on your block to try this amazing but subtle brilliant Cab.
Currently, the 2009 Caymus Special Selection, Napa Valley at $130 a bottle, is the darling of the wine critics: “Ripe, voluptuous, with a typical Caymus hint of sweetness. Silky, rich, deep blackberry. Elegant.” Talk about a great finale wine for our Bucket List! CHEERS!
Rick conducts & entertains at wine tastings & events. Contact email@example.com