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California Cab Classification


GordonCooks
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I culled this topic from another wine discussion or board. If Winemakers were ever to establish a Classification of California Cabs - what should the criteria be? I think it should be someone producing great wine for at least the last 10 years and an annual case production of at least 1000. What would be your criteria?

My faves?

Araujo

Beaulieu Vineyards

Beringer (Private reserve) Can you consider the wine of the producer as a whole?

Caymus

Bryant (a little low on production)

Dalla Valle

Diamond Creek

Dunn

Joseph Phelps

Merryvale

Silver Oak

Opus/Mondavi.... ditto Beringer

Favorites I didn't include due to small production/lack of tenure

Lokoya

Colgin

Screaming Eagle

Peter Michael

David Arthur (both)

Who did I omit? Mayacamas? Heitz? Chateau St Jean ?

And I probably left out an obvious choice or two

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Excellent list. I would probably add Jordan, Freemark Abbey Bosche and Ridge Monte Bello. Steve already mentioned Shafer Hillside.

As an aside I have a few bottles of every Jordan vintage (1976-98) and the staying power is remarkable.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Shafer - crap, I knew I'd forget one.

Harlan I like but it's impossible to get at a normal price (at a case production on 1-2000) I finally made a little headway on the subscription list but they won't even ship to NY.

I'd be interested to see what you would consider your list - I consider your wine knowledge (as with ron johnson's and a few others) most engaging and educational

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Joseph Phelps Insignia

Ridge Monte Bello

Shafer Hillside

Heitz

Chateau Montelena

Silver Oak

Staglin

Chimney Rock

there is a bunch more that are at this level but most have been named by others.

I just don't think you can include Screagle, Colgin, Araujo, Harlan etc. because of the problem of availability and distribution primarily through mailing lists. I mean more power to them, but they dont get on the list.

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Why have an availabilty criterion? There isn't one for Burgundy.

Some of those quoted are no longer in the "great category" (BV, Jordan, Freemark Abbey).

By the way, even though BV has a TCA taint problem (see the Wine Spectator site), they are moving their wine through Costco now at a deep discount ($37 for George LaTour). Caveat emptor.

How long has Peter Michael's Les Pavot been around?

beachfan

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Joseph Phelps Insignia

Ridge Monte Bello

Shafer Hillside

Heitz

Chateau Montelena

Silver Oak

Staglin

Chimney Rock

there is a bunch more that are at this level but most have been named by others.

I just don't think you can include Screagle, Colgin, Araujo, Harlan etc. because of the problem of availability and distribution primarily through mailing lists.  I mean more power to them, but they dont get on the list.

I included the Ajaujo because I've always been able to locate a bottle when needed. It's never a bargain but reasonable. I've yet to have a great Montelena but I probably haven't had enough.

Ridge - great choice (they make my favorite Zins also)

Heitz is one of my new favorites

The Cults are primo but their price/availability is ridiculous (esp with all this charity auction price gouging)

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No Stags Leap?  No Montelena?  Would the production of White Cottage be too small?

Whitehall ? I've never heard of White cottage

All I can tell you is I had some 1997 White Cottage Cab, Howell Mountain, paired with a rib eye at Ken Frank's La Toque and I was a happy guy.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Why have an availabilty criterion?  There isn't one for Burgundy.

Some of those quoted are no longer in the "great category" (BV, Jordan, Freemark Abbey).  

By the way, even though BV has a TCA taint problem (see the Wine Spectator site), they are moving their wine through Costco now at a deep discount ($37 for George LaTour). Caveat emptor.

How long has Peter Michael's Les Pavot been around?

I agree with the BV - I've had recent experiences with 95 Clone and various George Latour..I was compelled to include them because of their legacy but I feel they are concentrating on Value wines (as with Beringer)

I have never tasted any Freemark Abbey, Staglin, Chimney Rock -

I've been a serious wine drinker for only the last 7-8 years - I didn't get started until my late 20's

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I agree with the BV - I've had recent experiences with 95 Clone and various George Latour..I was compelled to include them because of their legacy but I feel they are concentrating on Value wines (as with Beringer)

I have never tasted any Freemark Abbey, Staglin, Chimney Rock -

I've been a serious wine drinker for only the last 7-8 years - I didn't get started until my late 20's

I agree with BV slipping, but Jordan has stayed at the top with the exception of 1996, 1997. The 1998 is excellent, but needs a little more time.

Freemark Abbey's Bosche bottling remains top, though I haven't tasted the last couple of vintages. Staglin and Chimney Rock are outstanding wines - quite food friendly.

Beringer's Private Reserve is still in the top flight. But they are moving into more mass market with other bottlings.

The sleeper could be Gallo. While they may not make the top flight level now, if they continue to improve - it won't be long.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I would just add if I had one California wine to choose (in the cabernet category) it would Ridge Monte Bello - and preferably the 1980.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Harlan

Shafer Hillside Select

Dominus

Pahlmeyer

Pride

Mondavi

I know a few of those are not just cabernet but are meritage but they are mostly cabernet.

Stephen,

It's gratifying to see you suggest some appreciation of New World wines.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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I feel the more interesting discussion may be how everyone would qualify their choice rather than he choice itself. Is it fair to include such micro producers as David Arthur ? Screaming Eagle ? What about Beringer Private reserve ? a winery whose is geared more to middle of the road taste?

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Errrr, have I missed something? The original post started to talk about classification and then the thread seemed to develop into lists of favorite wines. I mean, that's fine and a great marketing tool (voted the best wine of 2***! or whatever) but it isn't classification. Classification speaks to terroir, climate, growing methods, density of planting, vinification, hygiene, maturation, grape clones and blends, quality control, ageing etc. etc. The purpose is, I believe, to set objective standards which give the buyer some assurance that the wine from that classification will have passed certain quality gates. After that then it's a matter of personal taste, so if you buy an AC St. Emilion say, then you know roughly what it is going to taste like, what standards it has met and the likely price range. After that your palate and wallet will have to take over as some are clearly "better" than others and the desirability factor comes in.

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Errrr, have I missed something? The original post started to talk about classification and then the thread seemed to develop into lists of favorite wines. I mean, that's fine and a great marketing tool (voted the best wine of 2***! or whatever) but it isn't classification. Classification speaks to terroir, climate, growing methods, density of planting, vinification, hygiene, maturation, grape clones and blends, quality control, ageing etc. etc. The purpose is, I believe, to set objective standards which give the buyer some assurance that the wine from that classification will have passed certain quality gates. After that then it's a matter of personal taste, so if you buy an AC St. Emilion say, then you know roughly what it is going to taste like, what standards it has met and the likely price range. After that your palate and wallet will have to take over as some are clearly "better" than others and the desirability factor comes in.

I was hoping for more discussion like that - I thought about a case production per se but if the best is the best - so be it

I was trying to think of geography - but you have many small (family)producers riding the coattails of more, artisanal winemakes.

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i would add von strasser.  i don't know about staglin family.....it might be 2nd or 3rd growth.  my first growths would be:

harlan

bryant family

schafer "hillside select"

araujo

colgin

dalla valle "maya"

I noticed that you selected all very small production and/or mailing list "cult" cabs. I am curious as to whether you feel that the garagistes in bordeaux deserve an elevated growth status?

:smile:

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Actually the Bordeaux classifications of 1855 were based on price and nothing else. The first growths were the wines that sold for the most money. It was assumed that quality and availability were adequately reflected in the price. The Burgundy classifications are different. They are based on the unique characteristics of the vineyards and sites within them. That the Grand Crus sold for more money then the Premier Crus was the logical result of people correctly identifying the best sites when tasting the wines. They didn't annoint the sites based on the prices that people pay. In fact there are Premier Cru sites like Cros Parentoux that sell for more money then Grand Cru sites like Clos Vougeot.

So in order to create a classification of Ca. cabs one has to choose a method by which to classify them. And since the cab market more closely resembles the Bordeaux market then Burgundy, it's probably easier to copy that system. But that system won't work for high quality, low production wines like Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estate. So I think that means you need to start a "Super First" category so they have a place to go. But I think the way you get there is to exclude anything where they make less then a certain number of cases. In Bordeaux, they make somewhere between 8,000 and 20,000 cases of the top wines. What do you think the cutoff in Napa should be?

I think once you implement a logical and reasonable cutoff, you would find your first growths to be the following. Based on price paid of course;

Mondavi Reserve

Ridge Monte Bello

Phelp's Insignia

Opus One

Beringer Reserve (various bottlings)

Dominus

Then there are a host of wine that could be on that list but underperform like Heitz Martha's, Stag's Leap Cask 23, Diamond Creek etc. Of course the "Super-First" category is easy.

Hollywood - Well I used to collect and drink lots of new world wines so I have lots of experience with them. But I sold them off except for 1990 Dominus and my Harlans.

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Hollywood - Well I used to collect and drink lots of new world wines so I have lots of experience with them. But I sold  them off except for 1990 Dominus and my Harlans.

Sounds like a good move, if somewhat limiting.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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